To kick off our MBA program, myself and 100 peers spent 5 weeks traveling while taking classes. We circumnavigated the globe, starting in St. Louis before heading to Washington DC, Barcelona, Beijing, and Shanghai. In our teams, we completed a personal development bootcamp: 5 projects, 5 presentations, and 2 videos. Along the way, we also experienced a heat wave, typhoon Lekima, and a trade war. Three takeaways from this adventure of a lifetime:
”If you want to get rich, build a road first.”
We learned this Chinese proverb, which emphasizes the importance of investing in infrastructure. The Chinese government’s investment in infrastructure was astounding. Shanghai’s impressive train system was intuitive, foreign-friendly, and even maintained a cell signal underground! We also learned that in the past, the government built factories and gave the buildings away for free to spur new business development. China’s massive investment in infrastructure helped rapidly lift the country out of poverty and evolve it into a global superpower. On an individual level, this prompted me to also think about what a “personal infrastructure” would consist of, and how I can improve my effectiveness.
Society demands a social contract with businesses
Our personal values were a constant point of discussion throughout the Global Immersion. In St. Louis, we reviewed Blackrock CEO Larry Fink’s annual memos on the role of business in society. In DC, we were briefed by Brookings Institute economists on current healthcare plan proposals and weighed the societal impacts of each alternative. At the Great Wall of China, I was in awe of the Wall, but disappointed by the visible air pollution that served as a reminder of China’s role as the “world’s factory.” Business leaders are no longer confined to the corporate tower. They hold a responsibility for the broader welfare of humanity. This fundamentally shifts how a company measures its success and also introduces a host of ethical challenges.
Vulnerability and cultural humility
As I moved further and further outside of my comfort zone (from DC to Barcelona to China), the feeling of vulnerability crept in. This culminated in Tianenmen Square. I woke up at 4am to see the National Flag-raising. I walked deep into the crowd of thousands and was surrounded only by Chinese people - only speaking Mandarin - the entire day.
It was a different, sometimes anxious, perspective. After the flag-raising, I stood in a miles-long line for several hours to see the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. In line, I made friends with a family whose children spoke English and they bought me a banana popsicle as we waited in the heat. The kindness of the Chinese people throughout my visit reminded me that, despite the cultural barrier, our similarities far outweigh our differences. While China’s flaws are often the focal point of Western news outlets, the country is incredibly impressive in many aspects, some of which the US can learn from. Being so far outside the Western world made me more conscious of my biases and cultivated more curiosity about societal structures and geopolitics.