Remote Year Ohana month 4 – Part 1: INSEAD reunion

I always struggle to write these posts because I feel like so much happens every month and it’s always a daunting task to try to capture it all. And then I thought maybe instead of trying to capture it all I would get deeper into specific experiences that were especially meaningful to me.

Month 4 was even more eventful than the others. I was in five countries and slept in 13 different places. I never had so many moments when I felt “This is THE life and I’m living it!” and a few other moments when I felt stressed, displaced, forlorn, and questioning what is this all for? It made me realize that life on the road can be so extraordinary in one moment and so tough in another. But the highs still much outweigh the lows, so for now I feel I am exactly where I need to be. What I’ve learned is to savor those moments of highs, to be fully present and grateful for them, and when the difficult times come, know that “this too shall pass” and realize that the next moment could be the most phenomenal you have ever experienced in your life.

25-27th May: Fontainebleau, France

One of the most defining events this month was my 10-year INSEAD business school reunion in Fontainebleau. 10 years since I had the best and most intense year of my life feels like quite a milestone. INSEAD was a huge turning point of my life. For the first time I experienced what it was like to be surrounded by 450 brilliant, passionate, and driven individuals from over 70 countries around the world. Never had I been around so many people who are so smart and capable and at the same time so multi-talented, creative, and fun. I immediately loved the environment and felt at home.

At INSEAD, I met people I would have never met otherwise. My best friend Marija is the perfect example of that. On surface we couldn’t be more different. Marija is a tall Serbian and I’m a little Chinese; she was a professional pianist and I was a biotech internal auditor; she was living in Berlin and I was living in LA. Despite the differences, we connected instantly over deep conversations and group work. I was constantly amazed by her intellectual and emotional intelligence, and was completely blown away by how she could keep up with all the classes, and even do better than many of us who had been studying and working in business for years. Even more impressive was that she got one of the very few jobs at McKinsey London, THE job that every INSEAD graduate wanted at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. Marija represents so many things that INSEAD was for me – intelligence, not only intellectually but emotionally, determination, hard-work, curiosity, desire to learn and grow, an anything is possible mindset, diversity, worldliness, kindness, compassion, and fun. These are also values I hold dear to my heart, and it is now becoming so clear how we became instant best friends and no wonder I treasure the INSEAD experience so much.

Marija has perhaps one of the most impressive and unusual stories of the 450 classmates that I had the privilege to meet. But each of them had their own impressive stories. Just in my 5-people study group, besides Marija, there was Kapil, an Indian-Singaporean tech consultant turned into banker living in multiple locations across Asia and Europe. There was Christophe, a French-American engineer and entrepreneur turned into management consultant in Dubai and marketing director in Berlin. Then there was Charlie, an Irish lawyer turned into INSEAD Dean lister turned into director at an investment management firm outside London with 3 kids.

These are just some of the impressive people I had the privilege to meet, study with, learn from, and travel and have fun with. I must say there were times when I thought, wow, everyone is so outstanding, do I really fit in? But I’ve also learned that when you are among like-minded people who challenge you and make you want to be better everyday, that is when you grow the most. I felt so privileged to be considered among this crowd and was so grateful to be given this opportunity to have this once in a lifetime experience.

Besides the people, INSEAD also exposed me to places. I only started traveling extensively from that point. Prior to it, I thought I would only live and work in the US. INSEAD showed me the possibility to work internationally. In between each period (INSEAD was divided into five 2-month periods with short breaks in between), we would take trips to amazing places such as Morocco, Portugal, Philippines, and would take many smaller trips on weekends, such as wine tasting in various parts of France, road trip to Strassbourg and Baden-Baden, or a weekend in Bali. The most significant place that INSEAD exposed me to was still Singapore and Southeast Asia.

When I applied for INSEAD its main attraction, other than it is a great school and it is only one year, was the location of its main campus in France. I loved the French culture, food, and wine and thought if I can get a great education AND spend a year in France, how amazing would that be? Once I started school I was constantly asked by classmates whether I was going to the Singapore campus. I hadn’t even thought about it back then, but the more I talked to people the more I felt that in order to get the full international experience that INSEAD is so known for, I have to go to Singapore. A summer internship in Singapore turned into the last 2 periods of INSEAD there turned into a job with Syngenta for the next 9 years in the Singapore regional office. Singapore became my third home after China and US, and I am so grateful it did, because I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the next 9 years of my life after INSEAD. Singapore will forever be a special place for me, and as much as I enjoy the travels now I miss Singapore and Asia.

