“Never forget that there are countless people who would be happy to live your worst day.” – Colombian Airbnb Host.
These words of wisdom will forever stick as a relevant daily reminder from one of the many interactions of my round-the-world voyage over the summer. Since then, already two months have swiftly passed in the autumn Michaelmas term in what seems like both a blur and a highly condensed period of learning, exposure, and fervent multitasking. But this buffer has afforded me a bit of time to pause and reflect on the effects of the summer world tour that I had embarked upon to meet my cohort before starting the Oxford MBA.
Looking back, I have come to more fully appreciate that there are certain experiences that fundamentally alter how you perceive the world and change the trajectory of your life. Realising this dream voyage has undoubtedly been one of these remarkable occasions, which has opened my mind to a whole new set of possibilities with renewed conviction and vitality on how much more we all have in common than we may have in supposed differences. Along the same lines, in this entry I recount significant events and certain perceptions from four continents over the span of three months as they relate to my present student status in Oxford.
Seoul, Korea: I resigned from my job in Seoul on June 6, 2018 and bid goodbye on June 10 to friends and a place that I had called home for nearly 7 years.
Departing Event in Seoul, Korea at a traditional “Hanok” house
This was a moment that had been years in the making, culminating from extensive conversations, hundreds of hours in desk research, numerous lunches, evenings and weekends spent studying, planning sessions and pivots, and a dozen university visits. Much in the same way that I prepared for the MBA, I did my homework in formulating my travels and – most importantly – scheduling how, where, and when I would encounter friends, family, and future classmates in the ensuing months.
While on the train to Seoul Incheon International Airport, I had an emotional instant as the reality of my newfound situation sunk in: I was leaving behind my comfort zone and embarking on an adventure to visit unfamiliar places and essentially depend on strangers around the globe. (Yes, there is a certain irony of a so-called “Westerner” leaving his self-described perceived temporary home in what many may define as living abroad as a foreigner in Asia, but those are the hallmarks of a nomadic lifestyle.) I then reminded myself in the airport shuttle that this was all my own doing and that without taking risks, change does not materialise. It’s only by stepping outside of established routines that the unconventional can be found.
“If you want different results, do not do the same things.” – Albert Einstein
View of Seoul, Korea from Samcheong Park
Tokyo, Japan: I began my voyages with a pit-stop in Tokyo wherein a pre-MBA event was organised. It was more than six years since I had returned after leaving a previous job. And what a wonderful choice it was in the end to go!
I would describe Tokyo as a retro vision of the projected future as from the 1980’s. The time differential and change of framing from working to visiting completely altered my perspective on the country. The respect, civility, and discipline of the population never cease to amaze me to this day. After a harsh professional stint in the country working for a multinational years prior, it was positive closure that regenerated my opinion of the country as a whole for a constructive ending.
Tokyo Tower in Tokyo, Japan; Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, Japan
Shanghai, China: My next stop on the Asia circuit was the pearl of Shanghai, a city that does not stop impressing me. From my vantage point, Shanghai is a global economic epicentre that is among the most forward-thinking and innovative hubs on the planet. It is abundantly clear that China really is changing the world! There is so much optimistic dynamism and energy bubbling over into daily life – from the streets of the French Concession to the banks of the Bund. Talking over drinks with fellow Oxford and Cambridge students, I gained a real sense of just how much the country has developed over the course of recent years. As a matter of fact, I could hardly recognise the city compared to my last stop more than five years ago whilst I was travelling and interviewing for roles at the time.
The Bund by day in Shanghai, China; The Bund by night in Shanghai, China
Myanmar: Myanmar was the start of a reset to help reveal new depths of inner peace and served as a reminder that it’s not material wealth that counts, but instead generosity, kindness, and compassion to and for one another. The bustle of Yangon, serenity of Inle Lake, magic of Bagan, and spiritual legacy of Mandalay & Sagaing left a remarkable impression on me that I cannot soon forget. Above all, it was the smiling faces and warm greetings from Burmese young and old, creating a sense of common humanity & inclusion, that will remain a lasting memory from the summer. In particular, the breathtaking sunrise over Bagan was undeniably one of the most pure, moving, and majestic moments in my life. In short, Myanmar is simply extraordinary!
