#campus #studentlife #history
To integrate a top tier European Business school with the longstanding tradition of a French Grande École is an almost movie-like experience. Those who come for learning will find a high-quality education. Those who look more closely will find much more than that.
When I first walked onto the enormous woodland campus of HEC Paris, built around an old castle on the former hunting grounds of a French baron, I immediately perceived the historic ambiance of this place. But then again, it’s a matter of how you want to think about it. Looking at the 60-year old infrastructures won’t immediately convince you that HEC is in fact a 135-year-old institution of learning. But walking through the Hall d’Honneur where Charles de Gaulle once claimed to have found a renewed confidence in the French economy, or realizing that in these very classrooms, French students were already practicing their English accents when pictures were still in black and white, will definitely get you there. I like to think about it that way. And history is still in the making. HEC has become an international business school with over 4000 young people currently wandering on the campus forest grounds, and the French students are still practicing their English accents!
It seems to me that the appeal of this place cannot be captured in informative HEC brochures. These official descriptions of the campus life will not inform you about the underground, “mafia-like” student groups that were formed decennia ago and still roam the school corridors. They will not tell you about the unique image of hundreds of former French preparatory classes students being released into the free world. You will not learn about that one French song, inspired by the roughness of Irish landscapes, that is sang after parties and echoes over the campus grounds like a hymn of glory, freedom, and bacchanalia. You will not know how to bootstrap your campus life by systematically having the eco-menu in the university restaurant, which is also where you steal the cutlery for your room. I think that these are things you can only understand if you have seen them.
Afterward, it’s yours to decide whether you like it. But one thing is certain: coming to HEC is deciding to do life because that is exactly what this experience is about. You commit to the program but you do more than school. You meet people, make friends, apply for jobs, do sports, join clubs, work your ass off, fail shamelessly, try harder, discover your strengths, overcome your fears, fall in love, participate in contests, discover the world, sleep less and live harder.
I remember walking on campus for the first time, happy and nervous to have become part of this experience. But after a few months in, my idea has changed drastically. Maybe this place is not only about tradition, prestige or French student clubs. Today it is about interacting with like-minded and equally ambitious students from across the world. About engaging in activities that shape your character, mindset, and vision. While writing about my HEC experience, I can vaguely hear how a couple of Indian students are preparing a meal in the common kitchen of my unattractive yet charming dormitory building. I look outside my window as the setting sun sheds a gentle light on the campus football field. I remember walking on campus for the first time. I know more now than I did back then, and despite the sleep deprivation that is inherent in the life at HEC, I feel more awake than ever.