Here at INSEAD, everybody knows from day one the “Swiss Train” policy. That is, every class or event starts and finishes strictly on time, with no exceptions. Arriving late results in not being admitted to the lecture.
But life at INSEAD is much more than just classes. In the out-of-campus life, when I know that I cannot make it on time for any kind of appointment, I draw a classic joke, saying that I am under the “Italian Train” policy, and I will be late.
This week, the Italian train arrived for real. At INSEAD, there is a tradition of dedicating several weeks of the year to specific countries. During each one of these weeks, the students of the chosen country have the task of guiding their classmates to discover their culture and traditions. We have Desi week, Lebanese week and many others. I find them all fascinating, extremely fun and genuinely representative of the celebration of diversity, which is so innate to INSEAD’s spirit.
In this case, I had the chance (and the privilege) to see things from another perspective. This year, the second week of April was selected as the Italian week.
The life of an Italian expat is always tricky, a pendulum constantly moving from being proud of the beautiful, rich traditions of our country, to being ashamed of the poor choices that have been made in politics, the economy and other things. I am sure expats from other countries may resonate with this, but I experience the contradiction on a daily basis.
When the Italian students had the first meeting to discuss the agenda of the week, we reflected first on the goals we had for the event. We wanted to showcase the strong points of our country and to change the most common misconceptions, and to entertain everyone. After all, it was supposed to be a fun event.
Now, when I am writing these lines, Italian Week has just ended. It has been tiring but also great fun! The most daunting task was probably finding the time to organize meetings and preparing for the activities among all the other commitments we had (it is recruitment season, most importantly).
All in all, I believe we delivered a product in line with what we had planned. I will not digress much on the content of the week itself. I uploaded a few photos in the post, just to give you a glimpse of what it was like. We had traditional pasta and tiramisu classes, breakfast with Nutella, workshops about the Italian economy and a (somewhat) traditional Venetian ball. The MBA cohort responded with enthusiasm and participation and contributed to the success of the events which I will always remember gladly.
I would like to share a few thoughts instead about what this week meant to me and my MBA experience.
I know it may seem like a paradox, but I realised how narrating the differences between countries and cultures when done properly, is a great way to accept them and to exploit diversity.
Inherent differences between cultures do exist and discussing them is a much more effective method than denying them.
As an Italian, I know that my mindset, attitude and even skills have been profoundly influenced by the culture of my country, with all its pros and cons. I am aware of this effect, and I am aware that people from different countries may have a radically different view from mine because of their own culture.
Embracing diversity would make everyone conscious of their differences and respectful of each other’s opinion – and that is the greatest takeaway.
With this attitude in mind, a joke on Italian trains is an occasion to share a good laugh and not a cause of division. And I know that there are still many other marvellous things about my country that I can’t wait to share with my friends and colleagues coming from all corners of the world.
Italian trains might be late indeed, but what a great ride it is if we jump altogether!