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.