Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cover Girl

The new ESADE MBA brochures came out last week. I knew they were due to materialize around this time- as they do every year. For that reason, I walked into school one morning and there, on the wall, was a stack of brochures- with my very own face smiling back at me.

I have to admit, I was moderately surprised. I knew I was in the brochure but I didn't know I was on it. Of course, its fun to view oneself on any type of media- its like that “15 minutes of fame” thing. I’m not sure why humans get a kick out of visible recognition, but we do- from the reality TV craze to any type of artistic endeavor. As a writer, seeing my name in print is one of my greatest joys. For anyone in the film industry, I’m sure that seeing their names as the credits role brings an immense amount of satisfaction. For an artist, seeing one’s own works hanging on display in a public arena must bring with it indescribable joy. Therefore, when I saw the brochure, I couldn't help but smile.

My MBA class is comprised of over 100 students the face on the pamphlet could have easily been any one of us. I’m beyond certain that there is nothing more that I bring to the business school than any one of my other classmates- we are all comprised of individual strengths and diverse weaknesses- we have each faced various struggles within the MBA and we have each attained distinct goals. I know that there is no more reason for my image to be on display than anyone else’s. Because of this, it’s not an ego-thing. Instead, after grabbing a few copies (for posterity’s sake)- I leafed through the brochure and put it away.

Yet….it doesn't end there. Later in the day, as I was sorting through my bag for tomorrow’s classes and I caught a glimpse of the brochure, I finally realized how much the recognition means to me.

I was brought back to a moment nearly three years ago when I had an informational meeting with an ESADE representative in London. It was before I had finished my applications and before I was completely sure where I would go or if I would actually end up doing an MBA. Sitting in the Hyatt Regency in London’s Portman Square, resume in hand and a massive knot in my stomach- I introduced myself to the first person I had ever met from ESADE and she handed me a neat little information packet. It was then that the MBA became a reality. For the next few months before my trip to Spain for my interview, I took the “ESADE Full Time MBA” brochure with me everywhere. I flipped through it on my commutes and before I went to bed, I looked at the faces of the then-current students.

I was never one of those people with a path from the very beginning- in that, I didn't know when I was an undergraduate student that I would one day be an MBA. I had no idea what I would be. Therefore, when I flipped through the brochure and saw all these professional looking students in big blue classrooms, studious and determined, I wondered if I would ever make it there. I know that back then, I seriously doubted whether I would actually fit in- if I would ever belong.

Then, a few months later, I finally made it to ESADE where I was introduced to the school and a number of students and met with career services for my official interview. On the way out, I grabbed another brochure- the newest version. And again, I was fearful of the fact that these individuals, these students, would ever fit into my world. Rather, I in theirs.

And then the MBA began. The brochures still lined the walls we walk by everyday and every so often, I would pick one up and browse the photos of the faces I see around the halls, the profiles, the descriptions and the ideals I have come to know so well.

The MBA began so quickly and as I am sure any current student will note- we are thrown so aggressively into it that we stop wondering whether we will fit, whether we will make it, and if we belong.

I know I stopped wondering and simply started doing.

And amidst all this DOING, I’ve nearly reached the end…

And then the brochures came out today and there I was on the cover. I realized that I AM that person- the face that will represent the ESADE MBA for thousands more students who are considering an MBA, wondering where they will fit in, speculating as to whether they will make the cut, and basically- in the middle of some of the decisions that will change the course of their lives forever. Moreover, I looked at my face with a huge geeky grin smiling back at me and although I cant believe I am admitting this, I kind of got all choked up! I thought about that day, the first time I held an ESADE pamphlet in my hands, and had serious misgivings about my place in the whole MBA sphere. And here I am, today, representing at least a small part of the domain.

