Final Thoughts on Israel

Wrapping up the Israel Chazen Study Tour, here are the five biggest pleasant surprises I came across:

Coffee: From neighborhood cafes to national chains like Aroma (note: it is the Israeli version of Starbucks, and they have a branch in SoHo too!), coffee in Israel never disappointed me. You might not expect that coffee is an Israeli specialty, but many of us were very impressed by the quality of coffee here (much better than the US!), thanks to a different type of milk and coffee bean.

Cats everywhere: Israel might well be a paradise for cat lovers. We found cats in almost single restaurant we went to, and this definitely enhanced our general dining experience with cute cats being our accompany!

People’s passion for the country: From taxi drivers to random people on the streets, locals here are very eager to learn about our experiences in Israel and make sure we are having a good time. We have been greeted with “Welcome to Israel!” in almost all conversations I have had with shopkeepers, waitresses and hotel staff etc. Their passion is of course legitimate – who would not fall in love with a country that can offer so many different things to do for visitors?

The Election: the prime minister election took place during our trip. It was certainly a big, big day in the country. Our tour guide and organizers were all extremely passionate about it, and it seemed like everyone was talking about the Election Day. Such high level of political awareness impressed me a lot, and made me wish I had the right to vote for the PM too!

Israel’s commitment for humanity: Everyone knows Israel is a start-up nation that the number of start-ups per capita is the highest in the world. However, from our company visits, I had the impression that the country’s passion for start-ups is not merely for money. Rather, Israeli people have a more noble vision: they want to change the world and contribute to the human race. Their entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking attitude is truly inspiring, and in fact, given the small yet developed market in Israel, it is a perfect environment for companies to test out innovative ideas, which can subsequently be applied to the world. It is thus not a surprise that most tech giants like Google and Sony set up R&D centers in Israel.

To conclude, for me this Chazen trip to Israel is not just about learning about a foreign culture or visiting historical sites. Rather, my biggest takeaway was what I learned from Israeli’s passion – for the country, and for humanity. They taught me that even in adverse environments, as long as we dare to risk and be persistent, miracles can happen, just like how Israel has become an economically powerful and influential country in just 60 years, despite the frequency of wars and unstable geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

Last but not least, I must thank our three organizers Adi, Daniel and Rachel, our faculty advisor Professor Kalay and our tour guide Steve for making this trip such a successful and inspiring one. They showed us the best of Israel in just a week, and all of us had such an amazing time here.

Israel, goodbye for now, but I will definitely come visit you again sometime in the future!

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UAE: Where oil will still be king

On the flight back from Dubai, I picked up a copy of Monocle’s The Forecast, and found inside an article about Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. During one of our company visits we visited the “city,” a ~$12 billion project to create a perfectly planned city in the middle of the desert (sound familiar?) with the mission of being solar-powered, carbon-neutral, zero-waste and car-free. The article praises the efforts of careful urban planning, but “it’s hard to imagine anyone dreaming wistfully of living there.” The streets are empty, it’s almost eerily quiet, and there’s not yet enough development to make it seem more inviting than any other corporate park. While it does seem similar to many of the other cash rich developments in the emirate (Ferrari World), in reality Masdar is “a bulwark against decline built by people who have come to enjoy power and wealth, and have no interest in losing it.” As we heard time and again at many company visits, Abu Dhabi knows oil will, eventually, run out and are seeking to diversify ahead of that scary event.

Perhaps most interesting is the quote from the director general of IRENA, a renewable energy agency that we visited early in the week; he says that Masdar City is a hugely counterintuitive idea. It seemed to us (or perhaps just me) that IRENA was also counterintuitive – an intergovernmental agency focused on clean energy, headquartered in a country and funded by a government that is almost entirely dependent on oil and natural gas. When questions about this were posed to IRENA, they looked at us as if we were the ones confused.

