On our first day on campus, Urs Peyer greeted us with a talk about our collective identity. Urs is our dean, but he’s also a professor of finance. Like any good quant, he backed up his ideas with numbers.
He broke down INSEAD’s July intake this way: 504 students representing 70 nationalities. 20% native English speakers. 39% women. 22 British, 11 Brazilians, 5 Moroccans, 2 Syrians and 4 South Africans. Some of those numbers you would come across in a brochure, but hearing those numbers out loud, accompanied by the cheers of the audience, really underscored how diverse we are as a class. Urs ended his talk with a little joke: “Some B schools talk about geography in terms of the northeast, the midwest and the west coast, but here the the whole world is represented.”
“FULL SPECTRUM” EXPERIENCE
It’s easy to think of diversity at INSEAD purely geographically. With a slogan like “Business School For The World” and a global campus spanning multiple continents, INSEAD can sometimes feel like a United Nations summit. Inside the classroom, our laminated signs display not only our names, but also our nationalities. Professors harness this diversity to cultivate engaging conversations about cultural and political differences. It’s one thing to read about the differences between US GAAP and IFRS and it’s quite another to have Marilia, our Greek classmate who worked for JP Morgan and Bloomberg, explain it in coordination with our Israeli professor, Ron Lazer. In a course like Organizational Behavior, my Chinese and Australian classmates can debate the merits of high and low context languages.
Just last week, in our public policy class, we were debating the labor market versus pay, unemployment benefits, and the gender gap. Each student represented a different paradigm and spoke in very personal terms about their experiences with filing taxes or dealing with unexpected unemployment. In the United States, we tend to think of Western Europe in monolithic terms when it comes to the welfare system; quite honestly, it tends to boil down to political polemics. However, the personal testimonies of my Norwegian, French and Swiss colleagues illustrated the full range of these differences and contextualized the professor’s nuanced lecture on justice and fairness in the labor market.
Outside the classroom, students have no shortage of opportunities to share how their nationality has shaped their identity. For example, in November, Latin American students hosted LatAm Week, a weeklong celebration that included mezcal and pisco tastings, salsa lessons, and a series of panel discussions featuring leaders from three Latin American startups Unicorn (Bitso, Kavak and Rappi) .
A great highlight of the first two months of the program by attending a concert in Paris with the African Club. I was a huge fan of Burna Boy, one of the most popular Nigerian artists. Over the past two years, he’s collaborated with everyone from Future to Coldplay. Back in Houston, I never met anyone else who listened to Burna, so seeing him perform live with my Nigerian, Ghanaian and Botswana schoolmates, many of whom had listened to him when he was only a local musician, was so cool for a fan like me.
DIVERSITY IS MORE THAN A PASSPORT
At INSEAD, the question “Where are you from” rarely gets an answer. Take my friend Nimisha, who studied in Paris before working as an M&A lawyer in India… then moved to Finland to pursue a consulting career. Even my four-person study group represented four different continents, and collectively we lived in eight different countries. Maryam grew up in Morocco but has spent the last few years in Paris; Shahbaaz was born in India but now lives in Singapore; Andrea identifies as Italian but has worked in finance and consultancy in London. When it came to collaborating on group projects, each of us brought our respective experiences of living and working around the world. Sometimes our cultural differences created friction – going back to the discussion of high and low context languages, it took us a while to figure out how to communicate effectively with each other. If I had taken an American program, I would never have had this learning experience because my study groups would have been made up more of fellow Americans. Here at INSEAD, no nationality or culture prevails.
However, diversity at INSEAD goes beyond just someone’s passport. INSEAD may have a reputation as an MBB adviser, but I’ve met ex-jazz guitarists, documentary filmmakers and social media analysts, military veterans, and more. No one here is defined by one thing – not their pre-MBA job, or their nationality, or their extracurricular activities.
One of my best friends at INSEAD personifies this multidimensionality. If you asked Matt what he did before moving to Fontainebleau, the short answer might be that he worked in finance in Australia and South East Asia. Maybe the industry isn’t the most unique thing in the world, but dig a little deeper and you’ll hear how his passionate fight for gender inequality in sport led him to work with an organization at nonprofit to break four Guinness World Records. Matt has played the highest game of football in the world (or as it is called here… football), reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro as well as the lowest point in the world: the Dead Sea of Jordan.
Over the past four months, I’ve met some great people. By sharing our life experiences, we have built cross-cultural trust with each other and gained a better understanding of our differences and commonalities. These stories recur over a drink at the bar, lunch in the cafeteria, or a late night cheese party at someone’s house. He hears from Wadih that he was at work in Beirut when an explosion shattered his office windows. He talks Divy about coming out to her Punjabi parents in India. It empathizes with Sam about returning to America’s increasingly polarized political climate after years of living as an expat. He listens to Carlos trying to find a coffee in Sweden that would remind him of his home in Colombia.
After almost two years of social distancing and staying in place, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a world class MBA.
Chris Poldoian received his undergraduate degree from Tufts University, where he majored in Economics and Spanish Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. Passionate about food and wine, Chris worked as a restaurant manager and sommelier in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Houston before moving into independent beverage consulting during the pandemic. In his spare time, he enjoys running marathons around the world and hosting a wine podcast called By the glass.