This is a guest post by Blair McGrain, a member of the Texas MBA at Dallas-Fort Worth class of 2013. This past December, Blair took part in a global trip to South Africa as part of the Texas MBA Program. He recounts the experience in the post below.
South Africa was always on my travel “bucket list” and a place that held a great deal of intrigue to me. After experiencing what is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of things to do and see, I was absolutely blown away by the natural beauty of the country and the warmness of the people. Plus, I had the added benefit of forming even better relationships with some of my Dallas and Houston program colleagues.
It all started with a well-run and fantastic agenda the school put together for us. I’m sure it’s not easy herding 40-something students from place to place and keeping them fed and happy…but they did a great job keeping us organized, providing learning opportunities, and keeping a good balance between school and fun/culture.
Johannesburg, which is the epicenter of business and commerce in South Africa, is a bit dangerous and filled with a troubled past that you can almost feel in the air. But what came across in the people we met is a sense of determination to create a new and better path forward. Yes, some terrible and atrocious things took place over the past 60 years but most people seem to have embraced forgiveness as the way to a better society. The township of Soweto (part of Johannesburg) is a tough place to see as a Westerner but I have to say they are the friendliest people I’ve ever come across.
Our trip was partitioned with Johannesburg on the front-end and Cape Town and the Cape Region on the back-end. It is hard to find a fitting description of how beautiful Cape Town and the region truly is, and I was warned that I’ve probably never seen anything like it. They were right. I’ve traveled to many places in the world and I was surprised at the sheer number of must-sees.
The Cape Region wine country was a bit like “Sonoma meets The Rockies” and only an hour’s drive from the city. It would have been stunning in any weather but we were fortunate to have the most crystal-clear day you’ve ever seen. Plus, the outdoor luncheon and wine were pretty tasty too.
The Cape Town area also contains one of the world’s leading botanical gardens on the gradual slopes of Table Mountain. Listed as a World Heritage Site and claiming to have to more plant species than any other garden in the world, it was an amazing spectacle for anyone who loves the outdoors.
My travel tales would not be complete without a vivid description of our cage diving experience with the Great Whites off the southern cost of the Cape Region. Upon my return I told everyone that it was simultaneously one of the most amazing and most miserable experiences I’ve ever had. Seeing a 15-foot Great White a foot in front of you should be on everyone’s bucket list. One of the other groups even experienced one biting the submerged metal cage they were in—inches from their faces! What it made it such a miserable day was the seemingly endless seasickness that came with 18’ swells that day. I never thought it would end…but I do have a funny visual of our group—14 of 18 total—lined up down the side of the boat throwing up one after another.