If I had to wrap my Global Academic Travel Experience (GATE) up in three words, they would be “learning, living, and laughing”! This year, my Weekend Executive MBA classmates and I traveled to South Africa. The trip was nothing short of amazing. From Johannesburg to Pilanesburg and on to Cape Town, there was no shortage of the “three L’s” on any leg of our trip.
The ultimate purpose of GATE is to provide immersive, experiential learning opportunities. Each day presented a new opportunity to learn more about the region. We met with several leading South African businesses to witness their day-to-day operations. We also discussed how to successfully navigate global dynamics and lead effective multi-national organizations. Our group discussed government’s impact on business and ways to drive growth with officials from the U.S. and South Africa.
To understand the current business climate, you must first understand the history of apartheid in South Africa. In preparation for our trip, we went through a six-week course. Professor Anne-Maria Makhulu walked us through the history of the region. We learned how the legacy of apartheid impacts the current economic, political and societal statuses in South Africa and what’s being done to drive continuous improvement.
This trip was the definition of living our best lives! When reflecting on the highlight of the trip, I can’t settle on just one. These are my three favorite memories, in no particular order.
- Hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town – Our cohort had our work cut out for us when hiking Table Mountain. But we can say we conquered it! The mountain was definitely a worthy opponent—so for those of you looking to hike it in the future, get your stretching in!
- Safari in Pilanesburg – Safaris are one of the main attractions in South Africa. We were all on the lookout for lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and cape buffalo. We spotted four out of those big five. We even came face-to-face with a roaming lion (within the safe confines of our vehicle)!
- Nelson Mandela history – When you mention South Africa, Nelson Mandela almost immediately comes to mind. His legacy is felt in a powerful way in the country. From the different apartheid museums and landmarks in Johannesburg to the Robben Island Prison Museum in Cape Town, our group left with an even deeper appreciation Mandela’s bravery, courage and leadership.
For me, the power of attending a top business school lies in the strength of the network built by its students. The basis of that network is strong relationships, and GATE is a phenomenal tool to facilitate that relationship building. Our cohort shared so many laughs during this trip that we now have stories, memories and inside jokes that will last a lifetime. The staff advisor for our trip, Julie Craig, did a great job curating a number of social events that allowed the group to create deeper connections and true friendships. An added plus to this year’s GATE trip was the presence of previous Weekend and Global Executive MBA classes. Although this group had a slightly modified itinerary, we still got plenty of time to share laughs with these alumni. The time together allowed us to not only widen our network but deepen the connections within it as well!