Changing Scenery for a Growing MBA Family

"Change or die"—the strategy of many retailers, philosophers, and politicians.

Our family has adopted this credo after many twists and turns on the MBA adventure. Fortunately the journey to graduation continues to smooth out, thanks to our ability to adapt.

When we lost access to hot water and discovered a gas leak in our Fontainebleau apartment at the end of 2009, we rang in the new year by moving to a charming town seven kilometers south of the INSEAD (INSEAD Full-Time MBA Profile) campus. As we swung open the door to our new village home, we sighed in relief. Our new residence contained all the delights of the French "provincial life" I had glamorized since I saw Beauty and the Beast in third grade. Most important, it would provide piping hot showers.

Village life, of course, differs from urban life. Although I miss walking to INSEAD, Napoleon's old stomping grounds, and the nearby quaint library, I enjoy loading up a week's worth of groceries in my car, rather than hoisting two days' worth into my stroller and up three flights of stairs. Also I love the backyard, bustling with the energy of our landlord's dog and cat. Life is quieter, less busy, less rushed.

Change, whether positive or negative, taxes everyone involved. Often little people take longer to adapt. With the unexpected move, the impending birth of a little brother, and an upcoming move to Singapore, my three-year-old started to exhibit signs of change fatigue. After wiping away giant crocodile tears every day for several weeks during preschool drop-offs, my husband, Mark, and I trusted our instincts and decided to begin a healthy home-school regimen until the dust settles after graduation in July.

Two days after our move, INSEAD's period three commenced. Before the holiday break, students solely focused on core classes. Now Mark and his cohorts enjoy the bliss of electives. The workload and group assignments continue to flow and at times Mark returns from campus at 2 a.m.—task completed, but having forgotten to eat dinner. Somehow the subject matter is so intriguing that he doesn't seem to mind.

Three kids and seven final projects

A week before my official due date, I found myself pregnant, uncomfortable, and chasing after two children. Desperate for advice, I waddled into the hospital to schedule an appointment with the sage femme (midwife). Thanks to my terrible French-speaking abilities, I accidentally negotiated an early induction for that afternoon. Delivering my third child in the Fontainebleau Hospital with minimal knowledge of the medical system and an even greater language deficit posed an interesting challenge to me—and for the staff. Much to my delight, my experience far exceeded my expectations, solidifying my positive opinion of French socialized medicine. What post-partum woman wouldn't appreciate four days in the hospital in a private room, aided by extremely attentive nurses?

Meanwhile, as I luxuriated in the quiet confines of the maternity wing, my poor husband became Mr. Mom during finals week. With the aid of our babysitter and other INSEAD partners, Mark successfully juggled dad duty and whipped out seven final projects. My Texan mother came to our rescue for an enchanting fortnight.

A month later, we still feel the buzz and chaos of that first week with three children aged three and under. As we develop new routines and acquire sleep here and there, our capacities to balance family and school evolve. In fact we mustered up the ambition (or perhaps, insanity) to host a playgroup birthday part, and to make expeditions to the neighborhood chateau, Disneyland Paris, and the U.S. Embassy for our little angel's passport and Social Security registration.

When I'm not feeding, bathing, or diapering my children, I prepare for our short-term stint in Singapore, where Mark will graduate at INSEAD's Asia campus. I attempt to organize our lives into three tidy categories: items to send to storage (my sister's closet in California); items to squeeze into suitcases; and items to donate. Unfortunately the process is long and arduous, although deceptively simple. With shipment costs up to 90 Euros per 20 kilograms (44 lbs.), I scrutinize the value of every object we own. I find myself thinking: "How good do I really look in this shirt?" Or "will the kids miss this heavy toy?" Fortunately we significantly whittled down our belongings before we left San Francisco, so this move is not nearly as overwhelming or time-consuming as was our initial relocation to Europe.

race to the "dream" job offer

The shipping and packing don't concern me as much as the 20-hour plane ride and layover. This time around, we are wiser. We reserved a bassinet for the flight and are stocking up on educational children's programs to play on my iPod Touch. Our son already talks about the in-flight TV and "spicy drink" (carbonated beverage) we promised him on our traveling day. He and my daughter also practice blowing bubbles in the bathtub, anticipating the swimming pool that awaits them at our Singaporean apartment. I look forward to experiencing another culture, weekly maid service, and the prospect of a long weekend in Malaysia. Mark thrills at the opportunity to expand his international horizon, both for personal and business purposes.

With the onset of period four, INSEAD's recruiting season has officially started, and the race to the "dream" offer has intensified. My husband and his counterparts attend company presentations daily. Although Mark front-loaded his class schedule to create greater flexibility for job searching and helping more at home during our family's transition, his schedule is tightening as he lands interviews. Given the reality of the 10-month, no-internship program, students rely heavily on INSEAD and professional networks, recruiters, and career services for job matchmaking.

With the focus on July graduates, the career services department has opened its doors wide to students. My husband has reached out to the department for leads and ideas on interviewing and better self-marketing. Over the past few months, career services has consistently responded with helpful feedback and advice. Two employees in particular have initiated support, connecting Mark with alumni who work at companies in which Mark is interested. The career-assessment seminars and INSEAD-provided career coaching sessions encouraged Mark to discover his true passions and have given him tools to achieve his goals. After fully taking advantage of career services, three of my husband's favorite takeaways include a pep talk after a bad interview, tips on better utilization of LinkedIn (which has already helped his job search), and a referral that led to an insightful and productive informational interview with a top executive at a Fortune 500 company.

As my husband's main support, especially at business school, I realize that my stability and encouragement through both peaks and valleys of study and interviewing play a major role in the high-stakes job search. Curious about where we will ultimately land, our family excitedly braces itself for the changes this MBA education and new career will bring.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.