Of course, next year there will be a new brochure and although there will be plenty of uncirculated copies collecting dust- I will have my copy. And no, its not a degree, a medal of honor or a prestigious award- and I’m not attempting to make it into anything greater than it is. But what it does represent to me- is that I am an MBA student. I did an MBA. I did well enough, and gave enough of myself for the staff to acknowledge me and to allow my face to grace the cover of their brochure. And that's enough for me. For now at least.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

As with most wedding receptions, guests are forced to suffer through numerous speeches with personal anecdotes that mean absolutely nothing to 99% of the people in attendance. Once in a while, we get the occasional comic who rustles up a few laughs. But beyond that, family and friends generally sit around picking at their plates, straining to maintain their plastic grins and feigned interest.  In contrast to what I have been trained to expect, there was one thing stated during a speech at a recent wedding that has resonated with me. The father of the bride coolly declared, mixed in with some other mushy stuff, that “there’s no such thing as happiness, just happy moments.”

Being that I have spent the greater portion of my life searching for the “happiness” that supposedly exists (yes, I even got the Japanese symbol for happiness tattooed on my back as a stupid 16 year old with a fake ID), this succinct idiom has put a new spin on everything I have been searching for. No happiness, huh? I wish someone had told me this before.

If there really is no such thing as happiness, which I could probably attest to, then I’m doing pretty well for myself. Meaning- in the “happy moments” department of my existence- I’ve accrued quite a few. Furthermore, when looking at my current status, I am sure that the proportion of happy to unhappy moments is distributed in a manner that quite favors the former part of the equation. 

I’m a pro-complainer. I’ve somehow inherited this lethal negativity with which I view my life. Some friends attribute it to the fact that I’ve done so much, that my threshold for excitement and satisfaction is too great. Others say it's the Jew in me. I’m not exactly sure what I should blame for this insatiable search for contentment- and the inability to oftentimes appreciate my current situation, but what I do know that I am continuously searching for something else. I am living one moment while waiting for the next- in hopes that I will find my happiness there, since it’s obviously not here. But then, if what this man said at the wedding is true, then I’ve actually found my happiness- I’ve had it all along. My happy moments have been amassed in abundance. 

I receive advice all the time. Of course this advice comes out of love and only good intentions, but it’s not easy to “just look at the bigger picture” or to “think about how much you have accomplished.” 

All sound guidance- but not very helpful, if you ask me.

Now, with this new knowledge that there really is no such thing as happiness- I can serenely revel in my “happy moments” and appreciate that no, it doesn't ever get any better than this.

In the beginning of the MBA, I made a few lists naming what I love about being here, the great moments in the MBA, and the advantages to living in Barcelona. Now, nearly a year later- this city has become familiar territory and school has morphed from something novel into something routine. And with this familiarization and passage of time- my happy moments have transformed and been modified into what makes me happy now- as a student finishing up her MBA, probably leaving Spain for a new country, and taking all the lessons I've learned and people I've encountered with me as little happy pieces of my happy moments right here, right now. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

O! Say Can You See...

A year ago, I may have lamented about being stuck in Spain during Thanksgiving- with a 7:30 wake up call, classes all day and not so much as a suggestion of a cornucopia.  What makes it harder though, is the thought of my fellow Americans at home with their four-day weekends, the company of their entire families and a table full of enough food to feed a small country. Today, however, during my second Thanksgiving in Spain as an ESADE student- I'm surprised to find myself with only a shy hint of homesickness. Instead of longing for traditions of the past, I have a new tradition in which to partake.

After class, I will be picking up the ingredients for the creamed spinach I plan to cook for 40 students at our second annual Thanksgiving feast. Being that the MBA lasts only 18 months, it’s infrequent that we have the opportunity to create traditions. This year, we're not starting something new- we're not trying something out that hasn’t been done before. This year, our Thanksgiving celebration will bring with it a familiar quality- Manu with his famous Sangria, Felix busily basting (or whatever it is you do with poultry) the turkey and Vicky with her fabulous all-American apple pie. Thanksgiving in b-school is a new tradition, but a tradition nonetheless. And for that reason, I welcome it into my repertoire of unforgettable pastimes- into my MBA memory bank.

When I was little, after sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with my family for hours- full bellied and nearly ready for our early evening naps, we were all acutely aware of the fact that there was something to be done to signify the conclusion of the feast. Every individual- from Nana Annie to eccentric aunt Liss, would stand up on their chairs, place their hands over their hearts- and sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the tops of their lungs. Being that the only person in the room that could actually carry a tune was my sister, it wasn't a pretty sight. However, our feigned patriotism stands out for me as the symbol of Thanksgiving in my home.

