Patagonia: Out of the wild

The electric wires stopped running at least 10 kilometers from where we entered Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo – making it a little challenging to blog. So here’s the belated recap of the trip…

Our class of 28 students traveled almost 6,000 miles (but only two time zones) to Coyhaique, a small town south of Santiago, Chile, where we entered Patagonia. Coyhaique is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) base camp for the Patagonia region. NOLS runs outdoor leadership classes throughout the year in many different parts of the world, typically offering 30- or 80-day courses in camping, mountaineering, sea kayaking and more, including a “semester abroad” opportunity for college students. (Yes, an entire semester, no shower.)

After one last dinner of pizza and beer, and one last sleep in dreamy hotel beds, the class arrived at base camp early on the morning of December 13. We reviewed our gear, rented and bought what other gear we needed, divided our group gear among our tent teams, learned how to pack our packs, and perhaps most importantly, had our last meal of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Then, with our 55-70 pound packs, we rode a bus to the entrance of the park and the adventure began.

The two teams of 14 students and 3 (AMAZING!) instructors each planned to travel the same route, but in opposite directions. Some days we walked on trails, other days we bushwhacked through the dense lenga tree forest and crossed rivers up to our knees; some days we walked uphill all day, other days we went up and down and up and down river drainage after drainage. Each day we were awake early to boil water, make breakfast, tear down camp and hike all day. When we arrived at the “X” at the end of the day, we’d find a good place for camp, pitch our tents, set up our “kitchens” and make dinner (cheesy pasta was a team favorite, but pizza, pad thai and risotto bolognese were also on the menu). With all the work to be done to get our basic needs met, there wasn’t exactly time for sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories.

The “peak” of the route was a pass, or saddle, in the shadow of Cerro Castillo, with snow-covered terrain on one side and a steep boulder field on the other. On Day 1, it seemed impossible that we would get to this point, but both teams made it triumphantly. We all took some time to reflect on the incredible journey we had so far, and what we were starting to learn about ourselves and our own strength – physically and mentally. The way down wasn’t exactly “easy” but after what we had accomplished, anything was possible.

During our route we encountered all types of terrain, temperature swings from 80 degrees to 25 degrees, sun, rain and snow. At times, we thought there was a NOLS instructor sitting in a control room somewhere watching for when we got comfortable and sending obstacle after obstacle our way. (“Oh, it’s warm and dry, let’s send in the horseflies.”) Every day was different, and every day was rewarding. Every day we were faced with a different challenge, and every day we were proud of our ability to tackle them, while maintaining high spirits and learning something new. On our last night, we shared what we would take with us to our “front country” life – it was amazing how many lessons were transferable to our very different world of excel spreadsheets and conference calls.

After 9 nights with no electricity, we returned to the land of cellphones and Internet. We eagerly checked in with friends and family (we made it!) and exchanged stories (and wilderness recipes) with the other team. We enjoyed one buzz-inducing glass of wine and asado at basecamp before heading to our hotels for multiple showers and pillows! Most of us made it back to our families in time for the holidays or on to our next adventure.

I know I’m still reflecting on the experience that we had – I miss sleeping 4 inches away from my amazing tent mates, but I don’t miss waiting forever for the water to boil for hot drinks. We have a reunion class in a few weeks, after which I’ll share more about what everyone learned on the trip. Until then, Happy New Year to all – may 2015 be filled with many memorable adventures, like this one!

Getting Ready for Chazen India

Iris Chen ’15

What do you get when you combine 37 CBS students, 2 faculty members, and 7 organizers?  A trip of a lifetime to India!  Exactly three months ago on September 23rd, 2014, I found out that I was going to India over winter break through the Chazen International Study Tour program.  India has been one of the top places I’ve been wanting to visit, and I’m so excited for this opportunity through Columbia Business School.

I’ve had three months to prepare for my trip through health assessments, vaccines, pre-departure meetings, and applying for my visa.  On my travel assessment, I received a Hepatitis A shot, my 10-year tetanus booster, typhoid pills, malaria pills, and antibiotics.  Safe to say, I’m ready (health-wise) for my trip to start!

Chazen India takes place from Saturday December 27th, 2014 and ends on Wednesday January 7th, 2015.  We will start in the south of India in Mumbai and then we will fly north to Jaipur, drive to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and will officially end in Delhi.  My trip will end in Delhi, but many students will continue their journey to Goa, a Western city known for its beaches, places of worship, and world heritage architecture.

The following is a list of companies we’ll be visiting on our trip:

HDFC Bank Limited, the fifth largest Indian banking and financial services company by assets headquartered in Mumbai.

MakeMyTrip Inc., an online travel company headquartered in Gurgaon, Haryana that provides online travel services including flight tickets, domestic and international holiday packages, hotel reservations, rail and bus tickets.

Zomato is an online restaurant discovery guide providing information on home delivery, dining-out, cafes and nightlife in major cities.


