Diving Into a Changing World

 by Catherine Villarosa, Global MBA Ambassador 2020-2021 | Strategy & Digital Leadership Singapore Track 

As a class, the ESSEC GMBA Cohort of 2021 was faced with the difficult decision of pursuing our degrees during a time of great uncertainty. The entire world was put on pause until a cure was found for COVID-19, with the billions of people around the globe left uncertain even of what the next day would bring. Until then, we needed to make do with what we could. Yet, despite knowing the upcoming challenges, the seventeen of us still decided to go for it. Changes were happening left and right, and even though there were times we felt lost, we realised how much this reflected the world that was coming: a new, different, and constantly changing world that we were still preparing to dive into. 

To begin, the journey to Singapore was a long road; with over half of the class struggling to enter the country, the whole class adjusting to the new blended online-offline learning environment, and the entire community striving to make the most out of what was possible. And for the first time, the cohort’s team building and integration activity was held after the first term closed; when, normally, it is intended for the first week of classes to help us build a strong foundation for the upcoming twelve months. But after working together for three months, I have found that even though the physical and temporal differences made it difficult to build that foundation, it was the shared experience of going through the struggles and having the hopefulness in a better tomorrow that truly brought our class together--and our team building activity helped cement it.

On the 14th and 15th of December, we took part in a two-day programme that allowed us to experience teamwork through out-of-the box tasks, different perspectives through culinary delights, and a sense of community and appreciation of the MBA journey through alumni talks over dinner with a beautiful view of Singapore.

We began our activities on the first day with Focus Adventure with a light breakfast and brief introduction and expectation-setting session: with some key ones being to have fun, make great memories, and make sure everyone was safe. We had a quick, multi-round icebreaker which had us learn our friends’ favourite colour, food, and country to visit. This went on for one round, where we traded as many name tags as we could by passing on what we learnt onto the next person we met. The second round was us passing back the name tag to the owner by correctly naming all three favourites. The final round involved a heavy round of competition between two random teams, where a curtain was put up in the middle, and the first team to correctly identify all three favourites would win the set, and the winner would take the person from the other team onto their side. This went on until one team won.

Our next activity was to build a working raft that would keep us afloat to complete a series of tasks. However, we weren’t going to be spoon-fed for our materials; we had to earn our materials through a blind minesweeper game, where we had to collect a specific number coloured balls that would represent each item that we needed to build our raft. The catch was: our team could only lead us through the field by using only animal sounds!

After successfully collecting everything we needed, each team was challenged to come up with a workable design that would be able to hold two team members who would operate the craft on the water towards a defined point, and would take it back to shore after. We would need to do this three times, and in between, we had to complete three sub-tasks as well. The first was to complete seven rounds of team juggling, the second to do a coordinated jump rope effort for ten rounds, and finally, to disassemble the raft in the most efficient and organised way possible.

Following this, lunch was served, and we had another icebreaker to re-energise us for the next activity of the day, which was to build a bicycle. Teams were given parts, manuals, and guides to assemble, and needless to say, it was an effort that required communication, teamwork, as well as both precision and trial and error. Throughout the allotted time for assembly, all teams were forced to stop working, and would only be able to continue once we completed specific tasks.

Apart from this, teams were also challenged to creatively present their bicycles through a short five-minute presentation. It was here that we learnt that the bicycles were to be donated to children in need, and upon learning this, all teams began to put greater effort into ensuring that the assembly was correct. In parallel, the teams began to prepare the presentation content; which ranged from lighthearted, superhero stories to inspirational, but humorous stories about chasing after their dreams (and ending with a dance for successfully reaching them!).

The day ended with a wrap-up of going through our expectations, as well as a time for special recognition for and from our teammates. The day was certainly tiring, but very rewarding, as the entire class had learnt how important teamwork, communication, and respect for one another is in achieving a common goal. This was especially true for our cohort, which is a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds and nationalities. While a small, close-knit group, we realised we had so much more to learn from one another, and that this was just really the beginning.

On the second day, we kick-started our whole-day culinary adventure with Hello! Singapore’s signature food tours. The trip began in the East Coast at Soon Soon Huat’s famous curry puff, which instantly became one of the group’s favourite delights. There, we tried and learnt about the differences among local kopi and teh drinks and how to order them according to our taste preferences. 

Our next stop was at Kim Choo Kueh Chang, which is a Peranakan heritage shop specialising in nyonya (rice) dumplings, nyonya kueh (traditional cakes), and other snacks. Apart from this, the shop also has several souvenirs available such as batik and other handicrafts, and even has a special archive on the second floor featuring Peranakan articles and artifacts celebrating its unique cultural heritage and value. The archive contains items like traditional ceramics, textiles, shoes, jewellery, clothing, art, and furnishings, and we were also treated to a brief tour from the family who has been running the business for two generations.

After this, we were off to try Katong Laksa at Roxy Centre, which I was unfortunately unable to try due to allergies, but according to the others, the taste was different from the other laksa they had tried in the past. Laksa is a traditional Peranakan spicy-sour soup dish with rice, wheat, or vermicelli noodles in a base of coconut milk, curry, or both in the soup.  As we were told, there are several versions of this “original laksa”, but that this one is the most famous one. 

Next, we headed over to the Bugis area and went to Albert Food Centre, which was filled with plenty of choices for lunch time. Our group was full by this time, but that didn’t stop us from trying out a variety of dishes and drinks, as well as some ice-based desserts that were perfect for the hot afternoon that day.

To walk off the morning’s calories, we explored a little more around the area in Bugis by briefly looking around in the open markets, as well as observing the temples from the outside. After this, we continued on with our tour and stopped by the Kampong Glam area, and explored a little of both the Malay Heritage Centre and Haji Lane’s colourful street before trying out some mubarak and prata for a quick break before our final stop in Little India, where we had our last dish of the day, which was dosa.

Even though it was just one day, I was very happy to have been able to explore some of Singapore’s rich cultural diversity, and it was great to have been able to do this through food. I believe there is so much to be learnt and appreciated through food, as there is so much depth behind what one can see on one’s plate. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to understand the history, appreciate the culture, and experience everything through the various flavours, textures, and aromas on this day.

Finally, we were treated to a wonderful evening with a gorgeous view of Singapore for a special dinner with some of our alumni, who offered stories about their experiences after getting their degree, and advice to our questions about life after the programme. 

Despite only being here for three months, I can say that it has definitely been a valuable period of learning, not just for me, but also for the entire cohort. Our first term was not what we expected when we decided to embark on our MBA journey, but we are all moving forward nonetheless. Our paths are all different, but at the same time, we are going through similar challenges. What these past days have taught me is that while the journey may be difficult, what matters is knowing what motivates you, understanding what you can do to make things happen, and learning to work with others through extending your understanding of them with empathy and respect so that you can achieve your common goals.

2020 has certainly been a year unlike any other. Amidst all the challenges and significant changes brought about, we have seen how just one event can have such a profound impact on our lives. We have understood for ourselves how change must take place through both thoughts and actions. And we have experienced how valuable, and wonderful it is for people to come together and work tirelessly towards healing the world. With everything that has happened so far, I am grateful for the opportunity to be with this group, and I am personally very excited as to how our own stories, experiences, skills, dreams, and passions will shape our journey and transformation towards becoming our best selves.


Enjoy the short video clip here: 

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