What is the best way to spend Spring Break when there is plenty of work to catch up with, internships to find, exhaustion to recover from and when it would be absolutely unreasonable to go on an HBS trek? Going on an HBS trek, of course! That was indeed the decision made this March by hundreds of RCs who could not wait for FGI to step away from the Campus-plus-Harvard-Square comfort zone. A day before departure, it was possible for the careful listener on campus to hear “I am not sure it is a good idea” or “I should probably have decided to stay and rest”. But this self-doubt so dear to HBS students (well, not that much according to the latest Live Well survey by SAS!) quickly faded away. This is how it happened.
Between the capital city of Bogotá, colorful Guatapé and other places of which a glass of Aguardiente doesn’t help you remember the name, the Colombia trek was a hectic immersion in a country many found very different from what they had imagined. While most RCs on the trip decided to stick to the beautifully organized week, others decided to bet on extended nights at the casino; which meant missing the boat the next day and having to charter another one!
For Alexandre Lim (section E), the highlight of the trip was a visit to a coffee plantation, a way both to interact with the locals and learn from local expert baristas. After all, coffee ranks third in Colombian exports so the country is the place to be for a Coffee Selection and Roasting 101.
Katie Guidera (section C) remembers interacting with local Colombians: “On our cable car ride through the hills of Medellín, an older local woman joined our already packed car half-way through – this was her daily form of public transportation. She sat down and began asking us questions about where we were from and shared her perspectives on her city and the recent national elections. She even shared the food she was eating with us! It was amazing to see how much pride she embodied as she talked about her country and her heritage for just a few minutes.”
One unexpected experience was a visit to Comuna 13 in Medellín, a neighborhood notorious as the most dangerous district in the world not too long ago. Walking through the neighborhood, students learnt how drastically this community had transformed. Surrounded by street art, they also witnessed the transformation in action, watching children play and riding the outdoor escalators that make the homes along steep hillsides accessible to everyone.
And then there was the encounter with the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos (HKS ’81). Levi Abramson (section I) was impressed by his talent as a speaker and his ability to mix helpful advice and funny stories: “The President told us how he used humor to break the ice with Hugo Chavez when they met in Colombia for the first time; while publicly, there was a lot of tension between them. Santos also talked about the difficulty of giving concessions to the FARC in their negotiations – they essentially let some criminals off for some very serious offenses, knowing that if no agreement was reached, it could extend the war for several more decades.” As discussion was coming to an end, the RC who organized the conversation said, “One last question!” before the President cut him off and said “No! Three more questions! Unless you have somewhere to be?”.
In a place that means a lot for many, the HBS trek to the Vatican was exemplary of diversity and cross-cultural understanding. Among the first impressions a visitor gets are the richness and ubiquity of art and history in the Vatican and the city of Rome – not forgetting the quality of the local cuisine! RCs also learnt about the Catholic Church’s focus on promoting inter-faith dialogue as well as bottom-of-the-pyramid initiatives under Pope Francis’ papacy.
For Abdoulaye Touré (section E), meeting Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of the State of Vatican was a fascinating glimpse at the religious and political role of the city-state. But that is not the only thing the students learnt. One of the guides at the Colosseum was eager to explain how, in Ancient Rome, upper class women were fond of the attractive gladiators. Finally, the trek would not have been the same without a surprise rain that left the trekkers soaking wet at an outing to Villa Borghese!
The smartest RCs in town probably made a good call to get first-hand experience before the BGIE case on Morocco scheduled for after the break. “It was amazing to see how varied the landscape in Morocco is,” Beth Roemmich (section B) recalls. “In one day, we passed through the large city of Marrakech and small villages to snow-capped mountains and dry, rocky mountains then finally the desert.” The HBS team spent a night camping in the Sahara Desert which included a dance party under the stars! Beth also enjoyed learning how to prepare one of the pillars of Moroccan cuisine: the tagine. “For how delicious it is, it was actually fairly easy to make.”
You may ask Bahia El Oddi (section D) who co-organized the trek whether investing so much effort to put all this together was a traumatizing experience. She will reply: “Even though I had many sleepless nights, it was a blast! One of my best HBS moments!”
As unforgettable an experience was the ascent of the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. For Jerry Liu (section D), the trek was a wonderful way to meet new friends from the HBS community, outside of the HBS campus. And what a better thing to share than the effort of a 4-day, 3-night hike in the Peruvian mountains rewarded by truly breathtaking views!
Note: the different viewpoints expressed are solely those of the students mentioned in the article. Those students are also the authors of the photos included here.
Francois Manil (MBA ’19) has traveled to 50 countries and as many Michelin-starred restaurants. His weirdest culinary experiences include winning an apple stacking competition on Chinese television and eating mustard-flavored worm jelly.