Masdar City (via Monocle)

Masdar City (via Monocle)

Upon our return to the US, we had one final class together where we discussed our overall thoughts and shared reflections on the trip. There was a consensus that the country will still be fully dependent on oil for the next ten years, that only after that timeline would things start to change. Abu Dhabi just simply has too much of it, and the rest of the world depends so much on it, for there to be a true push away from oil in an economic sense. Another comment was on the ubiquity of foreign workers in the UAE, sometimes making it easy to forget you were smack in the Middle East. While that that workforce, by some estimates 98% of the population in the UAE, is integral to the economy and sustains the existence of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it’s hard to tell if there is a real sense of belonging. There are very strict rules on citizenship, which can only be conferred if you are born to an Emirati father. There are a few other, hard, ways to gain citizenship, but for the most part one’s tenure in UAE is entirely dependent on work visas. Many in class thought it was dangerous for the emirates to rely on so much foreign labor; there is a lack of ownership in the wealth creation and nation-building, because ultimately as an expat you are never fully welcome. It’s unclear if and when this might change, but judging by a quick poll in class a majority of us will still gladly move over for a short term period. The lure of a tax-less workplace plus higher salary is just too hard to resist for a MBA grad.

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DolChazenVita Part 1

Ciao everyone! The 10 days in Italy were absolutely phenomenal and I can’t believe how quickly the trip went by. The study tour was so intense that it left me with no time to blog during my visit but I hope to share in detail how amazing each day was.

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Rialto Bridge, Venice

A few chazeners started off the tour with a trip to Venice. As soon as we arrived we were enamored. We walked through all the little alleyways all the way to San Marco square, crossing over bridges, stopping to soak in the beauty and capture those moment forever. We also visited Cafe Florian for some apperitivo and then an indulgent three course meal at ABC quadri where I had some of the best Tiramisu ever! The next day we saw the St. Mark’s Basilica, Dodge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge and also went up the bell tower to get a bird’s eye view of this canal city. Later we visited Murano (glass blowing) and Burano (lace factory) which were a short trip from central Venice. At night we checked out the local bars and restaurants and got a glimpse of the student nightlife there.

Dinner at ABC Quadri

Dinner at ABC Quadri

The next day we left for Rome where are official Chazen trip began. We did a 3 hour tour of Rome and saw St. Paul’s Basilica, the colosseum, the roman wall, the piramis and also learnt about Roman history. It was definitely amusing to learn what the Romans did during theirs leisure time: working out, getting a massage, sitting for a steam sauna in open air pools. As we toured the city, I noticed how the facade of houses/buildings had a characteristic Roman touch. We were told that Rome has very strict rules on houses should look from the outside, so as to maintain the Roman look. Later that we were hosted President of Rome’s Columbia Business School Alum Association, Imran Tayebali at his Villa where we nibbled on tasty petit fours.

Lavish spread at Imran's villa

Lavish spread at Imran’s villa

The next day we head to Tuscany, one of the world’s most celebrated wine regions, for our first company visit at Castello Banfi. Castello Banfi is a family-owned vineyard estate and winery located in the Montalcino region of Tuscany.  This award-winning estate was founded on the philosophy of blending tradition with innovation, and is recognized as a pioneer in elevating the standards of Italian winemaking. Its revenues for FY2013 were almost 70 million Euro, almost half of which was generated in Europe and 40% in North America. It sold 15 millions bottles worldwide last year…and we soon found out how. After a wonderful presentation by Luca Devigili (Brand Manager Banfi Piemonte and Trade Marketing Manager) and Elizabeth Koenig (Estate Hospitality Project Director) we had the opportunity to taste three fantastic wines. We had the Brunello di Montalcino (one of their most premium wines), Aska (a Cabernet Sauvignon with mild percentage of Cabernet Franc) and a recently introduced wine targeted towards first time female drinkers, La Pettegola, which was my favorite. This was followed by the most sumptuous lunch at a restaurant on their vast estate. We had asparagus and saffron risotto with fossa-aged pecorino cheese and veal fillet in aromatic herbs crust with potato mille-feuille, with wine pairings of course. A special mention for the delicious olive oil which a few students even purchased and the staff were more than willing to wrap our purchases in the most secure way. As I looked all around the estate, the beauty of untouched nature left me mesmerized and I wish we could have stayed there longer…it really was the perfect start to our trip!

