读万卷书不如行万里路

The Chinese proverb above says “reading 10,000 books is not as effective as traveling 10,000 kilometers.” Fortunately for nearly 25-percent of Fuqua’s Daytime MBA Class of 2016, they were not forced to choose between reading or traveling, but instead were able to do both as a part of the school’s Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE).

Along with Fuqua faculty, our East Asia Regional Team plays a key role in shaping the GATE learning experience for the students who travel to our region. The goal is to deliver experiences that help students examine the business, culture, economy, and politics of China by leveraging our connections in the region.

Setting the Context of China for Students

Take into consideration that for most of the 104 students on the trip, it was their first time visiting a country where all of the following characteristics are simultaneously present:

  • State-capitalism
  • A developing country
  • A major economic superpower (other than the United States)
  • An ancient land and civilization
  • A very ‘young’ country (The People’s Republic of China is only 65 years old!)

 

Facilitating the experiential learning opportunities in China can be a challenge, but the work is very important and rewarding nonetheless. The unique nation presents a one-stop shop for posh and poverty, indigenous innovation and intellectual property imitation, political reform and political corruption, palpable potential and bewildering puzzlement. China provided students a chance to experience all of this in just two short weeks.

To the untrained foreign eye, China is a land of one billion customers, but as James McGregor talked about in his book of the same name, to the savvy analyst, China can be as tough as it is easy, and as frustrating as it is fascinating. Mao Zedong famously addressed the Chinese public by saying: “The future is bright, the path to get there is winding.” More recently in 2015, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson proclaimed, “You can make as big a mistake exaggerating China’s strength, as you can underestimating its potential.”

Providing Insight into Chinese Business and Culture

Duke Fuqua MBA students visit a hospital in China

In an effort to explore the business of the region, we worked together with the trip’s passionate and outstanding student leaders to help organize corporate visits that ran the gamut from the China offices of Fortune 500 companies including General Electric, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline, to the Beijing office of Mindwalk Studios, an international gaming-design company founded by a Fuqua alumna, to Nasdaq-listed, private education services company, New Oriental.

Students got a backstage pass to see the development of indigenous innovation in China by visiting Beigene, a rapidly growing, 170-plus person, clinical-stage, biopharma company with its headquarters in Beijing. There, serial entrepreneur and CEO John Oyler showed students China’s potential to disrupt the life sciences industry in a major way.

Scott - China GATE park

…and observe social activities at the Temple of Heaven park

Also on the list was the Ford-Motor Company’s massive production facility in the outskirts of Chongqing as well as the Beijing office of the global consultancy firm PwC.

In addition to the excellent insights gleaned from the corporate sessions, students also experienced the Bund in Shanghai, the National Panda Center in Chengdu, cultural and historical cornerstones, the Great Wall of China, Beijing’s Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and of course, the “Forbidden City.”

Takeaways from the Experience

All in all, a vast amount of learning took place, proving the core idea of the aforementioned proverb to be true—there really is a lot of educational value in travel! Like the paradoxical statements from Chairman Mao and former Secretary Paulson, many of our students left China feeling torn between the two potential extremes of its future prospects and prosperity.  Whether China continues its torrent rise or stumbles along the way, one fact will remain—China is an incredible classroom for all those who visit.