Lessons from Latin America

Guest Blogger: Joel Theodros, first-year student.

What an AMAZING trip! I recently got back from my first trip to South America. During spring break, I went there with 25 of my classmates as part of the Global Academic Travel Experience program, or GATE. It was the perfect blend of fun and adventure as well as education. Our trip was led by our distinguished professor and former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, which allowed us to have special insight into the business and political climate in South America. A number of events happened while we were there that also shaped our trip to Brazil and Argentina: the passing of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the election of an Argentine Pope, and a whole host of economic events including Brazil’s announcement of protectionist policies and Argentina’s controversial take-over of an oil company controlled by Spain’s Repsol. To say that a lot was happening in South America would be a great understatement.

We were also fortunate to have access to business leaders from a wide range of industries including banking, petrochemical, and health and beauty, to name a few. We enjoyed all of the presentations and learned a ton of cool and insightful information on a whole host of topics.

Here’s a list of 10 random bits of information I learned from corporate presentations, cultural excursions, and from interacting with the people we met along our journey:

The Latin America GATE group visited the Casa Rosada, the office of the President of Argentina.

  1. The name Brazil comes from brazilwood, an indigenous tree and the country’s first export during the early days of trading with European settlers. The name Rio de Janiero is Portuguese for “River of January” and was given by the European explorers who visited the area in January 1502. Rio de Janiero was also the original capital of Brazil until 1960, when the government was transferred to Brasilia.
  2. The famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero is considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world and the fifth largest Jesus statue in the world. Constructed from 1926 – 1931 it is considered an engineering marvel because in addition to its large size, it was assembled on top of a 2,300 foot high mountain, where it was carried to by train, piece-by-piece.
  3. Imported goods are very expensive in Brazil. In addition to an import duty tax there are additional taxes and “extra” margins put onto these items. In one case, while walking the streets of Sao Paulo, a group of us stopped by a sports car dealership and noticed a Lamborghini that would cost $300,000 in the U.S. cost 1.2M Real (roughly $600,000 USD).
  4. Messi is often regarded as one of the greatest, if not, the greatest football (soccer) player of all-time. However, Maradona will always be the national soccer hero because he led the national team to the World Cup championship over England after the Falkland War between the two countries.
  5. During the presentation from Itau Unibanco’s (one of Latin America’s biggest banks), we learned that bank ATMs in Brazil aren’t connected to other banking institutions. What this means for bank customers is that they can only deposit and withdraw money from an ATM associated with their own bank and not another competing Brazilian bank. Ironically, international tourists are able to use any ATM in Brazil if their home bank is part of the same alliance network.
  6. The Catholic Church in Argentina and the national government have a long history of public spats over social issues and their relationship is often described in the media as being mutually hostile. The dynamic recently took on a dramatic twist during our trip when Pope Francisco became the first Argentine Catholic Pope.
  7. Argentina doesn’t import any beef. While anyone who’s ever tried a savory Argentine steak will argue there’s no need to do so, the issue has become a thorn for the industry as it seeks additional markets outside of Argentina.
  8. Argentina modeled its capital after Paris and is often regarded as the Paris of South America. The mix of coffee shops, opera houses, and museums that line the streets gives it a very sophisticated and historical feel.
  9. Avenida 9 de Julio (translated to July 9 Avenue) in Buenos Aires is the widest avenue in the world, spanning the width of an entire city block. While the design of the avenue was inspired after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in France, its name honors Argentina’s Independence Day from Spain on July 9, 1816.
  10. Nightlife in Argentina doesn’t begin till very late in the evening and can run into the wee hours of the morning. In the heart of Buenos Aires, it’s not uncommon for stores to close in the afternoon just to reopen at 10 pm as the nightlife goes into full swing. Also, club goers don’t go to the club until around 1 am!

This trip was everything I could have asked for and more. From wine tasting and tango dancing in Argentina to walking the world famous Ipanema Beach to being interviewed on national television in Buenos Aires about the new Argentine Pope, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. But what made this trip all the more special was that I was able to enjoy it with my classmates and Ambassador Duddy. Taking stock of my first year at Fuqua, I can’t believe how much I have learned and experienced in one year. It seems like it was only yesterday that I was working in my office wondering what business school would be like. Now that I am here, I can confidently say that being at The Fuqua School of Business has exceeded all of my expectations. And while I am sure there will be other trips to South America, I know this GATE trip was truly a unique experience — one that I will remember for the rest of my life.

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