Global Experience: Study Abroad in China "I miss you, China."
I recently traveled to China through the Carlson Global Institute’s Global Business Practicum in China. On this trip, I spent seven days in Shanghai, four days in Guangzhou, and one sleepless night in Hong Kong. I won’t bury the lead; it was an incredible, eye-opening trip. Have I piqued your interest? Then allow me to take you on a journey to China.
The China trip preparation starts during the second half of fall semester. Each Friday night the class meets to discuss our project. The class itself is a practicum, meaning we had the opportunity to work on a real business issue that a corporate sponsor was dealing with. During our classroom time, our fellow students from Lingnan University in Guangzhou would call in via WeChat, which is one of if not the most popular social media platform in China. The focus during our time in the class while in the United States is to conduct as much secondary research as possible (note; we signed non-disclosure agreements, so please excuse some of the vague allusions to our projects in this post). We also talked through cultural norms and customs that we might come across in China. This was a great time to get to know the people who we would be working with throughout the semester.
The best way to describe the actual trip is by focusing on the places we saw, the food we ate, and the project work we did.
Shanghai is an incredible city. The city itself has approximately 24 million people. For perspective, that’s twelve times, give or take, the population of Chicago, which is where I lived before coming to Carlson. That’s big. The city seems to stretch on for days, with sprawling, neon-lit skylines illuminating everything at night.
The things that stuck out to me the most about Shanghai were The Bund, the French Concession, and the Maglev train.
The Bund is Shanghai’s river walk. Along The Bund exists a potpourri of hotels. It used to be a center for international banking in the area, but most of the financial district has moved across the river to the Pudong District of Shanghai. The Bund can be reached by Nanjing Road, named for the former southern capital of China. “Nanjing” literally translates to “southern capital”. For reference “Beijing” literally translates to “northern capital”. The more you know. The coolest part about The Bund? Traveling to it on New Year’s Eve. Traffic had to be ushered in one direction on each side of the road. That means getting to any specific place was difficult, but it was truly an experience for the ages.
Shanghai by night, picture taken on The Bund.
In terms of the French Concession, it is closely associated with the garment design and was held under the French government until 1943. It has a fairly international flair to it and was a great spot to pick up some comfort food while in China. Not that we needed comfort food very often because the food overall was amazing during this trip.
Finally, the Maglev train stuck out to me. It’s the fastest standard operating train in the world, and boy it goes fast. I’m going to shameless use this platform to plug a Maglev train in America because as a huge fan of public transit, this would be awesome to have here.
View from the Pudong area of Shanghai. Immediately to the left of the camera not pictured is the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world.
Guangzhou was a city that I, to be frank, was not aware of before this trip. It’s considered a first-tier city in China, which means that from an economic/development perspective it’s on par with Shanghai. As I didn’t know about Guangzhou, I had no expectations on the city. If I did have expectations though, there’s no doubt Guangzhou would’ve exceeded them.
In Guangzhou, it’s all about the river walk. Guangzhou itself has a sort of southern gulf vibe to it and reminded me in a lot of ways of New Orleans and Houston. Long, swaying trees lined the river, and you could always see the Guangzhou Tower, which is a gorgeous tower that lights up in a rainbow of different colors and sits right along the river. The Guangzhou Opera House also sits along the river. We didn’t see any performances there, but that would have been fun to do.
Guangzhou Opera House
A large chunk of students flew out of Hong Kong after wrapping up in Guangzhou. Hong Kong itself is about a two-hour train ride from Guangzhou. My travel partners and I got into the city at about 11 am. Full disclosure, Hong Kong was not a programmed part of the trip. That said, Hong Kong instantly turned into one of my favorite places in the world.
The region is composed of a handful of connected islands and felt in many ways similar to Hawaii from that perspective. Upon arriving at Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to take an inexpensive ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island (Thanks for the recommendation, Peter Holmes (a fellow classmate)). It was awesome to get in a peaceful boat ride in the middle of the night to really feel the energy of the city.
The city itself was, anecdotally, one of the most diverse places I’ve ever seen. I suppose it came to be because of some combination of Chinese placement, British rule for many years, and as a central hub for international business. Whatever the reasons, it was incredible to experience.
Hong Kong Ferry ride
Ah! yes. The food. The thing that drives a disproportionate amount of joy in my life. The food in China is amazing. There are considered to be eight regional Chinese cuisines, so traveling in China you have the opportunity to get a wide variety of food. Shanghai was primarily known for more of the sweet and sour type of food. It was good, but I think Guangzhou took the cake, pun intended, on food. In Guangzhou, we had the opportunity to try Sichuan style hot pot, which I can most easily translate to “throw raw meat into boiling broth until it’s cooked and then eat it”. What raw meats did we eat, you ask? Everything you can imagine, including squid and pig’s brain. I had never had pig’s brain again. I’m not sure that I would seek it out in the future, but hey, when in China (I think I have that saying right…).
Not only did we get to enjoy some Sichuan style food, but we also got to enjoy dim sum, which consists of small bite-sized portions of different dishes. I was blown away by how good this food was. Things as simple as mushrooms cooked in oil and lightly seasoned were incredible. For those of you reading who are into the Minneapolis food scene, the Lingnan students had a street right on campus that was lined with small, open-air restaurants. We affectionately tried to transport some of our cultures to them and name it “Eat Street”. Whether or not that catches on is to be determined. We can’t imagine it won’t
Yogurt treat featured prominently in Shanghai markets
Since I can only discuss the practicum component of the trip in vague platitudes, but I’ll do my best to power through this writing to give you an appropriate appreciation for the practicum part of the trip.
The practicum itself was focused on findings new ways to provide value to business partners in a new region of the world. It was taking an existing idea and thinking about ways to modify them to meet the needs of the Chinese market. The project itself was broken down into six teams, each with six individuals; four Carlson students and two Lingnan students. It was a mixture of full-time and part-time MBA students. As a full-time student, this was one of the few opportunities I had to meet some of my part-time counterparts. Needless to say, part-time students rock as well. Who would’ve known?
The biggest thing that stood out to me as a member of the Carlson Ventures Enterprise is how much different it was working on an international project. I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to do that before, and it does take a very different thought process. Not only was the research on the Chinese market more difficult, but the ability to find direct competitors in the market was difficult as well. We had to transpose information from other countries to test some of our assumptions on how things would work in China, which is outside of the normal scope of finding statistically relevant and precise information.
The other thing that I particularly enjoyed about this project was the fact that I got to work on an organizational component. In other words, I got to think about which internal organizational structures would facilitate the best results. I hadn’t personally experienced a lot of organizational theory outside of working with Theresa Glomb and John Kammeyer-Mueller, so it was a great chance to apply their learnings in a, and this is one of my least favorite business jargon terms but it’s appropriate, so I suppose I’ll use it, “real world environment”.
That was my trip to China. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend two weeks of my life, and I can’t recommend taking a trip there enough. As a matter of fact, why not just take this trip through Carlson?