Saturday, September 29, 2007

Language Courses in INSEAD

Dean Fatas told us at orientation week that as an international school it is important for us to know 3 languages - our native language, English, and a 3rd language in a basic level. It kind of makes sense, since this is definitely one of the most international business schools. However, the implementation of the language program at INSEAD kind of ruin the noble concept.

Apperantely the courses are run by an independent contractor (or something like that) - I will call them "The Company", and those guys run the language program at INSEAD. On orientation week you do a placement test (if you want) - for 115 Euros, at the language of your choice. The test is written by The Company, and is very hard. If you get 100 you are fluent in that language. Get over 50 and you are basic level, and this is the minimum requirement for the exit level - you are done with languages. Less than 50 and you will have to somehow pass the exam (the difficult exam again) later that year.

Alternatively, you may choose to take the courses offered by The Company on campus (depending on your level, you might need to take courses for 1,2, or even 3 semesters). The courses require payment of around 500 euros per period. If you do those courses you will get much easier exams at the end of each period (passing it is guaranteed, trust me).

The Placement Exam

As I said it is hard. There is definitely a conflict of interests here - the same company who will train you for 1500 euros if you fail the exam is the one writing it. Do you wonder why the exam is hard? I am not saying the The Company and INSEAD is deliberatly doing something unethical, but the doubts still remain. The exam that you do after you study 3 preiods with The Company is much easier and everybody passes it (after we pay so much for it, we had better pass it).

The exam is a written exam. People told me that they studied for 2 month, scored the 51 they needed, but cannot speak or understand a word. The fact that they scored 51 is impressive by itself, as the exam contains all the most isoteric grammatical exceptions, and focuses on vocabulary that no-one knows or needs.

I studied 2 month before coming to INSEAD with a private teacher. I studied most of the needed grammer, but I did not have the time to study the vocabulary well. So I ended with a 31. I managed to save one period. I should have started the Spanish courses in p2 (Beginner 2) with the people who finished Spanish Begginer 1, but the company suggested that we start on p1.

Studying Spanish at INSEAD

First of all I suggest that people learn French in France. I wanted to study an easier language, but it is difficult to live in Fonty without knowing a single word of French.

We were arranged in 2 groups of 6. The teacher is from Spain, and is very nice. From the first lesson she talked with us only in Spanish. So we stare at her in discomfort, and she talks to us completely aware that we do not understand a single word that comes from her mouth. We got used to it during the period, and even manage to assemble a short sentence (a very stuttering one).

We learnt some of the tenses in Spanish (present, future, and a little past), we learnt some vocabulary - nothing exciting. I already knew most of it, so it was 80% complete waste of time (and money). There are 16 lessons of 1 and a half hour stuck in my already busy schedule. It is so nice to have 3 lectures back to back, and then have another 2 Spanish lessons (5 straight if you lost count). Or to have your first lecture at 14:00 but your Spanish lesson is at 9:00 (especially in a cold morning).


We did a quiz in mid term - ungraded. Then at the end of the period we had an oral exam - we had to pick one of 3 topics and talk about it 5-10 minutes in front of the class. Everybody chose to talk about their family. Everybody surprisingly passed.

Then we had a one hour written exam that I finished in 35 minutes (I studied for half an hour). It was pretty easy.

Summary of the first period

I haven't learnt much (but paid much). It was stuck in my schedule, and was 80% waste of time. In my opinion it missed the point. I did not have a lot of time to spend, and would have preffered to not do it at all.

Lucky for me in p2 I have to go through it all over again (Beginner 3 class). And I don't imagine that I will learn much. At the end of p2 we will have another exam, this time covering all the material we have learnt so far. Pass that exam and you are Basic. In my mind I am Basic now. The only reason I had to study his Spanish thing at INSEAD because the pleacement test was too hard (that's my take on it at least). Of course I cannot talk or understand in a reasonable way, but the placement test was a written exam (so no-one actually cares about that).

Tips for next years promotion
Get rid of it before you come here. Study as much as you can in order to get 51 in the placement exam.

Of course think if the costs. If you come here knowing nothing, you will spend 1500 euros and it will take much of your time. Think positive NPV for a second - if you will spend less back home on private lessons, and learn enough to get 51 you don't need The Company and it is much cheaper.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Social Life at INSEAD

INSEAD is a great experience and an oportunity to meet new people. Actually I have a lot of fun, and besides the studying, it is a good change in my life. Before I went to INSEAD I was stuck in a routin and now I feel that my life is pretty exciting. Too bad that currently my wife, Inna, is not here with me.