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

Castello Banfi Estate

Castello Banfi Estate

Delicious spread at Banfi

Delicious spread at Banfi

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Goodbye Japan!

So, we’re back in New York and I’m already missing some of the joys of Tokyo. The peacefully quiet precise trains, the amazing sushi and those toilet seats!

During our last two days in Tokyo we went out on our own and took advantage of the free time to explore most of the shopping districts of the city and a few sites that we had missed. That Saturday evening we met for our final dinner, a traditional Japanese meal on a karaoke boat around Tokyo Bay. It was amazing fun!

On that we’re back at school, the constant ‘how was your spring break?’ questioning has made me reflect on Japan. If I had to sum up Japan in one sentence I would say that it is a country that has found a perfect balance between hi-tech advancement and a strongly rooted culture. This has probably given rise to the famous Galapagos Syndrome: the situation describing Japan’s development of highly specialized technology that is not successful anywhere else in the world. One of the recurring themes from our company meetings was Japan’s struggle to go global and become ‘World no. 1’. Language and culture seem to be a big barrier to this aspiration. In my view though, Japanese culture seems to be the key driver behind successful Japanese global brands like Toyota.

It will be interesting to see how Japan overcomes the challenges of an ageing population, high debt burden and unique culture, over our lifetimes. Hopefully we’ll see more from the country that brought us Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Toyota, Nissan and Honda!

Finally, I’d like to thank our fearless leaders for organizing such an amazing trip and for making sure we don’t break the many cultural rules during stay in Japan. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about one of the world’s quiet superpowers. Arigato!

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A tale of two trips: natural beauty and Nyepi in Bali

It took about 30 hours to travel from New York to Jakarta. It took about one hour to travel from Jakarta to Bali. When we landed in Bali, if felt like the second trip had taken us further. We had heard that Indonesia is an extremely multicultural country, but witnessing the divergence between these two regions separated by just about 750 miles was an eye-opening experience.

From the first step out of the airport, it felt like a another world. Lush greenery, shimmering blue waters, cloudless skies unscraped by buildings, scaffolding, and the developmental signs of an emerging economy. The only evident emergence was a need for sunscreen.

It's green in Bali

It’s green in Bali

While nearly 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, most Balinese practice a local form of Hinduism, bearing deep effects on the culture and cuisine of the island. We saw this quickly as we dined on suckling pig prepared several ways for lunch and cooled down with cold Bintangs, a popular Indonesian beer.

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Babi Guling and Lawar. Balinese roast pork. Delicious.

 

The character of the trip was instantly different. From visits to a Hindu water temple and a park to feed monkeys to a traditional Balinese dance recital and a dip in the Indian Ocean, it was almost baffling that just the day before we were discussing tax incentives for investment and strategies for raising the collection base with the finance minister. The challenges of infrastructure in an emerging economy felt worlds away on this picturesque island marked by such unique culture.

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Purifying the sacred springs of a water temple

 

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The natural spring at the water temple

 

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Afternoon snack with new friends

 

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Maybe better friends than some of us hoped

 

No experience better embodied this than the preparations and parades for Nyepi, the Balinese New Year. Nyepi involves several days of preparation culminating with a day of silence symbolizing purification for the New Year. During the day of silence the entire island shuts down and tourists are not to leave their resorts (was not a problem with how beautiful our resort was), but the night before includes parades in every village. The children of these villages spend weeks building Ogoh Ogoh, demon statues made of bamboo frames that are destroyed at the end of the night. To be quite honest, being at this parade was a once in a lifetime cultural experience that I never dreamed I might witness. Undoubtedly a #WhyCBS moment.

