By The Glass At INSEAD: The Many Dimensions Of Diversity

During the sunnier months in Fontainebleau, it’s common to find students picnicking by the town’s famous Chateau. Our section did a happy hour along the canal, replete with French wine and cheese.
CREDIT: Stephane Ketchassi

On our first day on campus, Urs Peyer welcomed us with a speech about our collective identity. Urs serves as our dean, but he is also a finance professor. Like any good quant, he substantiated 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 Brits, 11 Brazilians, 5 Moroccans, 2 Syrians and 4 South Africans. Some of these numbers you’d come across in a brochure, but hearing these tallies aloud, accompanied by cheering from the audience, really emphasized how diverse we are as a class. Urs ended his point with a little joke: “Some B-schools speak about geography in terms of Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, but here the whole world is represented.”

INSEAD Classroom


It’s easy to think about diversity at INSEAD from a purely geographical perspective. With a tagline like “Business School For The World” and a global campus spanning multiple continents, INSEAD can occasionally feel like a United Nations summit. Inside the classroom, our laminated placards display not only our names, but also our nationalities. Professors harness this diversity to cultivate compelling conversations about cultural and political differences. It’s one thing to read about the differences between US GAAP and IFRS and 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 course, we were debating the labor market vis-a-vis compensation, unemployment benefits, and the gender gap. Each student represented a different paradigm and spoke in highly personal terms about their experiences filing taxes or dealing with unexpected unemployment. Back in the USA, we tend to think of Western Europe in monolithic terms when it comes to the social welfare system; quite honestly, it tends to get reduced to political polemics. However, the personal accounts from my Norwegian, French, and Swiss colleagues illustrated the full spectrum of these differences and contextualized the professor’s nuanced lecture on fairness and equity in the labor market.

Outside of the classroom, there is no shortage of opportunities for students to share the ways in which their nationality has shaped their identity. For instance, in November, the Latin American students hosted LatAm Week, a week-long celebration that included mezcal and pisco tastings, salsa classes, and a roundtable lecture series featuring executives from three Latin American Unicorn startups (Bitso, Kavak, and Rappi).

One big highlight from the first couple months of the program attending a concert in Paris with the African Club. I’ve been a huge fan of Burna Boy, one of Nigeria’s most popular artists. Over the past couple of 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 Botswanan classmates, many of whom had been listening to him back when he was just a local musician, was so cool for a fan like me.

Chris Poldoian


At INSEAD, the question “Where are you from” rarely gets one response. Take my friend Nimisha, who studied in Paris before working as an M&A lawyer in India…and then moved to Finland to pursue a career as a consultant. Even my four-person study group represented four different continents and collectively we’ve lived in eight different countries.  Maryam grew up in Morocco but has spent the past few years in Paris; Shahbaaz was born in India but now calls Singapore home; Andrea identifies as Italian but worked in finance and consulting in London. When it came to collaborating on group projects, each one of us brought our respective experiences living and working all over the world to the table. Sometimes, our cultural differences created friction – going back to the discussion about high and low context languages, it took us a while to know how to communicate effectively with one another. Had I gone to a US program, I never would’ve had this learning experience because my study groups would’ve been composed more of fellow Americans. Here at INSEAD, no one nationality or culture prevails.

However, diversity at INSEAD runs deeper than just someone’s passport. INSEAD might have a reputation for MBB consulting, 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, not their nationality, not their extracurriculars.

One of my best friends at INSEAD personifies this multi-dimensionality. If you were to ask Matt what he did before moving to Fontainebleau, the short answer might be that he worked in finance in Australia and Southeast Asia. Maybe the industry isn’t the most unique thing in the world, but dig a little deeper and you’d hear about how his impassioned fight for gender inequality in sports led him to working with a non-profit to break four Guinness World Records. Matt has played the world’s highest game of soccer (or as it’s called here… football) on top of Mount Kilimanjaro and on the shores of Jordan’s Dead Sea. These are the Guiness World Records for the highest and lowest altitude games of football.

Over the past four months, I have met amazing people. By sharing our life experiences, we’ve built cross-cultural trust with one another and gained a deeper understanding of our differences and commonalities. These stories come up over drinks at the bar, lunch in the cafeteria, or late-night cheese soirees at someone’s flat. It’s hearing from Wadih about being at work in Beirut when an explosion shattered his office windows. It’s talking to Divy about coming out to his Punjabi parents in India. It’s empathizing with Sam about returning to the increasingly-polarized political climate of the USA after years of living as an expat. It’s listening to Carlos attempting to find coffee in Sweden that would remind him of home in Columbia.

After almost two years of social distancing and sheltering-in-place, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a global MBA class.

Chris Poldoian got his undergraduate degree at Tufts University, where he majored in Economics & 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 pivoting into freelance 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.

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