One of my passions has always been traveling and exploring new places. Before enrolling at Duke, I had visited more than 20 countries, and my goal is to get to 30 before graduating.
To that end, I couldn’t resist signing up for the Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE) and packing my bags to visit an exciting new destination: South Africa!
Fuqua defines GATE as “an elective course in which you focus on a region’s history, politics, economy, and culture—both in the classroom and in person as your class travels through the region.” For me, this was a sneaky way to include some history and social sciences into my business school experience. However, it turned out to be so much more!
The Classroom Experience
As I sat down for my first class during Spring Term 1, I had no idea what to expect. Was it going to be a rundown of South Africa’s history? A geo-specific industry deep dive? An introduction on how to be a savvy traveler in the area? It was all that—and much more—primarily due to one person: Dr. Kenneth Vickery.
Ken is not only an expert in African culture but is also an engaged teacher who passionately shares his wisdom and experiences every year with a new crop of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed MBA students. He covered geography, history, and current events, and made sure we were more excited to visit this fascinating country with each passing week.
Journey to Joburg
Spring break arrived, and once we landed in South Africa the first stop on our itinerary was Johannesburg, the country’s capital. Johannesburg, or Joburg as the locals call it, contains a wealth of information on the history of South Africa, especially the apartheid system. Learning more about apartheid is critical to gaining a deeper understanding of the political and racial tensions that still exist today in South Africa. Kenny, our tour guide, was priceless in helping the history come to life, captivating us with his explanations and views of apartheid, as well as his personal experiences living under apartheid and the subsequent political turmoil as it was slowly overturned. The personal touch he brought to the experience was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Pilanesberg: A Sightseeing Safari
After learning about South African history at Joburg, we were off to Pilanesberg for a two day mini-safari. Channeling the movies Out of Africa and The Lion King, I was ready to spot the “big five” animals. With treks at sunrise and sunset, we spotted male elephants in musth, grazing giraffe, hungry hippopotami, and even a lion pride. However, the highlight of our animal adventures would be when the biggest elephant in the park—Amarula—rubbed himself against our truck. Such a trouble-maker, that one.
Another memorable experience was our bush braai (aka barbeque). After a long day of spotting animals in the bush, we were able to go into the bush ourselves for a luxurious meal filled with exotic meats such as springbok and warthog. For the non-adventurous foodies, no worries—there was also regular beef and chicken for your enjoyment.
Cape Town Conclusion
After our jaunt to Pilanesberg, we were off to the heart of South Africa, and what is known to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world: Cape Town. Referred to as the San Francisco of South Africa, its natural beauty is breathtaking. Alongside Peter, our Cape Town guide, we were able to explore treasures such as Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, and Boulders Beach. A few of us even got up at 5:00 a.m. to trek up Lion’s Head and take in the sunset from the top!
However, it wasn’t all play. Throughout the trip, we also met with various businesses to get a better feel for the business landscape in South Africa. In Joburg, we got a high-level view of the economy and how business was conducted in South Africa, through meetings with large multinational companies in consulting, manufacturing and finance. This was complemented by our visits in Cape Town, where we were able to interact with small businesses to see what it was like on the frontline. These trips were invaluable in opening my eyes to the struggle of conducting business in a politically tumultuous country and the tremendous amount of opportunity that exists in South Africa.
A group favorite was our visit to Mzansi, the highest-rated restaurant in Cape Town. Nomonde, the founder and owner, challenged convention when she opened a restaurant in a township, leading the charge in changing perceptions and generating business in an area that needed it. She touched many of our hearts when she described the struggles she faced along the way and the lessons she learned. She was a true inspiration, and many of us left with tears in our eyes and a desire to strive and be the brave, consequential leaders Fuqua hopes we’ll be.
Spring Term 2 was calling us back to Fuqua and sadly, we had to say goodbye to South Africa and return to Durham. While I was fortunate to be able to spend an unforgettable two weeks in the country, I can honestly say it wasn’t enough time, and I cannot wait to go back—especially to Cape Town. Not only was the nature breathtaking and the food delicious (pro tip: try the bobotie), but the people we met along the way were inspiring. Through my conversations with Kenny, Peter, and Nomonde, I was able to learn so much more about South Africa and its history and culture than I ever could as a typical tourist. I walked away with a deeper understanding of apartheid, the struggles South Africans face today, and the deeply-rooted respect that enables people to overcome their differences and band together to fight for a better future. These conversations and adventures have changed me, and I continue to challenge myself to think about my actions, question my beliefs, and broaden my viewpoint.
For all those coming to Fuqua, I urge you to consider GATE South Africa. And for those of you deciding on a business school, know that Fuqua enables you to embrace experiential learning and pushes you to think about how you can be a consequential leader going forward. The question is, are you ready?