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They put big time work into these Ogoh Ogoh

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Electric Ogoh Ogoh

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Our resort. This is a school trip. Seriously.

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It was snowing in New York as I took this picture.

 

The day of silence was extremely relaxing at the Mulia resort. Hours by the pool, a little tennis, a lavish dinner, and good times with great friends new and old. One of the most relaxing and enjoyable days I have had in a long time. GDP per capita didn’t cross my mind once.

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Israel – Day 6/7

Day 6 – Jerusalem > Dead Sea > Beduin Chafla

This day was definitely the most memorable day for all of us. Early in the morning, we visited the Old City of Jerusalem, which is divided into four quarters – Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Jewish Quarter. Once passing through the Jaffa Gate, it seemed like we entered a maze with roads leading to everywhere. I am sure we would have got lost without our guide!

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The first stop was the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter. To me, it was a magical moment because I first learned about the wall at age of 8 and have always wanted to come visit. Like other visitors, we wrote our wishes on small pieces of paper and put them onto the wall.

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Next, we visited the Temple Mount, which is widely recognized as one of the most important religious sites in not only Jerusalem, but also in the world. In history, over four religions have made use of the site, including Judaism, Islam and Christianity etc. The site houses the iconic Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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Our final stop was the Christian Quarter where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located. Here we saw many Christian groups from all over the world who came here to visit the tomb of Jesus.

To conclude, the visit to the Old City of Jerusalem was amazing. The experience is just like you visit three or four different countries in just two hours. I was particularly intrigued by how all different cultures and religions can co-exist in the same city.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the Dead Sea, which was by far almost everyone’s favorite part of the tour. When we got there, we were surprised to learn that MBA students from Kellogg School of Management were there as well. During the Dead Sea Mud Party, CBS students even competed with our Kellogg counterparts in various games. With delicious food, excellent weather and upbeat EDM music, our party at the Dead Sea was truly a blast. Most significantly, we all went to “float” in the water! The feeling was very strange, as swimming became very hard as we were floating. But it was certainly a magical moment that I would definitely remember for the rest of my life!

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In the evening, we arrived at Beduin Chafla to experience the life of people living in the desert. Not only did we enjoy belly dancing, we also got to try various authentic food. The tea, which is a bit sweetened, was particularly appealing to us. To make the experience complete, we stayed in the big tent overnight, and had some great bonding time with each other.

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Day 7 –  Beduin Chafla > Tel Aviv

Early in the morning, we all had a chance to ride on camels. It was my very first time and the experience was great. Although I was a bit worried that I might fall down as the camels move around, the ride was actually quite stable.

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In the afternoon, we headed back to Tel Aviv for our final dinner at Mitbach Layla, where we booked the entire restaurant for our group. As we farewell with each other, the bus driver surprised us by singing an Israeli song. While it was sad to leave this wonderful country, I knew I would definitely re-visit the country some time in the future.

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BRAZIL ON MY MIND

Now back home in NYC it is surreal to think back about the last two weeks in Brazil. Running into my GIP classmates in the halls of Columbia Business School, we yearn to relive the most exciting and hilarious events from our trip, for we share a journey that will never fade from our memories. On the first day of the Global Immersion class this semester I surprisingly only knew five of the thirty students who were traveling with me to Brazil. I now feel so lucky to have such a unique connection to every one of them. Below is a recount of some of the moments that helped build this bond:

Last night out in Brazil. Dance party at the Jockey Club in Rio.

Last night out in Brazil. Dance party at the Jockey Club in Rio.

Cultural Lessons Learned

BUDDY SYSTEM

Before the trip began we spent part of our last class discussing safety tips for Brazil, especially since one of the stops on our itinerary was a visit to a Brazilian favela (slum). Our Professor and TA’s strongly emphasized a page-worth of precautionary advice such as not walking around with your phone out, not waiving taxi’s down on the street, staying in groups, and not speaking loudly in English when walking around. Though most places in Brazil did feel very safe, we all became very watchful of each other which led to a tight knit and extremely inclusive group during the trip.