Well, to illustrate what I am talking about, here are the activities from the previous week.

At Monday I had dinner at friends house.

At Wednesday there was Rosh Hashana dinner (Jewish new year) at friends. The next day there was the official Rosh Hashana dinner at Shangri-La - over 30 people came (Israelis and Jewish). Everyone contributed a dish and it was wonderful and very exciting.

At Friday we had a group dinner at the house of one of our group members, an Indian dinner cooked by his lovely wife. It was great we loughed all evening. It really bonded us as a group, and we learnt a lot about each other cultures.
After dinner I went to a custom party, Quention Tarantino style, in Shangri-La.

On Saturday there was a very big BBQ in the Mint House in Bois Le Rois, and an unexpected number of students showed up. It was amazing, and after eating tons of meat, we ended up playing ping pong and poker (some of us even played Golf).

France is NOT so Expensive

Just kidding. France is VERY expensive (got your attention now, right?).
To help you figure out how much money you need, here are some of the things that I spent money on since I came here. It has been almost 4 weeks so you can get a nice estimate. The first 3 weeks we were two here, and in the last week it's only me.

Beside the tuition of course, I spent around 850 euros. That include reloading my student card (photocopies cost 9 cents per page, eating in the restaurabts and bar), paying for the stamps for the Card De Sejour (330 euros), student council (100 euros), 2 books (115 euros), business cards (38 euros), and my Spanish exam (115 euros).

Language tuition of 550 euros awates.

So far I have spent about 300 Euros on food and drinks (including wine). There are 4 supermarkets that I checked: Champion (there is one in every city, including Champagne and Avon), Casino (in Samorau), ACAT (near Champagne - very expensive), and Leader Price (in Rue Grande - Fontainebleau). Except ACAT all are pretty much the same price range.

Food (except for cheese and wine) is generally expensive. You buy with 30-40 euros basic stuff. Be prepared for this expense.

Besides rent, which is 800-1200 euros in general, I paid around 350 Euros so far on expenses for my apartment.

Furniture - Don't hesitate and drive to IKEA. It's only 25 minutes from here and is the cheapest. Don't waste your time on stores like BricoMarche. They are more expensive. Almost all you need you can buy there.

Electronic equipment - Go to Carfour. It has a large stock with a variety of products in reasonable prices (computer equipment, kitchen, etc).

Telecom and internet - Here is the big annoyance. Let's start with phone for the apartment. There is a monopoly here, and you will have to go to Orange in France Telecom at Rue Grande. For the worst service you will ever see (large lines, and you will have to come almost every day) and for an outragous price you will get yourself a fixed line. It will cost you 27 euros to install the line (they just have to press a button), and then 16 euros per month for maintenance (if you don't pay and there is a malfunction it will take them two weeks to fix it).
Then there is internet. Again I used Orange, since they have a program without commitment. For 28 Euros per month you get yourself a Livebox and 8M internet. Now here is the catch - it takes them up tp two weeks to install internet on your fixed lines, and then if you are lucky your Livebox will work.
Next we have mobile phone. You can get a prepaid SIM but I did the math and it is not worth it. Again I went to Orange, and you can get a Mobile with two hours and 30 SMS for around 32 Euros per month. Plus you have to pay for the phone 20 Euros.

That's it, enough complaining about Orange. I have spent around 150 Euros on telecom and internet.

Car Expenses
So far I have spent around 130 euros on fuel and parking. In Fontainebleau you have to pay for parking everywhere, but in all the other places parking is free.
I have a diesel car, so around every 650 km I have to spend 40 euros for full tank.

For all other expenses I have spent around 400 Euros (Paris, restaurants, gifts, etc).

In total I have spent here around 3000 Euros in 4 weeks (including rent). The price don't include expenses I had made in Israel - flying tickets, tuition, shipping, car leasing, laptop, etc. This is merely for living here in France.
Obviousely a portion of the amount is a one time expenditure in the first month.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Leadership and Career Tests

Nice to meet you all. I am an ESTP (MBTI test), with strong LS and GM anchors (Career Anchor test), with very high Decisiveness, Resilience, and Straregy Thinking abilities (Career Leader test). These are some of the tests they make us take here in INSEAD in the first few weeks. Based on these scores you should focus on career path that fits, and improve your leadership skills.

