Anne Sromek is a third-year student in the EWMBA program at Haas, and one of 20 students enrolled in Seminars in International Business: South Africa during the Spring 2014 semester. Class instruction is led by Doy Charnsupharindr, Professor Mark Rittenberg, and Ingrid Gavshon. The 2-unit course is comprised of several pre-trip evening meetings at Berkeley, during which students explored South African history, business, political climate and culture through guest lecturers and selected readings. The students also spend one week abroad to solidify the lessons learned and connect with a country outside of their own.
This blog is assembled from the experiences and musings of the author for the purpose of showcasing the SIB experience for prospective students and future SIB participants.
After a 24-hour+ long plane trip, I finally arrived at O.R. Tambo International Airport. It was the longest flight I have ever taken to any destination in my life, to date. The first order of business (after Passport Control & Customs) was to find my classmates and our local point-of-contact, who would be taking us on a pre-class safari trip to Pilanesberg Game Reserve. One by one, we gathered in the arrivals hall, a spacious, airy dome of a building that is filled with sunlight and activity. It was so nice to see familiar faces after that long flight. On the plus side, I also caught up on most of this year’s Oscar-nominated films while in the air.
Our driver loaded us in to his van, and we were on the road for about three hours before reaching the game reserve. During my first few hours on the ground, I noticed several interesting things about South Africa:
1. Some of the older men at the airport were holding hands. I did a little research and noted that this is similar to what I observed in India last year. Hand-holding is a sign of friendship and not on-par with the intimacy/romance that Americans would normally associate with it.
2. At every intersection, groups of people are selling things, performing dances/juggling and or begging in the middle of the road. This is a nod to the high unemployment rate (25%+) that we learned about in class. Not surprisingly, most of the sellers and performers are young, appear to be in good health and are very resourceful. We are lucky enough to be in-country during election season, so there are also representatives who are passionately lobbying for their political party with hand-outs and brightly colored shirts whenever the stoplights turn red.
3. Our driver pointed out several mines along the way to Pilanesburg, specifically chrome ore and platinum mines. The proximity of the shanty towns that are built up around the mines were of no surprise. It appears those who work in these mines are not sharing in the wealth to any great degree.
4. Everywhere, there are advertisements for “biltong” – turns out it is jerky, made out of beef but sometimes also kudu, game, ostrich and antelope. No, I haven’t tried it, yet.
At Pilanesberg, first game drive was scheduled for 4:30 pm. We were amazed at how many animals we saw along the pathway. Hippos, rhinos, elephants, springboks, warthogs, impalas, giraffes, zebras, blue wildebeest, gemsbock, kudu, and antelopes all showed up to greet us. The next morning at 5:30 am, we had another game drive. This time, the animals were a bit more shy, but we still managed to see all of the previous specimens in addition to monkeys, a Nile crocodile, a hyena, and a black-backed jackal. The entrance to the resort and park has a long, winding drive that goes up a hill with several electrified fences along the way – which we compared to Jurassic Park.
After the morning game drive, our driver picked us up and we all headed back toward Johannesburg. Along the way, we stopped at a craft market close to Sun City, where we did some souvenir shopping and tested our negotiation skills. Almost everyone walked away with something unique for friends and family back home.
Later in the evening, the students got together for dinner at Fishmonger restaurant. We asked a nearby patron to help us take a group photo. He later returned to our table with a bottle of wine, saying “Welcome to South Africa. I hope you enjoy my country.” What an incredible but unexpected gesture of generosity.
We finished off our night with a visit to local nightclub Kong. The evening provided us with the opportunity to celebrate our group birthdays, and to bond before the intense class schedule we had ahead of us. We have so much to look forward to in the days ahead and I feel so fortunate to be in-country with such amazing classmates.