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.


TobiasCaldeweyher said...

I like it! Fortunately I also happened to be part of the experience and I share the same thoughts. At the same time I dislike the comfort of the Western World as much as you do and I have been fighting this feeling of comfort and it is nice to see that others are struggling the same fate. Restlessness seems to be the worst and best virtue of all. At least for my life. I like the article! Good job!!!

james said...

Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.
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