The Witkin clan chorus is family tradition that began at some point with my grandpa’s odd outburst of song, and will continue throughout the generations to come (on my part, at least).

As I got older and didn't live at home anymore- my mom never failed to fly me in for the Thanksgiving festivities. And each year, we continued the singing ritual. In later years, my parents divorced and although our Thanksgiving dinners took place in two different locations, at two different times- we still sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with gusto. And although, as the years have passed, we have suffered the loss of loved ones and welcomed new additions to the family, the custom holds strong and the neighbors can still hear our wailing from down the street.

At some point in the last decade, in addition to our singing, we somehow managed to add another tradition to the mix. I don’t remember exactly when it began or from whom we adapted it- but it is still maintained among family members on Thanksgiving regardless of how far apart we may be.

Now, after all the food and the subsequent singing, we go around the table and ,one-by-one, give thanks for everything good in our lives- everything we appreciate, everything we recognize as a blessing. We were never necessarily patriots, nor are we religious- but I was brought up to "Carpe Diem"- and to appreciate all that I have. Maybe this tradition began because amongst the wine, turkey, tofurky, the chatter, the airport runs, the days and days of shopping and cooking and preparation- Thanksgiving loses its meaning- that is: the day of thanks- the secular type.

I was thinking...if I stand up on my chair at dinner and attempt to hit the high notes shrieking “…and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”, my classmates might finally consider me certifiably crazy. Therefore, I am simply going to stick with giving thanks.

We have about four months left in the MBA, so it seems that now is as good a time as any to define what I am grateful for. Last year, when our first Thanksgiving together came upon us- each friend filled the voids left by family members back home carving the turkey and mashing the potatoes. At that time, this year’s Thanksgiving felt like a lifetime away. Now it’s here and is most probably the last thanksgiving I will ever spend in Spain. That said, I know I have plenty to give thanks for:

I am thankful to Ray, my GMAT tutor, without whom I never would have rocked the math section and therefore, probably wouldn't be doing an MBA.

I am thankful to Mary, the career services dynamo who interviewed me 2 years ago. Not only did meeting her make me hands-down choose ESADE, but she let me in. She had faith that this artsy, creative non-business person would actually be able to succeed in an MBA.

I am thankful to my mom and stepdad Peter, who have given me all the opportunities in the world. They are the ones who pushed me to do an MBA and they are the ones who pay my credit card bill when I realize I have no money left in my Caja Madrid account because the stupid Euro has skyrocked.

I’m thankful to all my friends here at school, who made the MBA what it is- who made the tough parts bearable and the good parts even better. These are the people whose faces I see every morning on the bus when the sun has not yet risen and the faces looking at me from across the room with the same tired eyes or knowing grins.

I am thankful to Papa Louie who began the singing tradition, and who I miss more and more each year.

Most of all, I have to give one more shout-out to my mom who worked her ass off to  make every thanksgiving of my childhood and early adulthood extraordinary. We should all be lucky enough to have a mom like mine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mustache Month

There is no doubt that an MBA degree carries with it a level of amusement. From unplanned social gatherings, to odd couplings, silly gossip, scandals, cultural celebrations and even the rare in-class excitement- we’re never at a loss for things to smile about (much of which I am not at liberty to even note.)

Being that we are nearing the end of the whole shebang, I’ve been tuning in a bit more to the odd and quirky things that happen around me each and every day.

With the help of my blackberry camera, I’ve had the opportunity to document two such notable occasions.

Firstly, and this is a totally new concept to me, apparently the month of November is also known as “Movember”- the month for prostate cancer awareness. According to, “The idea for Movember was sparked in 2003 over a few beers in Melbourne, Australia.  The guys behind it joked about 80s fashion and decided it was time to bring the moustache back.  In order to justify their Mos (Australian slang for moustache), they used their new looks to raise money for prostate cancer research… never dreaming that facial hair would ultimately lead to a global movement that would get men talking about a taboo subject – their health.”

