By The Glass At INSEAD: Recharging Your MBA Batteries

Sri Lanka: Augusto, Ashley and I spent the first half of our INSEAD spring break hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range in Central Sri Lanka. (Photo credit: Augusto Alonso)

Business school has been compared to drinking from a fire hose. Since I’m here in France let’s compare it to gavage, the forcefeeding of ducks for foie gras production. Sounds deliciously decadent, right? In an effort to condense the traditional two-year experience into just ten-months, INSEAD stuffs our schedules as if they were one of those prized Perigord ducks.

For starters, there’s the coursework. Classes typically start at 8:30, run until 7:30, and take place six days a week. There’s no such thing as “reading period” before exams; finals regularly take place the day after the last lecture.

Waterfall: After spending so much time either in a classroom or in front of a computer, I loved spending a weekend in nature. Next time I go to Iceland, I need to pack a better coat (photo credit: Johnny Sleeman)


But it’s not just the administration and accelerated academics that play into that gavage. As students, we do it to ourselves by sacrificing what little restorative free-time we have to fend off feelings of FOMO. Ask any INSEADer what their average week looks like, and chances are you’ll get a breathless answer that involves extracurricular clubs, recruiting activities, and international treks. Unless you worked in the circus before starting your MBA, all that juggling is going to wear you down.

That’s why it is vital to know how to recharge your batteries.

Now, I know what you might be thinking… recharging batteries? That doesn’t make any sense. You’ll be energized by the riveting discussions on decomposing convertible debt into a portfolio of options. And you’ll be being surrounded by the best and brightest business leaders of the future. How on earth can the life of an INSEAD student be draining?

Honestly, it’s stressful being pulled in so many different directions, and no amount of coffee or sleep will help (and I guarantee you won’t be getting enough of the latter). It’s a zero-sum game; there’s only so much time in the day, so it’s easy to lose focus on what genuinely matters to you. When that feeling of burnout starts to creep in, be ready to take care of yourself. Luckily at INSEAD, there’s no shortage of ways to blow off some steam.

One of the most popular clubs at INSEAD is VINSEAD, the wine club. As co-President, I helped organize a planning party December to map out events for the 2022 season.


Different students recharge their batteries in different ways. For some, socializing at a big party is the best way to do de-stress. Here in Fontainebleau, many of us live together in beautiful mansions built centuries ago. As an American who has attended plenty of “house parties” in his day, I can safely say that “chateau parties” are infinitely better on an aesthetic and gastronomic level. In the early months of our program, the massive chateau courtyards were turned into rosé-soaked dancefloors; in the dead of winter, bottles of Carignan-based red blends from Corbières and wedges of 18-month comte fuel our late nights in the chateau’s vaulted chambers. Because we have students from around the world, the setlist is a sonic smorgasbord of American pop, Berghain-worthy techno, UK-based progressive house, and South African Amapiano. Obviously COVID has put a damper on wilder soirees,. With regular testing and the rigorous French vaccination and booster policies, we can still let loose together.

On a personal level, I can find these bigger get-togethers to be tough. Maybe it’s because I have two left feet, but my preference is for small dinner parties in a relaxed environment where deep discussions take the main stage. My French friend Félix and I both love cooking, so we hosted a dinner a couple weeks ago. At our table, we had nine different nationalities represented. I along with my Canadian friend Michaela were the only native-English speakers out of the eight-person group. With bellies full of fennel-flecked roasted chicken à la provençal and bottles of Éric Texier’s Roussanne, we spoke about everything from our upcoming Public Policy exam to Ethereum’s recent nosedive to hate speech on social media.

One conversation I remember well is one with Teti from Botswana, who had spent years at Facebook scaling economic impact programs that helped upskill small business owners in Africa. We swapped stories with Andreina from Venezuela about giving back to entrepreneurially underdeveloped communities. This thread led us to talking very candidly about how to balance our post-MBA financial goals with INSEAD’s mission about making the world a better place. At this stage in our lives, what should be the priority: helping others or maximizing our income potential? How much satisfaction should we derive from our careers as opposed to our personal lives? In these smaller settings, we’re able to be vulnerable and empathize with one another as we make our way through the MBA journey.

