Paris to Dubai. Dubai to Singapore. Twenty-one long hours with three tired, little Bohns. Successes: The children only screamed a total of 20 minutes during landing, and we all gorged on unhealthy amounts of free movies and Emirates Airline food. Casualties: a bloody nose on the plane and a gashed (eventually glued) head upon arrival. (That doorframe seemed so much higher when the Singaporeans walked under it.)
At last we arrived at our final home for our year at INSEAD (INSEAD Full-Time MBA Profile). Mark and I exhaled in relief as we rode the elevator up 11 stories and proceeded to unload five suitcases, seven carry-ons, three car seats, a portable crib, and our behemoth double stroller into our new, air-conditioned Singaporean abode. From the condominium's expansive windows, we absorbed our new surroundings, observing the country's dense, urban society functioning in the middle of the rainforest. We smiled at each other when we spotted INSEAD's Asia campus and imagined Mark graduating there in the summer. Thankful for our safety and the onset of another family adventure, we began to fully appreciate the fruits of our masochistic labors.
Our family traded in fresh baguettes and delectable French pastries for the whole gamut of Asian culinary delights. We also enjoy many conveniences that do not exist in France. Pharmacies and supermarkets close at around 7 p.m. in Fontainebleau, and in contrast the Singaporean business model (more customer-focused than employee-focused) provides the grounds for companies to offer everything from online grocery shopping to McDonald's (MCD) home delivery, and many stores remain open 24/7. In addition, fluently speaking the country's official language eases transitional challenges enormously. However, I admittedly experience difficulty interpreting the morass of colloquial phrases I hear at grocery stores, shopping centers, and in taxis. Occasionally, when I feel daring, I refer to older women as "Auntie" and throw in a "lah" at the end of a sentence for emphasis—to demonstrate my "Singlish" prowess. This year I realize more than ever that the intricacies of a country's culture, from language to food to child-rearing, reflect personal and collective values and mindsets, and that we all must respect them.
Sparsely Populated Campus
INSEAD encourages students to attend all campuses (in France, Singapore, and the alliance program at Wharton in the U.S.), and Mark's classmates migrate between all three. However, because most INSEAD students prefer to attend the Fontainebleau campus for Period Five and graduation, Singapore's campus currently assumes a quiet, ghost-town disposition with approximately 300 out of 1,000 students attending. As a result, the partners-with-children base is small but wonderfully friendly. We look out for each other and enjoy playdates at the playground or pool.
The IT and administrative staff in "Singy" respond to issues quickly and effectively, and the students seem to approach school more casually than in "Fonty," as reflected by their flip-flops and cargo shorts. Mark's classmates repeatedly astonish me with their ability to manage weekly pool parties and excursions all over Asia while attending one of the best business schools in the world.
As expensive as resort living proves to be, particularly here, I rely heavily on its perks daily. The pools, playgrounds, karaoke lounge, and gym provide ample entertainment for the children and me on my ambition-less days (for example, when Mark is at school or interviewing and I don't feel like touring the country by myself with my many appendages). Our kids report that they love Singapore, especially the opportunity to swim every afternoon. When we do feel like navigating the new terrain, between the meltdowns by the 2- and 4-year-olds and the newborn's midnight snacks, we hail one of the ubiquitous cabs and explore the island and its environs.
Relishing in family time during Mark's school break, we hand-fed giraffes, petted kangaroos, and rode an elephant at the zoo. We shopped at Holland Village and Chinatown, examined ancient artifacts at the Asian Civilizations Museum, devoured a sunset Vietnamese dinner on Boat Quay, opened a bank account downtown, danced with our children at a costume party at the local chapter of our church, relaxed with expat family members at a club in Sentosa, and sunbathed on a beach in Bintan, Indonesia.
Months of deliberation, new experiences, and paradigm shifts finally led us to make that anxiety-laden, fork-in-the-road decision regarding Mark's future employment. With the whole world literally at our fingertips, we jointly discussed, rediscussed, and decided that focusing job-search efforts in the U.S., rather than alternative geographic regions, makes the most sense for Mark's career at this point. He will be able to utilize his skills and knowledge of American culture and business structure, and therefore best launch his post-MBA career at a multinational company with offices in the U.S.
Fortunately, Mark's current schedule of elective courses (Global Strategy & Management, Blue Ocean Strategy Study Group, Customer Insights, and Environmental Management in a Global Economy) allow some wiggle room for negotiating the 12-hour difference in time zones. Companies generally conduct their interviews with Mark via telephone or teleconference anywhere between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Singapore Standard Time, although one has leveraged its office in China for a quick in-person interview. Mark is in the middle of second- and third-round interviews with four companies. In the meantime, I search Craigslist for housing options and Google elementary schools in New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan, crossing my fingers that the hiring process ends before commencement ceremonies begin in July.