So when I saw a bunch of my classmates rocking mustaches, I just had to ask…

Anyway, the facial hair movement here at ESADE is providing some much needed comic relief. And here are a few of the winning Mo’s: (sorry guys…had to!)

And who ever said MBA’s lacked in social responsibility???

Secondly, during my “Transnational Manager” course, we were broken into designated teams in order to work with a given group of MBAs studying somewhere else in the world. Our assignment was to develop a new product- an “Egg Drop Protector (EDP).”

Sound stupid? Yeah, I thought so too. And when I was done complaining about the foolish assignment, I actually enjoyed it. Our trans-national teams worked for about a week designing, analyzing and executing our product plans. Today was the “test” where although the rules were strict (i.e. “NO parachutes allowed!” or “the egg cannot be taped, secured, strapped or tied into the vehicle”), we all somehow managed to bring our devices into class only to be tested in the school stairwell covered in newspaper.

Below are the pics. It was fab.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"I do"s and I don'ts

In the spring of 2002, I found myself halfway through my year-long exchange program in Florence, Italy. In addition to each new experience- and the fact that the world was beginning to slowly open itself up to me, I met two very special people- my friends Michael and Susana. Amongst everything that happened and all that we lived through that year, Michael fell in love with Susana.

Despite the years that have passed far too quickly to note- and the substantial geographic gap between what we independently call home, Michael and I have remained extremely close. He’s been a shoulder for me to cry on in bad times and shared in a number of good times. He listens to me bitch about my jobs or relationships and in turn, I found him a job and did some emotional coaching myself. Our friendship has been one of those solid relationships on which I know I can always count. Furthermore, his happiness has always been of great importance to me.

That is why, when after almost seven years since our “vita Fiorentina”- Michael called to tell me he was marrying Susana, I promised to fly across the ocean, miss a week of classes and attend his wedding.

I know we all think we know about love- or at least we have a certain amount of knowledge from our personal experiences. As I get older, more practical and less naive about love and relationships, I’m starting to realize that maybe I have no idea how to define love at all.

However, this past weekend, when I saw Michael’s face as Susana walked down the isle- I caught a glimpse of the kind of love I know I want- and this small realization, something so simple that I should have figured out years ago- awakened some kind of waterworks inside of me. I was one of those distressing individuals who makes a spectacle of themselves at someone else’s wedding. The unfortunate guests sitting behind me had to peer over my heaving shoulders, while the boy beside me timidly rubbed my arm asking me if I was ok as tears were seeping out from between my fingers.

As much as I would like to say they were all tears of joy for the happy couple, being that my friend finally “got his girl” after years and years of loving her, I was partly weeping out of self-pity.

It's not, although it may seem to be, that I suddenly need to get married, or that I want the big white dress and the honeymoon- there is no internal clock ticking, I am sure of this. But it was the look on Michael’s face that made me wonder where my Susana is. As the entire congregation turned to see the bride, who was absolutely breathtaking, I looked at one of my best friends looking at the girl he was promising to love and cherish forever. I saw his desire to take care of her, to treasure her, and to grow old with her. In his face, I saw how grateful he was to have her- and she him. And in this momentary exchange- I had flashbacks of all my boyfriends, all the times I thought I was in love and all the times I actually may have been in love. I scanned through my memories wondering if I let my “Susana” go at some point. I wondered if that person is in my life now- and if one day he will look at me the way Michael looked at Susana at that moment.

Eventually, I pulled myself together, ordered a stiff drink- congratulated my friends, and danced until dawn celebrating the union of two people who love each other unconditionally.

The rest of my time in Miami was spent visiting a number of other friends- consisting mainly of newlyweds, new parents, and about-to-be mothers and fathers. Considering the recent unease with my place in life and all the confusion with respect to where others are- weddings and babies may not have been the best move to make psychologically.

However, it did clarify a few things.

For one, I’m not ready to be a mother. No way. Secondly, as nice as having someone to love you each and every day, and as fun as one’s own wedding must be- I don't think I will even consider marrying until I am sure that the person standing at the altar with me will look at me the way Michael looked at Susana. Forever.