First day in Brazil together dressed up after joining a protest march in Sao Paulo

First day in Brazil together dressed up after joining a protest march in Sao Paulo

DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? HABLAS ESPANOL?? PORTUGUESE???

One of the most shocking discoveries of our trip was just how little English or Spanish the Brazilian community spoke, especially in Rio de Janeiro. In class we had talked extensively about how self-reliant the Brazilian economy was, but one could have never imagined how difficult it would be to find locals, cab drivers, waiters, shop keepers, anybody who spoke anything other than Portuguese. That said, we all quickly learned the basic terms such as obrigado/a = thank you, frango = chicken, conta = bill, bom dia = good day, mais = more, agua sem gas = mineral water, caipirinha = caipirinha, and when all else failed we spent an enormous amount of time practicing our charades skills.

Business In Brazil

One of the best parts of the Global Immersion portion of our trip to Brazil was the amazing variety of industries that we had the opportunity to speak with. The trip was split up for us to meet with four organizations in Sao Paulo (Strategy&, Suzano Pulp and Paper, InBev, Banco Itau) and another four in Rio de Janeiro (BNDES, Petrobras, TV Globo, NGO Favela Tour). Of high interest to our group was the political and socio-economic climate in Brazil, dealing from corruption in business and government, to lack of infrastructure and educational gaps, all issues which we discussed extensively with CEO’s, economists, educators and managers on our company visits.

One of our favorite meetings was with the CEO of Suzano where we discussed the great un-equality between private and public school education and how tough it is for Brazil to retain well-educated workers as top talent are enticed by opportunities abroad.

Posing with the CEO of the Suzano Pulp and Paper Company

Posing for a photo with the CEO of the Suzano Pulp and Paper Company

Perhaps the most fun was visiting TV Globo studios, where we rode around in golf carts from set to set. It was exciting to see first hand how this telenovela factory produces 2,700 hours of in-house original content and over 3,000 hours of news content per year.

Behind the scenes on the set of TV Globo's famous telenovelas

Behind the scenes on the set of TV Globo’s famous telenovelas

One of the most eye opening experiences of the trip was visiting a favela (slum). We spent our last afternoon in Rio de Janeiro with two volunteers from a local NGO that provides educational services to the community. It was remarkable to learn about how the favela that we visited was once run by drug dealers just years ago, but recently overtaken by Brazilian police and military in a large pacification effort. Interestingly, many of the favela’s residents actually preferred life before the police took over arguing that many officers are corrupt and how the government provides less safety and infrastructural support than the drug lords.

A Trip We’ll Never Forget

Going to Brazil with this group truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity and will go down as one of my top memories at CBS. I really enjoyed the class time that we took to learn about the Brazilian history, economy, and culture. Having that background about the country made exploring Sao Paulo and Rio a much richer and more rewarding experience than I could have ever imagined. I think from now on I should only visit new places after first doing extensive research and selecting 30 amazing people to travel with :)

Stoop kids on set of a favela novela at TV Globo studios

Stoop kids on set of a favela novela at TV Globo studios

Enjoying giant desserts at our last dinner together

Enjoying giant desserts at our last dinner together

Loving the buffet line between company meetings in Rio

Loving the buffet line between company meetings in Rio

Joining a local soccer game

Joining a local soccer game

Soccer Everywhere

Soccer Everywhere

Enjoying unlimited meats of a fine Churrascaria

Enjoying unlimited meats of a fine Churrascaria

Tram ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain

Tram ride to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain

When our powers combine...

When our powers combine…

To explore our trip check out #GIPBrazil #CBSChazenTravel #ChazenBreadBasket on social media.

Andrew Zalk ’15

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