Imagine, if you will:
A balmy, salt-spiced breeze saunters down the street as you step into an alley lined with exotic fruit vendors displaying colors and flavors yet to be discovered by your senses. Lively salsa music emanates from around the corner, where an enchanting band has set up shop next to street merchants selling alluring handmade arts and crafts in shades of chartreuse, turquoise and emerald. All around, people are smiling, laughing, dancing.
Dream sequence? Possibly. But for the McCombs students who went on a Global Connections trip during the two weeks of spring break, the dream became a reality as soon as finals were done, bags were packed, and flights were boarded.
I had the pleasure of going to Colombia for 15 days with a group of 30 or so classmates. During that time, we visited several cities, including Bogotá, Medellín, Zona Cafetera and Cartagena (for a small, extended sojourn once the program came to an end.) In each city, we had the chance to immerse ourselves in the corporate and cultural sides of Colombia, all while sipping on some mighty good coffee.
First, let’s talk business. We met with over half a dozen companies, encompassing all sizes and industries. We walked the very fields where owner Jesús Martin harvests the same beans he selected, roasted and brewed into every cup of coffee he served us at his café later that day. We suited up in safety apparel to go inside Colombia’s main 3M manufacturing plants to witness firsthand how iconic products like Scotch-Brite and masking tape are made. We strolled the immense greenhouses of La Gaitana, one of the country’s largest exporters of flowers, and learned how they sustain their large-scale operations with such a nimble workforce. We dined casually at the headquarters of Corona, one of the largest producers of porcelain and ceramic products, with the company’s CEO – before he exchanged his three-piece suit for casual attire and chose to spend the entire day with us as we visited factories and storefronts to review the company’s inventory and supply chain procedures. Every company we met with, we were greeted with open arms, delicious treats, and a wealth of executive-level insight.
When we weren’t off pursuing global business savvy, we were out and about exploring everything Colombia has to offer: local cuisine, live music, and tropical ecosystems in dazzling technicolor. Speaking as someone who thinks the word marathon should involve Netflix and not the great outdoors, I’m proud to say we did it all: descending into the underground salt cathedral of Zipaquirá, conquering the 700+ stairs leading to the top of the rock of Guatapé, ziplining across acres of lush vegetation in Armenia, and flying up winding mountainsides in open-air Jeep Willys on our way to Salento. But alas, every daredevil requires the occasional night off, so we also made sure to indulge in good food, drinks, and dancing when we could. There were spectacular meat/cheese platters, fresh juices from fruits you can only readily find and consume in Colombia, and desserts akin to ambrosia (one dish literally comprised of rich hot cocoa with chunks of creamy cheese melted into it – holy cholesterol.) The ever-present music that permeates the country by day seems to be heightened at night, causing body parts to inadvertently tap, shimmy and wiggle to the beat. Salsa clubs packed with dancers of all skillsets gave us an opportunity to burn some of those decadent aforementioned calories to the rhythm of bongos and trumpets.
One of the best parts of this experience? Forever creating those memories alongside my fellow MBAs. We had folks from the full-time and part-time programs alike, alongside some who were in entirely different disciplines outside of McCombs, and it was one of the highlights of my trip getting to know these people I might not have had the chance to meet otherwise. Together, we picked up some Spanish phrases (no dar papaya, y’all), learned the importance of cultural differences (I lescant even, y’all), ventured into new gastronomy (aguardiente, y’all!) and even hunkered down for a brief earthquake (…is my altitude sickness kicking in or did the earth just move, y’all?)
1) Colombia, in all its lively, loving warmth, has truly captured my heart
2) Global Connections is a wonderful way to spend spring break doing exceptional things for both your career and your psyche
3) I need a vacation to recover from my vacation