Lastly, I could not wait to get back to Barcelona- to my friends here who are all still figuring it out- to my classes where I haven’t yet ceased to learn from books and lectures- to my cover letters whose purposes are to initiate my next path- and to my Barcelonian friends and loved ones who fill my life here with their own individual brands of love- sans eternal commitments.

Last week was a break from school- but by day three, I realized I needed a break. I don't think I have ever been happier to get on an 8 hour flight with classes and group meetings waiting for me at the other end. And here I was, this whole time, thinking that I needed to get home for a bit- when all the while- I have been here, at home in Barcelona, exactly where I should be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Big Kid Field Trips

When I was little, I used to dread field trips. I hated the rides in the smelly yellow busses whose plastic seats always stuck to my chubby thighs. I would always somehow forget to have my parents sign my permission slip by the deadline and I never remembered to preemptively pack my own lunch, because- what normal six year old is a vegetarian? No one ever catered to my needs- bologna sandwiches were the norm. Beyond being sticky, late and practically starving- I was one of the kids in the “front of the bus.” The back was reserved for the cool kids- a group of individuals to which I was not yet privy- I actually made my way to the back about 10 years later, at right around the time I grew boobs. Therefore, my formative years were spent only within earshot of the flirting and joking- the people who actually looked forward to field trips. I also knew that wherever we went, there was a chance I would spend the day walking around by myself- or worse, with a teacher. I knew that if we went to the Florida Everglades- I would probably overheat and spend the day in a mosquito bitten stupor. If we went to Parrot Jungle, I would indefinitely get shit on by at least two birds. By the end of the day, I would arrive home exhausted, irritable and full of crap. Literally.

Field trips, on the whole, were one of the low points of my elementary education.

Now, about 20 years later, I found myself on a flight from Helsinki to Shanghai, making my way to my first organized group outing as a grad school student. In essence; a field trip for big kids.

As an adult- a professional and a business school student- the definition and context of the “field trip” is a bit different. The ESADE China Study Tour was my first foray into the realm of adult field trips and I must say, it was quite unlike my former yearly trips to the Miami Zoo.

There are, however, a number of similarities between my childhood field trips and the week I spent with ESADE at BiMBA University in Beijing.

There were no permission slips but the preparation included admission essays, plane tickets and visa applications. The logistics of planning the routes and dates were not as simple as remembering to get a piece of paper signed by a parent or guardian.

This time, there were busses, but they weren’t yellow. And this time- although I was still in the front of the bus, I wasn't a social pariah for doing so. It actually made me wonder when the turning point took place- at what age did I stop believing that the further back in the bus I sat, the more popular I had become? In business school- there are no cool people. There are no uncool people. There are groups of students with similar interests who hang out together but no bus hierarchy exists. For this I am grateful.

Like school field trips, everything was preemptively handled and prepared- we were given mandatory timetables and schedules. If breakfast took too long, the lecture would begin or our transportation would leave. Yet, hanging out with the teachers was way cooler than avoiding them.

Beyond defining what is cool and what is not- China was an eye-opener. My greatest expectations were exceeded.

The trip was extensive and our days were full and tiring but in the end, we left China with a depth of awareness and understanding far beyond anything we could have gained in a classroom in Spain. At the same time, for many of us- it was the tail-end of summer- and our approach to the experience was much more relaxed than had it been in the middle of the year in our regular classroom with our regular books and regular material.

Our schedules were strict, but we happily complied. We woke up early but we stayed out late. We were together the entire time yet if we desired some alone time- our evenings were ours. While some students would go in search of Peking duck (we were, after all, in Peking), others would line up outside the clubs. Some would go to the posh bars at the tops of world-class hotels and others would go back for a quiet evening socializing at the hotel. Of course, the markets were frequented and we had feast after feast of local cuisine- generally with the program.

