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
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:
· 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.”