Spring Break Treks: Camels, Monks, and Business Leaders

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Nearly 200 Berkeley MBA students criss-crossed the globe over spring break in the pursuit of camel riding, finding spirituality, meeting key business leaders, and building even stronger bonds with some of their new closest friends. Spring break trekkers traveled to Israel, Japan, Cuba, and Morocco and brought back with them a wealth of new experiences. Here are some of their stories:

Israel

The five tour leaders who guided 55 travelers through Israel wanted their guests — 47 of whom had never been there before — to experience of the “reality” of the country, based on personal experience and not on the perception of the small Jewish state they get from the news. Romi and Noa Elan, Adi Rubinovich, Yaron Leyvand, and Nadav Shem-Tov, all MBA 14 — believe they accomplished just that.

On several occasions, the leaders shared personal stories, such as how relatives died while fighting in the military, or introduced their relatives to their travel mates in person. In Tel Aviv, for example, some tour leader family members manned the stations of a scavenger hunt.

The tour group visited religious sites of both Christians and Jews, walked along the Syrian border, floated in the Dead Sea, and woke up early to climb Masada.

For Elan, who grew up in Israel, seeing the country through someone else’s eyes was illuminating. While climbing Masada, one guest commented, “This is the coolest thing ever.”

“Just hearing that about these things that I had taken for granted was amazing,” Elan says.

The tour group also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, which Elan thought showed the students “the context for the state of Israel and why some policies may seem so strict.” The group also spoke with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a former businessman who got his start by co-founding a high-tech antivirus software company. “He laid out governing in business terms,” Elan says, “and how he intends to solve the issues of Jerusalem.”

Japan

Fifty-six Haas students traveled to Japan during spring break and toured the cities of Hiroshima, Kyoto, Atami, and Tokyo.

Highlights included waking early to listen to the holy sutras, living as monks do at the Buddhist temple in Mount Koya, and dining on vegetarian delicacies.

Ryo Itoh, MBA 15, helped lead the tour, which he described as a mixture of “culture, fun, andbusiness.” The group also visited a Toyota plant and Softbank, one of the largest telecom companies, and the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima.

While everyone was really “cooperative,” getting 50-plus people on a bullet train in a one-minute window was a logistical challenge, Itoh says. So were some food allergies, which the group remedied by writing up cards with food instructions in Japanese to bring to restaurants.

In Tokyo, some students enjoyed a one-night homestay in which they were picked up by a Japanese host family and enjoyed an evening with a local family.

The trip concluded with a final dinner of more than 70 people, including Haas alumni in Japan and recent admits for the class of 2016.

Cuba

Eleven Haasies traveled to Cuba for the spring break, where they took in a lively salsa show in the colonial city of Trinidad, and half the group woke up early to trek to a secluded waterfall.

Brad Malt, Paul Cole, Matt Richards and Billy Blaustein, all MBA 15, even jumped off a 40-foot cliff into a swimming hole at the base of the waterfall. “It was really cool and definitely a highlight of the trip,” Malt says.

The students received one credit for an independent study called “Innovation in a Closed Economy,” looking at how the recent changes and loosening of restrictions are affecting Cubans. The MBA students had lunch with a Cuban veteran who worked closely with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and shared his perspective on the embargo, recent changes, and how they are affecting Cubans.

The group also came to Cuba with two dozen baseballs and hats donated by the Cal baseball team to hand out to Cubans, who were grateful for the American gifts. On the students’ drive to the Bay of Pigs, Malt said they spotted a baseball field in town and pulled over for an impromptu pickup game. They didn’t have a bat, so a local Cuban lent them a partially broken wooden one. As they played, more and more townspeople came either to watch or to join the game.

“It was one of the more memorable experiences of my life,” Malt says.

Morocco

The Morocco trip started off small, with five people asking to tag along as Moulay Driss Belkebir Mrani, MBA 15, planned a visit to his homeland. In the end, Mrani ended up leading 66 people through Essaouria, Marrakech, Ouarzazate and the desert of Zagora.

The group enjoyed sightseeing, shopping, and camel riding, but there was also a purposeful business angle weaved into the trip. Mrani took the group to meet the CEO of the OCP Group, otherwise known as Office Cherifien des Phosphates, the world’s largest phosphates exporters and Morocco’s largest corporation. . “We had lunch and discussed the future of the fertilizers industry and the impact on farming in the world,” Mrani says.

The group also visited a mining complex and the site of a new university and met with a woman’s cooperative, where they learned about oil production.

One of the most memorable parts of the trek was the road trip to the desert in Zagora. There, under the stars, the group listened to tribal songs, lit a huge camp fire, and smoked in the “hookah corner.”

For Mrani, one of the greatest aspects of the trek was showing his country to his peers and re-discovering it himself.

“When you spend a week day and night with people, you get to know them better,” he said. “And to be in the desert in the middle of nowhere, in tents with food and music … Well, it was surreal and pretty amazing.”

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