Another advantage of an adult field trip vs. child’s play was the accommodation. When I was 15, I went on a journalism trip to NY and stayed in a Howard Johnson with bars on the windows and a narcoleptic bellboy. On debate trips (yes, I was on the debate team too), we would often stay in campus housing. ESADE, on the other hand, put us up in a five star hotel next to the university. The beds were big and soft, the water was purified and we actually had HBO and wireless Internet.

As for the food, I had special ordered meals. As a child, the school staff couldn't bother to make one ham and cheese without the ham. Whereas in China, I was constantly looked after and provided with an abundance of tofu in every shape, size and flavor. This was a huge contrast from the high school Disney trip where I ate Mickey Mouse pops for three days straight.

Our “study tour” was orchestrated to provide participants with an introduction into business in China, taking into account the culture, history, business practices, milestones of the country, challenges, traditions, and differences. Our lectures ranged from “Confucianism and Business Practices in China” to “Chinese Economic Development and current economic Policies.” We had a number of company visits and attended a “Finance in China” panel session proceeded by a morning Tai Chi exercise class. We attended an acrobatic show that beat Circ du Soleil and a Pedi cab tour of Hutong (old lane areas) in order to see the dramatic changes that the rest of Beijing has undergone.

Like any travel or foreign experience, it is always in the minor details- the parts in between that we remember the most. It’s when we are not trying to learn or not looking for the best angle to take a photo- when the greatest lessons take place.

Amid these lessons, I gained an appreciation of my adulthood- of being a student as an adult. Moreover, of being on a field trip as an adult. The ominous field trips that I once dreaded have now become one of the best memories of my time in business school. Its funny what a couple of decades, infinite life lessons and a bit of maturity can transform.

Of course, when speaking of maturity, we are in some senses just big kids. In elementary school, in classes and on the bus, I passed notes. Notes about the boys I had crushes on and the girls I thought were mean. Then, in China, during a lecture given by the marketing manager of J&J describing the Beijing 2008 Olympic efforts, I felt a sudden long-forgotten urge to pass a note. Being that in business school we are all kind of one communal clan, and oftentimes I am too distracted to search for the cute boys or find out which ones are the mean girls, I decided to pass a note asking how my fellow students felt about the adult field trip.

A few hours later and a couple of strange backwards glances, I received the pages of scrawled writing and proceeded to note that no, I am not at all alone. I think that most of us would agree that our grown-up school excursion was far better than anything we had been subjected to as school children. And although no individual has the capacity to truly change that much- we do develop and our interests and objectives change. There are clear and vast differences between the old days of practical jokes and popularity contests and 40 business school students flown across the world to be immersed in one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

So here it is, some of our generation’s best and brightest sharing their thoughts on the substantial distinctions between their former elementary expeditions and ESADE’s China Study Tour.

Best parts of the 2009 China trip:

·      Lunch in a relaxing restaurant with Qin music. (Qin: Stringed instrument played since ancient times, favored by scholars and literati as instrument of refinement and subtlety.)

·      Seeing the traditional buildings of the BiMBA university (strangely reminiscent of the nearby Summer Palace)

·      Historical Sites (Forbidden City, Great Wall)

·      People Watching: seeing how the local people live, watching them in their own domain, getting a sense of their culture.

·      Seeing the well-known sites, experiencing another part of the world

·      Witnessing the change the Olympics had on Beijing compared to the capital before they hosted the games

·      Excellent lectures and insights (vs. visits)

·      Seeing my Barcelona friends out of Barcelona and getting to know them on another level

·      Eating scorpions for dinner

·      Chinese girl in the market able to negotiate in English, Japanese, Spanish and Swedish

·      Having lunch with the Chinese family in their home and learning to make dumplings

·      Getting lost in Beijing’s night clubs

·      Adventures in food- and having no idea what we are ordering and later, eating it

·      Lunch in a traditional restaurant with great couches for the early morning wake up

·      Having photos taken of us by Chinese people who thought that we looked strange

·      Silk market negotiations

·      The taxi drivers and never knowing where they are really going to take you

·      Exploring a new city, trying new foods, getting lost in foreign neighborhoods and trying to communicate with locals

·      Being in a place where I don't understand what is going on most of the time

