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Great Wall - GIM group picture

Twelve days to experience all that is Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul. Transcontinental flights, a speed train from Shanghai to Beijing, a handful of business meetings and a collection of in-country assignments were all part of the plan for 36 Kellogg students when we departed from Chicago the morning of March 16.

The trip to China and South Korea was a central component of our Global Initiatives in Management (GIM) class, and for most of us, it was our first trip to Asia. The trip itself was sandwiched between two segments of five classes in which Professor Damien Ma, Sheila Duran, executive director of Kellogg’s Public/Private Initiative, and a series of distinguished speakers equipped us with the necessary knowledge to make the most of our trip.

What we did not anticipate were the unique interactions each of us would have throughout the nearly two weeks abroad, not only with the people living in the countries themselves, but also within our group of Kellogg students.

The 36 of us were broken into separate teams to perform in-country assignments during our trip. My team worked on researching new energy vehicle adoption, so we met with representatives from BMW, Ford and a few other companies. While each team had differing experiences, we all came together for a variety of shared activities, including:

  • Meetings with representatives from Disney, Pepsico, Baidu, Peking University, Hyundai and Samsung.
  • Alumni dinners in Shanghai and Seoul
  • Sightseeing trips to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

One of the key discussions in our class and during the trip was about the merits of a democratic state, like in the U.S., versus a Leninist-based system, like in China. While China has limits on freedom of speech, faces significant environmental concerns and has unequal educational opportunities, etc., no one could question the astounding growth China has experienced over the last 30 years.

As Professor Ma explained to us, China has experienced an average of nearly 10% growth for 30 years. No other country has put up this kind of stellar economic performance. China’s GDP was $1.5 trillion as recently as 2002, but now it is $10.2 trillion, which is about 60% of the US GDP. This growth can be seen from the incredible skyline in Shanghai to the smog that hangs over the cities. It is also evident from the advanced public infrastructure; the trains we took within cities and between cities were smooth, fast and clean – three things that cannot always be said about public trains in the United States.

While the cities were impressive, the people themselves were also noteworthy. My experience was that the Chinese people were warm, heartfelt and inquisitive. During our small group dinners, we were able to have open discussions where we all were able to understand more about each other’s cultures – this spanned from food to politics to our views about the future for our particular countries. At the end of day, despite living halfway across the world, the Chinese people we interacted with had the same fundamental concerns and wishes we do in the U.S.

We care about the safety of our friends and families.

We care about our jobs and future career potential.

And we all take pride in our countries.

To truly understand the motivations of the people, government, etc., it was first essential to understand the country’s history and how it impacts the present day. While understanding context is important in any country, no place is this truer than in China and Korea. For example, understanding why the Chinese government requires any international firm to enter into a joint venture (JVs) may seem strange until you understand the “Century of Humiliation” in China, when there were a series of wars, occupation by the Japanese and other events where foreigners expropriated from the Chinese. These events provided the context for why China seeks to assert itself on the international stage and protect itself so it is not taken advantage of again. We were able to learn about this firsthand by talking with the Chinese people and walking down the Bund in Shanghai, where we saw the British settlements that operated the opium trade.

As with any two-week trip, it was both enriching and exhausting. After experiencing the countries, many of us are excited to travel back to Asia again, or even live there in the future.

Given how distinct all three cities were, we realized that the more we learned about these cultures, the less we really knew, which made us long all the more to experience it again!

Learn more about global learning opportunities at Kellogg.

Nathan Pohle ’16 is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA Program. After completing his undergraduate degree at UW-Madison in 2007, Nathan has spent the last seven years as an Actuarial consultant at Deloitte Consulting helping insurance companies across a wide range of consulting and audit engagements.