Looking back on my MBA, the word “journey” is appropriate for describing the last two years. There has been a lot of travel — some of it transcendental and much of it physical. During my second year alone, I traveled with classmates to Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and completed a study abroad in Israel. These experiences continued to help me grow as well as build deeper relationships with my classmates. On this blog I’ve already shared the awesomeness of traveling to South Africa, and I really wanted to share one more experience — my trip to Asia.
This trip signified the end of my first year at business school, so a quick walk down memory lane seems appropriate:
China has become more important than ever. I knew that at business school I wanted to more fully understand this vast country and how business gets done there, but I wasn’t certain I could manage the trip alone. So last spring, I enrolled in a class called Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE) and specifically, China GATE.
GATE is a class that meets once a week for 6 weeks with about 20 – 30 students in a section. We use that time to research, discuss, debate, and inform each other on the political, economic and social context of the countries we are going to visit. We also vote on the companies that we want to connect with and student team leads set up round-table meetings for us. At the end of the class, we traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, and various cities in main land China from May 4 to May 18 before heading out to our internships.
Surprise — the trip was awesome! It was 2+ weeks of non-stop movement, discussions with classmates and business leaders at amazing companies, and total cultural overload. Not only did I leave China with a better cultural understanding and greater business access, but also, and equally important, deeper friendships with classmates that I did not know at all or very well prior to taking the class. While financially, I’ll be paying for all of this for a long time, I can finally say that I’ve been to China and seen the tremendous things happening there with my own eyes. I have no doubt that exposure will prove useful in my career.
First Stop: Taipei, Taiwan
For me, it was a great blend of East and West and an introduction to super delicious soup dumplings (thank you Din Tai Fung) in the very famous 101 building. Impressive business visits with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company as well as the Keelung Port. Our scheduled activities during the day and very fun unofficial activities of the evenings (dinners, drinks, and parties) made our days fly by.
Second Stop: Beijing
I found Beijing to be fascinating but also the most overwhelming part of the trip. The scale and grandeur of the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square completely exceeded my expectations. My business focus isn’t technology, but I was completely floored by our visits to Lenovo and to Baidu. The business, the culture, and the level of energy in the city was phenomenal.
Third Stop: Hangzhou
After the hustle and bustle of Beijing, flying down to Hangzhou was a breath of fresh air. And I do mean literally, a breath of fresh air. This city is famous for the West Lake and its lush landscape. Our group went to visit Alibaba and thereafter I made some investment in delicious teas and tea-ware and saw an amazing acrobatics and water show.
Fourth Stop: Shanghai
After business visits with Ascendas and the Jinhu Knitting Company to get a flavor of different industry perspectives, reality began to set in that our much awaited trip was coming to a quick end. At this point, our group had bonded and it was a great time to celebrate with each other on the completion of our first year of business school and everything that lay ahead. Cue boat cruises, clubbing, shopping and falling asleep at 6 am.
At this point the official GATE trip was over, but like many of my classmates, I added on additional cities to visit before heading back to the US.
Fifth and Final Stop: Hong Kong
I trekked out to see the Big Buddha and the fishing village of Tai-O. I partied it up in Lan Kwai Fong, navigated the malls that all seem to be connected and walked around the neighborhoods, and even caught up with old colleagues. Though I was totally exhausted, I was satisfied and had well over 1,000 photos and memories to last a lifetime.