·      Learning a new Chinese dice game

·      Being in the city we are studying in- the ability to connect the theory with the reality

·      Gaining insight into Chinese culture and mindset (i.e. lecture on Confucius)

·      Getting three credits for one of the most enjoyable weeks of the MBA

·      The hotel’s gym and hot tub after long days

·      Karaoke

Top Elementary School Field Trip memories:

·      I have none

·      Holding hands in the back of the bus

·      Not having school

·      Casual wear and bringing our own snacks

·      Not having homework, just playing sports during recess before and after school

·      The overnight trips with the whole class, losing my voice and feeling really cool about that when I got home

·      The fact that I never have to go on one again

·      Doing cool things in the forests

·      Getting to collect worms in a jar, putting in water and watching them expand

·      Fresh air and picking flowers

·      The bus driver

Worst parts of the China Study Tour:

·      Taking taxis in hours of traffic because of the parades

·      Dealing with drivers who don't know where they are going

·      Not enough coffee (too much tea in China!)

·      Having a cold the entire time and worrying that it’s Swine Flu

·      Only seeing the Chinese perspective and no perspective from expats doing business in china

·      Air-conditioning everywhere

·      Wake-up calls

·      No classes with BiMBA students

·      Too short

·      Too much food

·      Becky, the overenthusiastic guide- I mean, drill sergeant

Worst experiences as a child on field trips:

·      Lunches

·      Long bus trips home

·      Water trips always ruined my shoes and I always fell and hurt myself

·      Wet socks

·      Permission slips

·      Walkman speaker batteries running out before the end of the trip

·      Food not prepared by my mom

·      Getting sick on the school bus

·      Homework due based on field trip

·      PB&J always getting squished by the soda can

·      Ruining training bra because hay got in the lining on the hay ride

·      Being at the dorky picnic table

·      Never really knowing the point to anything we were learning, other than not being in school for the day

 “Study the past if you would define the future.”


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Off-Key Ambassadors

As time goes by and I desire creature comforts more than I ever thought I would- the mere idea of jumping on a plane, picking up a guide book, and venturing out into unfamiliar slices of the world is getting harder and harder to do.

More than the sheer desire to explore- I've realized the matter is a question of momentum. I’ve lost some of the momentum and therefore, clearly- my desire is only dormant- stalled by my inertia.

My love of airports and languages I can’t even read hasn't waned. The thrill I catch from walking out of an airport and into an alien city with sounds and smells thrust at me from every direction- the rush of traffic and adrenaline of the unknown still gets me. It gets me every time.

Luckily, my school offered an opportunity that I couldn't pass up- forcing me out of my hibernation and once again, into the visa office of a foreign embassy.

ESADE’s China Study Tour is available mainly to one-year MBA students and a few 18 monthers. The aim of the program is “to give you a brief glimpse of doing business in china, putting present day business practices into a historical and cultural context.”

I decided, a few months back, seeing as though I am not going on exchange- that I had to have at least one “abroad” experience while I am in this MBA.

The group of about 40 ESADE students arrived in Beijing on and around September 2. Individuals filtered in from all over the world- just as we did in Spain a year ago. Some were on planes from the countries of their internships, others direct from Barcelona, and a large number of attendees came from different points within China. I, along with two friends, strolled into the hotel at around noon directly off a flight from Xi'an.

At this point- I was not just in China- I was in China as an ESADE student. I wasn't a simple traveler or explorer. I got to Beijing and I belonged to a group again- for the first time in three months- and in effect, being part of a pack- heading in one shared direction, felt good.

In order to celebrate this collective enthusiasm- after an orientation, a dinner with far too much food and a few welcome presentations - a small number of us who hadn’t seen each other since the final round of finals in Barcelona found ourselves in a typical “KTV” karaoke bar.

So yes, my “welcome back” to the MBA took place in a private room- equipped with floor to ceiling mirrors, a television, microphones, disco ball and full bar service.  We drunkenly belted out old favorites ranging from “Roxanne” and “Wonderwall” with our familiar friends until 5:00 a.m. on a random street in a random district in the capital city of China.