At this point I’m tempted to write more about what I love and miss about Singapore, which will lead me to write about why then did I decide to leave such an amazing place to come on Remote Year. But I will go off-tangent too much so I will write about it in a separate post later.

Back to the INSEAD reunion. How fitting that I am doing Remote Year exactly 10 years after INSEAD, an experience that feels on many levels very similar to INSEAD. There is the intensity, the travel, being around people all the time, and the learning. The only difference is that instead of being in classes and being taught by professors, we learn through working and collaborating. Even though the learning is different for each person depending on their job, we still share a common space and there are opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. My biggest gains from INSEAD were the people, the experience, and the in-classroom learning. Remote Year has the first two, and even though there is no in-classroom learning I am learning through my own work – building up my coaching business, going through the coaching certification, getting coached myself, doing my Psy.D dissertation – as well as through self-organized activities with my group such as participating in positive impact events, learning through sessions other Remotes lead, and through sessions I lead myself. Other people are equally learning from their jobs, whether it is being an employee of a company, being a freelancer, or building up their own business.

Therefore, I feel Remote Year has the potential to be a mini MBA and ought to consider themselves in the business of people transformation and development. I am so intrigued by the potential of this business and the benefits of their participants that I am doing my Psy.D dissertation on this topic, specifically looking into how people develop and transform from this one-year experience and whether there are additional opportunities that could enhance the learning and development of the participants.

So much of my learning at INSEAD came from outside the classroom, from a diverse student body and the myriad of experiences that they bring. Remote Year’s diversity come in other forms, such as people’s professions and the age range of the group. Before coming to Remote Year I was surrounded by mainly corporate types. On Remote Year, I’m getting exposed to many more types – from software engineers to performer and sign language interpreter, from entrepreneurs to personal trainer and retreat organizer. I’m also surrounded by and even becoming great friends with people of all ages – from young millennials to the mother of millennials. Even though I have been more used to being around people of all nationalities, now being with a group that is majority from the US is giving me a chance to be re-exposed to the American culture which I had been away from for over 10 years. Previously I’ve been in very male dominated work environments and was passionate about increasing women representation in leadership positions, now I am around 80% women and it is showing me what it would be like if the situation was reversed. I don’t believe one is better than the other and more than anything, it is reminding me of values I strongly believed in and promoted at my previous work, which is diversity and inclusion.

Like INSEAD, Remote Year is another big turning point in my life. Whereas INSEAD showed me the possibility to live internationally, to travel, and to be surrounded by brilliant, diverse, and worldly individuals, Remote Year is showing me the possibility to be location independent and to live in multiple cities around the world. I’m only two thirds into Remote Year and I am still constantly unraveling what I am learning and how I am growing from it. I have no doubt that there are many more discoveries and learning to be done as the year goes on.

Now onto the reunion weekend at INSEAD. It was absolutely incredible. It reminded of everything I loved about the school – the brilliant, authentic, and kind people, the world class faculty, the engaging lectures in the amphi, the interesting and long case studies, the cafeteria, hanging out on a sunny day on campus, and of course, the parties.

From the Friday evening of welcome BBQ and drinks, to the Saturday class meeting and dancing to Justin Timberlake in the amphi,

to lunch and a fun lecture about love and work,

to the most fantastic ball I have ever attended in my life, my weekend was filled with joy, pride, and gratitude.

Walking into the ball, I was completely blown away by everything I saw – the lights, the music, the beautifully lit up Chateau de Fontainebleau with the INSEAD sign on it, the figures on stilts. Seeing it all made my heart overflown with so many emotions and I was in complete disbelief how life can be so good to me.

What a tremendous privilege to have attended the No.1 business school in the world and to now get the opportunity to relive it all over again. To be able to do it while I’m on Remote Year made it the more special. I really felt like the luckiest person in the whole wide world.

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