Note: Lots of people are reading this blog lately (which is good - keep coming), so the results I have given above are not MY scores. I just picked some arbitrary results.

I won't bore you with the details, but each test is a long set of nerve wrecking, brain sucking questions, designed to sample my patience skills and my cosistency. It reminds me of those newspaper quizes that supposedly do a profound psychological analysis by making you circle the answer that suits you most, then make you sum the scores and provide the results (always hated those).

First of all I don't believe in categorizing people into groups of 8, 16, or 100 categories. The world is not so simple and the models of people brains must be more complicated than that. Just reading the results makes me lough: I fit to at least 3 categories in the MBTI test (which classify you by measuring 4 pairs of characteristics one against the other. And come on - is Judgemental really means "Following schedule"?). I always wondered why people believe in horoscopes: Do they really think that the billions of people in the universe can be divided into only 12 groups, when the commonality is an arbitrary parameter - their birthday? In the same way, I can't believe that companies actually use these profiles when making decisions to hire you. They might as well check your horoscope.

Also, I can retake the test 10 times never to answer the exact same way twice. I mean, there are more than 500 questions in the career leader test. Will I want to have more influence or to earn more benefits? That can change in any given day depending on my mood. And based on questions such as this they derive my career motivations! I admit that when I first read the (10 pages, seriousely) report of the Career Leader exam I was impressed. It actually told stories about myself that I could relate to. But then I got to think about it, and my guess is that if I did the test again, assuming that I cannot remember what I picked the last time, I will get a somewhat different report with stories that I can relate to also. And believe me - the next time I take this test some things will defenitely change! I would like better lifestyle than friends on the job (unlike the last time I took the test - I think).

To summerize (and I know this is not the typical post I put in my blog, but hey - that's my blog and I can write about whatever I want to), the leadership and career fitting tests that we took in the first few weeks may seem very serious, but in my opinion we should be careful when taking them into account.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Thoughts about the MBA Program of INSEAD


"Don't obssess with the grades", told us Dean Fatas last week in the introduction meeting. He said that we all passed the "applications test", so we don't need to worry so much about the tests in INSEAD. This is the moto of the school - grades are not important, and that is why a Z-score policy is apply (the grades are completely relative, in normal distribution). The dean told us that everyone would get good grades and bad grades, simply because no-one is the best in every course. One course you are up, and the other you are down, and that is completely normal (just make sure not to be in the bottom for every course). By the way, the grades are confidential and we are not allowed to reveal them on-campus-recruitment. Some students make it to the dean's list.

This, and the open-door policy at INSEAD, is well reflected in most of the courses. The professors demand highly of us - we can't be late (and we often start at 8:30 - traffic can be really annoying near the obelisque in that hours), we must prepare ourselves before each class (and there is simply no time between classes to prepare), and we can't miss any lecture (this may result in a failing grade). For example, we have a professor that don't let people in if they are late - he starts talking, and 10 seconds afterwards people try to enter, he says to them: "You are late, you have to leave", and that is it! Someone calculated that one lecture cost us something like 150$ (pretty big loss).

However, the attitude is very friendly. We call the professors by their first names, we can come to them with any questions and problems, and some of them are really entertaining and encouraging.

In the first semester we study finance, economics, accounting, statistics and leadership. The first 4 I already encountered at some level during my first degree, but the last one is really new and fun - we watch movies in class, play card games and other fun activities with the purpose of allowing us to figure out what leadership is all about.

The more analytical courses are not that hard. The economics is taught really slowly. The finance we should learn from the book (because it is taught quite dryly). The statistics is quite entertaining (and the math is not hard - it was much harder in Advanced Probability at the Technion). Financial Accounting (not the most interesting subject to say the lease) is actually taught very thoroughly and the professor keeps us occupied and "cold-calls" us - quite bizarre that this way the course is actually digestible.

There is a lot of stuff to read between the classes, and my group found it best to solve exercises together (I like it). You don't have time to breathe (hence why I did not post much lately), but you can figure out what is important from the rest. The thing is that you must prepare for the class BEFORE it actually happens, because the professor might pick on you. Like in first grade, everybody must sit in the same location in all classes (of course I was selected to sit in the front row), and we need to put a sign with our names before us.

As a December 07 student told me: The life at INSEAD is spread across four axes: Academic, Social, Career, and Clubs. You can put the weight only in academics, but you may choose to spread your time in all of those four axes, and might even benefit from it. This is an advice that I intend to keep in mind.