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"No, I've never heard of it."
"What happened to Harvard and Stanford?"
"Only one year? Is it a real MBA?"
I had begun the process of telling my family, friends, employer and even dentist that I would be leaving the US to move to Insead's Singapore campus and study on its MBA programme.
"What? A European-based business school, but you're going to Singapore? Isn't Singapore in Asia?"
While Insead - with its twin campuses in Fontainebleau, France and Singapore - is well known, even venerated, by many both in Europe and worldwide, I soon discovered that my acquaintances in the US tended to be more provincial in their understanding of business schools.
I will be leaving my home in small-town New Jersey, US, to join the Singapore cohort. I will be leaving a town where there is only one main street, Main Street; one town pharmacy, Town Pharmacy; one town bookshop, Town Book Shop; and one town restaurant, Town Restaurant.
How did I, a young professional born, raised and educated in the US, make the decision to study for an international MBA?
I studied in North Carolina where I developed a keen interest in international affairs. During my undergraduate years, I studied overseas in London. And later I accepted the opportunity to work in Waterloo, Belgium, the European headquarters for Johnson & Johnson, where I managed technology solutions for J&J's medical devices sector. I returned to the North American headquarters where I created a similar platform.
While I was still in Belgium a senior manager had urged me to apply to Insead and I rapidly realised that the school was the place where I could continue my development towards an international career.
The existence of Insead's Singapore campus made the school that much more compelling, because of my desire to have a global understanding of business, which up until then had only included North America and Europe.
My interest in Insead and Singapore, however, was not readily acceptable to my peers in the US. Going to Insead was not an eight-hour drive away, neither was it an eight-hour aeroplane ride away.
But when an opportunity presents itself, I have always told myself to think hard about whether or not to take the opportunity, in spite of what others might think or say.
And so I paid the deposit and made the decision to attend.
I had thought that I would then be able to relax and enjoy the free time before starting the programme. After all, I had just recently finished the Graduate Management Admission Test - two months of study and then a further two hours to drive to the nearest testing centre. I had also concluded the process of accumulating transcripts and undergraduate records, not to mention finalising applications and essays. And last, I had completed the three required interviews.
However, it appeared, even after I had made the decision, that I was not yet through with "pre-Insead" preparations. This entailed completing my second language certification (I speak Mandarin Chinese and French), as Insead requires proficiency in three languages at graduation, two at the time of entrance. I also needed to secure housing in Singapore (six or seven agents simultaneously asked me to "immediately TT [transfer] S$3,400" ($2,076) to their Singaporean bank accounts, without ever having seen pictures of the apartments or even receiving descriptions of the apartments), and sort through the numerous trivialities of moving from the US to Singapore.
Thank goodness for Vestibule, Insead's online student message board. The postings are quite informative and some are humorous. Postings have ranged from a "beer and tapas meet-up in Spain" to students in need of assistance for applying for a French visa in Singapore.
My favourite posting, though, has to be a trail of student commentary in response to an initial posting about "wealthy donors who will pay your tuition".
Yes, I still had to figure out how to pay for the entire escapade that would eventually become my livelihood. After scholarships, loans and acquiring every piece of possible information about payment options, tax breaks and savings, I finally grasped the monstrosity of my total educational burden.
My net loss would be more than $100,000 . This included tuition, additional costs for books and supplies, moving costs, accommodation in Singapore and general living expenses. Furthermore, I would forfeit my comfortable J&J salary.
Contributing to the dismal loss was the seemingly never-ending fall of the US dollar. Every time I looked at the exchange rate, it seemed to be mocking me, laughing at how much more my tuition would cost. For although I would be attending Insead in Singapore, all the accounting is handled from Fontainebleau, hence my tuition fees would be due in euros.
My "opportunity cost" (I think now is a good time to start showing off some b-school lingo) was staggering. But I do this because it is an investment. I am investing in myself, just as all my classmates will be doing.
We are each taking a calculated risk that our investment will give us inordinate returns.
I am taking this risk because of what Insead offers. It has a student body representing 67 different countries, with more cultures than I can anticipate experiencing in a lifetime, let alone in a single year.
It offers exposure to global career opportunities, with campuses and career management services in three continents, encompassing Europe (Fontainebleau campus), Asia (Singapore campus) and North America (Insead-Wharton alliance). It offers the chance to participate in a campus switch for as many as three periods, which can provide additional depth in learning about global business. And there are the countless opportunities that will be made available, some of which do not yet know of.
I am both anxious and excited as I begin the coming year. This journey will inevitably enrich my life and give me strength. It is the strength of the US dollar that I am not so sure about …
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