A rare moment of awe as we admired Aurora Borealis, better known as The Northern Lights, from the top of our rented camper van. (Photo credit: Matt Disher)


For many students, traveling is self-care. As I mentioned, it’s very common for students to have classes on Saturday, but there are occasional opportunities throughout the program to spend a quick weekend outside of France. The beauty of a European MBA is that destinations like Madrid, London, and Prague are just a few hours away.

I just got back from Iceland, where about sixty of us INSEADers rented a caravan of camper vans to find the Northern Lights. For a few days, we hiked inside glacial ice caves, walked along the black sand beaches, and cooked s’mores while we stargazed. Being surrounded by nature and sipping cowboy coffee with my closest friends at INSEAD was the perfect pick-me-up. One of my favorite memories of that trip was when me and my van mates – Johnny from England and Stefano from Italy – pulled to the side of the highway to watch the setting sun paint the snowcapped mountain a rosy hue. We belted the lyrics to “Mr Brightside” as the sun descended into the lava fields. Another popular winter excursion is SKI-SEAD; there’s an entire message board dedicated to planning weekend ski trips in places like Chamonix and Tignes. Meanwhile, a faction of classmates seeking warmer weather took a trip to the Canary Islands to soak up the sun. Even right now I’m drafting this column from our spring break trip to Sri Lanka, where we’re exploring Ceylon tea plantations and eating our weight in kottu roti.

At INSEAD, catching flights is the best way to avoid catching feelings.

The Gorges de Franchard is a high-elevation point in the Fontainebleau forest where boulders and trees reach dizzying heights. With over 250 kilometers of trails, you’ll always have a new running path.


And then, of course, there’s Paris. INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus is about an hour-and-a-half outside the city of lights, making it the perfect day trip. My buddy Laurent is my go-to museum companion. Any time there’s a new exhibit at the Jeu d’Paume or Bourse de Commerce, he and I hop on the train to spend the day museum and restaurant-hopping. As a sommelier by trade, I love exploring the restaurants and natural wine bars of the 11th arrondissement. Whenever I’m feeling a lil’ mopey, I hoof it to Paris for a bevy of buttery delicacies from my favorite pastry shop: Tapisserie Patisserie. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle (15-minute bike ride from my apartment to the gare de Fontainebleau-Avon, followed by a 45-minute trip on a train service that frequently strikes, then 20 minutes on the metro). Once I bite into Tapisserie’s Mont Blanc – a whipped-cream filled pastry topped with a sweetened chestnut purée — I’m in sugary, carbohydrate-heaven. Talk to most of my classmates, and they’ll attest that most preoccupations can be assuaged with a croissant or pain au chocolat.

All of these aforementioned activities help relieve stress, but the most important part of my self-care routine comes from my morning runs in La Forêt de Fontainebleau. Nestled behind INSEAD’s campus, the forest and its 250-square kilometers of trails contain a multitude of flora and fauna, including aromatic pine trees filled with harmonious birds and sculptural boulders bespeckled with lichen. I go running in the forest four or five times a week, sometimes for just a half hour—other times for much longer. There have been times that I’ve been in the forest for over two hours and never encountered another person. For me, communing with myself and nature is the best way to recharge my batteries.

Chances are, you got into a top business school because of a borderline maniacal sense of purpose. You were driven and pushed yourself in order to succeed in a rigorous work environment. It’s easy to bring that pressure-cooker mentality to a top MBA program. Yes, you’ll be graded on a curve against for fellow students. Yes, the exstitential dread of finding a job can eat a hole in your stomach. But remember: you’re getting an MBA! Spend this year (or two) focusing on yourself, maximizing your your personal development. You’re gonna get as much out of it as you put into it, so you may as well have fun. Cherish the moments of frivolity as much as you do the academic and professional wins. Inevitably, there will be challenges and moments that you’ll be pushed beyond your limits. However, it’s important to stop occasionally, and smell the proverbial roses. Or if you find yourself at INSEAD in the spring, go for a run in the forest and smell the actual roses.

Chris Poldoian got his undergraduate degree at Tufts University 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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