And so, it seems that my official entrance into China was as an off-key ambassador of ESADE.
On another note, China gave me the boost I needed. I had gotten comfortable in the Western World. I took a seat- let my guard down and sunk my feet into Europe’s pavement.

I am learning in school- I’m learning exactly what I am supposed to be learning while pursuing an MBA- but I think I may have halted my cultural education. I’d gotten too comfortable.

I had always wanted to go to China. It had been on my “list” for a long time and I was saving it- there were too many places within the country- too much space to cover without the appropriate amount of time.

ESADE’s school trip provided me with the occasion to delve into China. With school, I learned about business practices in china, multiple local institutions, investment opportunities and the global market- in China’s terms. I discovered “guanxi”- the art and importance of Chinese relationships. And I learned about the economic and social dimensions of business and development. I was taken to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. I was invited into the home of a local family to make dumplings and speak face-to-face about laws, practices, beliefs and daily life in China.

And because school gave me the reason to be in China, I extended my stay and flew to Shanghai. I had cocktails on the Bund, I ate a number meals whose ingredients I will never be able to identify. I perfected my bargaining skills in the markets. I went to Xi’an and spent a day with the Terra Cotta Warriors. I went to Cheng Du and spent a day with the pandas. I spent a week discovering Hong Kong and got caught in a typhoon in Macau. I am also proud to add that I may have perfected the art of peeing into holes in the ground masquerading as toilets.

I could have spent more time in China. I don't know if my lungs could have taken the smog any longer or my endorphin levels could have resisted the lack of sun, but the potential to learn is limitless- the discoveries between the regions, the people, and the traditions are extensive. The amount I covered of China was as much as I could have done in the given time- but it wasn't enough. It will never be enough. Then again, I am content with what I did have the opportunity to do. And now back in the Western World, in the comfort of the food I recognize and languages I can speak- with the ability to cross the street without the fear of being bulldozed by a rogue Cherry QQ and drink the water in my apartment without the fear of catching dysentery, I already feel myself losing this momentum.

I’m trying to hold on to the feeling- the satisfaction in knowing just that much more about the world- and the rush of having stepped out of my comfort zone again- to explore a place completely opposite to what I grew up accepting as “what I have seen” as opposed to “all that is.” I’m now doing my best to keep hold of the feeling of pleasure I get from shattering my own prejudices and forming a concrete awareness of another part of the world- a part with 1.3 billion individuals- each with their own histories and dreams and trepidations.

On the other hand, the satisfaction of having shared yet another eye-opening experience with a few of the members of my ESADE family makes the tough stuff worth it. And being challenged in a different way than what most business school trials presents, I already know that the China trip will act as the glue that will bind us together throughout our entire lives.

Besides, maybe it is exactly what I needed to regain my momentum- being forced out of my rut by the very people who have made it so easy to sit back and get comfortable in Spain.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Back to School Playlist

I make playlists because there is nothing in my life that better defines exact snippets in time and emotions more than music. Since I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to making it- I have assumed the occupation of listening to it.

I make playlists because these are the songs that fill the empty spaces between my words and the songs that prompt my thoughts. I record my playlists because they are awash with the music that fills the cavities left by the language I am oftentimes unable to place. Or utter. Or identify.

So this is it- the last “back to school” playlist I will ever make. (unless, of course, I decide to pursue a PhD. Ha.)

Mika- Rain

Eros Ramazzotti and Anastacia- I Belong to You

Alicia Keyes- Doesn't Mean Anything

Lily Allen- Fuck You Very Much

Beatles- Don’t Let Me Down

Black Eyed Peas- I Gotta Feeling

Michael Jackson - This is It

Kings of Leon- Notion

Adriano Celentano and Mina- Acqua e Sale

Robbie Williams- Angels

Kate Rusby- Planets (thank you, Jessica!)

Hotel Costes 2, La Suite- Sympatique, Pink Martini and Night Over Manaus, Boozoo Bajau

Fanfarlo- Fire Escape

Matt Hires- Out of the Dark

Zero Assoluto- Per Dimenticare

Jay Z feat. Mr. Hudson- Young Forever

Akon- Freedom