Sunrise over temples of Bagan; Shwedagon Temple Yangon; Inle Lake; Bagan Temples in Myanmar
India: India was the most distinctive country that I have journeyed through, full stop. Nothing had adequately prepared me for just how much the subcontinent floods the senses with a surge of good and bad stimuli from a wave of heat, weather, traffic, languages, noises, cuisines, clothing, cultures, religions, and social stratifications that are vibrant, diverse, and intense.
The heat of the northern Indian state Rajasthan was otherworldly. There is a reason that one is advised against visiting this region of India during the months of June and July — it is unbearably hot. The hottest I’ve ever felt in fact. While I must have caught a heat-stroke several times despite the many liters of water consumed in Jaipur and Agra, the days were mystical and exotic to a degree that I am unaccustomed to. Catching “Delhi Belly” (food poisoning) after completing the “Golden Triangle” trio of New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra represents some of the practical challenges there. As a silver lining, the lack of tourists did make accommodation and transportation easier than in peak seasons.
Amer Fort in Jaipur, India; Decorated elephant in Jaipur, India
Flying through storm clouds for hours on end from New Delhi to Mumbai was surreal, although it is a normality during the monsoon season. The city of Mumbai itself is a tapestry of inter-colonial architecture, shantytowns, skyscrapers, and cranes amid a sprawling dizzying megalopolis. Taken as a whole, the Indian leg of the voyage was among my most educational as I came to learn more about the realities of nearly 20% of the world’s population in a county that will only become more significant into the future.
Taj Mahal in Agra, India; Daily street life in Mumbai, India
Turkey: I first travelled to Istanbul during my undergraduate Toulouse Business School dual degree in 2008. While it was enriching touristically, the local flavor was noticeably lacking as I had no relations on the ground. That all changed on this visit around a lovely weekend at the end of June with future classmates. They unpeeled a previously unknown alternative local side to Istanbul that was cosmopolitan, buoyant, and progressive. As a matter of fact, one classmate curated no less than 38 venues of food, beverages, tourism, and entertainment for a 3-day weekend stay! I came away with a whole new level of appreciation beyond newspaper headlines for a city that has played such a central role in the history of humanity.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey; Istanbul University main gate; Overview of Bosphorus by night
France: How much time one can spend with loved ones is one important consideration to manage in expat life as opportunities are few and overlapping timings limited. So making an effort to encounter family is particularly close to my heart. And doing so while watching the World Cup Finals was absolutely a cherished memory. I was fortunate to have been in France two decades ago when Les Bleus won on the last occasion, which made this one all the more special. Allez les Bleus!
Eiffel Tower in Paris, France; Champs-Elysées after World Cup Final Championship; Patrouille fly-over the Champs-Elysées during French team homecoming
Argentina: A dream of mine for many years, as many of those who know me, was to visit Latin America. I reasoned to myself: what better time to take the plunge than just prior to business school? (My finance degree hat was evidently not the one I used in this instance.)
The first port of entry was the capital city Buenos Aires from late July onward. The two weeks I spent in Argentina were just as incredible as they were riveting. From the Parisian style streets of Buenos Aires to the goosebumps from the rushing water of Iguazu Falls all the way through to the “Gaucho” (cowboy) lifestyle in the Sierra de Cordoba mountain range outside of Cordoba and the wine tasting tour of Mendoza — I loved the diverse immersion of it all. The country of Argentina once more opened me to mindfulness and spiritual inspiration from nature’s beauty while revealing how European history shaped another continent for centuries.
Floralis Genérica sculpture in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Iguazu Falls; Riding horses in Cordoba, Argentina; Iguazu Falls panorama; Wine barrels in Mendoza, Argentina
Chile: Seldom have I seen such raw and mesmerizing nature as flying over the Andes Mountains from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile. In the country more widely, I was taken aback by how many awe-inspiring scenes I was confronted with – from the sunsets atop San Cristóbal Hill to the rolling hills of Valparaiso and stunning mountain-meets-water bowl of El Embaje de Yeso. The quality of infrastructure was high and the city layouts were accessible, which gave the country a North American edge that was quite unlike other countries in the region.
Flying over Andes Mountains between Argentina and Chile; El Yeso Dam; Sunset over Santiago, Chile from San Cristobal Mountain; Hills of Valparaiso
Peru: Peru is a hidden gem, intertwined with spirituality and culinary excellence amid a rich history complemented by nature and topography. The middle week of August in the modern capital of Lima and ancient Inca capital of Cusco were meaningful — emotionally buoying with outstanding food, humble people, stunning scenery, and mindful travellers!
I was uplifted from the archaeological ruins and rugged mountains in Peru to gain an indescribable sense of connectedness and presence that I found rarely elsewhere. Machu Picchu is truly one of a kind!
Inca Trail nearby Cusco, Peru; Machu Picchu, Peru
I also pursued an out of comfort zone stretch goal by climbing up to 5,200 meters (16,400 feet) of altitude to witness spectacular rugged landscapes. The fascinating multi-coloured “Rainbow Mountain” in the Andes Mountains near Cusco, Peru was only unearthed in the last few years after overlying snow and glaciers melted as a result of climate change. This beautiful natural wonder is yet another reminder of the detrimental effects arising from global warming.
Climbing up to the 5,000+ meter summit of Rainbow Mountain in Peru
Colombia: The final stop of the whistle-stop Latin America tour was in Colombia. Joyous people, uninhibited nightlife, a dash of dysfunction, mix of complicated history, and breathtaking terrain of jungle and coasts make Colombia a truly unforgettable destination. Bogota pulsed with nightlife that is marked by an emerging counterculture expressed in underground music venues and graffiti. Tourism in the country expands on the back of a newly brokered peace accord for inflows of foreign direct investment and I felt a sense of fresh beginnings after a violent past.
Nightlife in Bogota, Colombia; Oxford MBA classmates from Colombia and Germany
I was also incredibly lucky to have spent time with a crop of bright, smiling, and well-mannered children thanks to a classmate’s invitation. The people working and volunteering for the Fundación Manuel Mejía situated next to Pereira are among the most caring, kind, friendly, and altruistic people I’ve ever encountered. Coffee is a significant export product and the Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia supports over 550,000 agricultural families directly and indirectly in Colombia. I saw how the ones with the least give the most, and this grounding experience was an timely reminder of what is important in life and why! The world has much to learn from the happiness and warmth of ordinary Colombians.
Pereira, Colombia; Parque del Cafe with children
I spent my last week in picturesque Cartagena soaking in the sun, beach, and waves. There is a definite charm to the city that was not lost on me. There is a rationale as to why it’s a sought-after honeymoon destination!
Playa Blanca in Cartagena, Colombia; Beach of Isla de Tierra Bomba; Old City of Cartagena, Colombia
Montreal, Canada: Following the 5-weeks in Latin America, I made my way to Montreal that was consistently recommended highly to me. The city ranks as my favorite metropolis in North America thanks to the pleasant blend of the old and new world, l’art de vivre, forward-looking policies, outdoor events & accessible nature, and friendly inhabitants. It is a liveable and vibrant city that stands out from peers in the continent (I even advised some family members and friends to live there).
Downtown Montreal; Old Montreal, Canada
Weaving the Threads Together: Everywhere Then and Oxford Now
Encountering more than two dozen classmates not only offered an early indication of the calibre and sheer diversity of the class, but also revealed the common thread of those individuals to be worldly, thoughtful, engaged, and aspirational who wish to contribute with purpose. In the past months I have formed closer bonds with these same people (friends) and started to initiate others in an array of settings. I’ve been stimulated and stretched in numerous ways like never before. And that is precisely what I signed up for in this degree.
The summer round-the-world trip was by no means free, but there is no price to place on forming lifelong friendships in my view. These human connections in this prominent educational ecosystem are, above all, why I’m so satisfied with my choice of Oxford!Back to top of article