I am most looking forward to the visit to the Dabbawalas office to learn about the delivery system of hundreds of thousands of meals per day in Mumbai.  A dabbawala is a person in India, most commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, and returns the empty boxes to the customer’s residence that afternoon.  I first learned about the Dabbawalas from Professor Singh’s Operations Strategy class. Here’s a video that explains the Dabbawala’s vastly complex operation:

Fortis Healthcare Limited (FHL) is a leading, pan Asia-Pacific, integrated healthcare delivery provider.

Tata Group is a family-owned Indian multinational conglomerate company founded in 1868 and headquartered in Mumbai.  It encompasses seven business sectors: communications and information technology, engineering, materials, services, energy, consumer products and chemicals.  It has over 100 operating companies, each running independently, in more than 80 countries across six continents.

A couple of weeks ago, we had our final pre-departure meeting with the Chazen organizers (see picture below).  We learned about travel precautions, expectations, business etiquette, dress code, and several local phrases including the traditional “namaste” greeting.  The organizers did a wonderful job planning every aspect of the study tour, including the New Year’s Eve party in Mumbai!  It will be very exciting to tour India through both the local and global perspective.  I’m so lucky that I have classmates around the world who can plan these amazing trips in their home countries, and hope that I can learn a lot more about their culture once I’m there.

Chazen India Organizers from L to R: Mimi Vavilala, Karan Ahuja, Kusha Sanghrajka, and Surabhi Shastri (not pictured: Divya Goenka and Anuja Mehta)
Chazen India Organizers from L to R: Mimi Vavilala, Karan Ahuja, Kushal Sanghrajka, and Surabhi Shastri (not pictured: Divya Goenka, Anuja Mehta, and Amber Liang)

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more blog updates!

The Umbrella Movement is Officially Over & CBS is Coming to Town

If you follow world news, you’re probably aware that pro-democracy protests, led by student groups in Hong Kong, have been disrupting city streets for almost three months now. Late last week, the city officially returned to its normal order. And for the small group of Columbia Business School students traveling to Hong Kong and Taiwan on the 2015 Chazen study tour, the timing couldn’t have been better. As the fall semester of 2014 comes to a close, students wrap up with finals and start heading home for the holidays (wherever home may be), the group can finally begin to focus on the upcoming trip to Asia. The bankers, consultants and research analysts among us will inevitably be rigorously prepping for first round interviews over break. But amidst all of the interview prep, we will also be reading the hundreds of pages of materials to prepare for our company visits in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Among the intriguing list of companies that we will be interviewing management teams are Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Giant Bicycles, to name a few. Not to worry, however, mixed in with the exciting line-up of company visits are a number of amazing cultural events and social outings. Upon our arrival in Hong Kong, the organizers of the trip – Karl, Justin and Gina – have planned a fascinating Aqua Luna private boat party. And I can think of no better way to kick off such an exhilarating and enlightening week. To all of you readers and bloggers out there, that’s all for now. More to come as we ramp up our preparation for the trip and get closer to take-off.

Lauren Harmon CBS ’16

2014-12-05 00.10.45

2014-12-10 10.12.23

2014-12-10 10.32.04

A Winter Thaw

Adam Justin ’15

Wednesday’s surprise announcement by the Obama Administration and Cuban President Raul Castro caused quite the stir, in Miami, in American politics, and right here at Columbia Business School. Forty of us, one TA and our professor, have been preparing to visit Cuba for the past six weeks. We’ve been preparing ourselves to survey a country that time passed by, a country where credit cards don’t work, and exploring what it would mean if relations between Cuba and the United States were ever to thaw. And then, Wednesday, the headline broke, ‘Cuba and the United States to normalize relations!’ Here we are, in the middle of this development, where conjecture is becoming reality.

Havanna HP 1

Our class studied the Cuban economic system, and how industries work in comparison to the capitalist system in which we all live and work. We have formed groups, and are diving deep into a dozen industries, to learn how these sectors work in Cuba, and how the industry will change as the country enters the global community in new ways. In our last classroom session, we discussed these projects. One that I’ll highlight was a group’s research on professional baseball in Cuba. In the United States, the most successful athletes become fabulously wealthy, reaching celebrity status, collecting cars, homes, boats, and more. Not so in Cuba. And the same is true in many industries. The economy, and really the society, was built differently than here in the United States. When we’re young, we dream of being lawyers, business people, and yes athletes, often paired with dreams of being rich. What do young Cubans dream of? What does this week’s announcement from our government’s mean for our southern neighbors’ dreams for their futures? Are Cuban baseball players headed to the MLB?

It is a exciting time to be headed to Havana. And yes, I will be bringing back Cuban cigars, thanks to this winter thaw.

Vignales HP 3

Chazen South Africa – the countdown begins


Chazen South Africa begins in fewer than four weeks! For nine days, thirty first and second year students will travel South Africa from Kruger National Park to Johannesburg and Cape Town, visiting companies, exploring the national parks, and learning about South Africa’s history and economy, from meeting some of the country’s largest companies to visiting vineyards.


The trip begins in Kruger National Park, which has some of the greatest variety in wildlife in all of Africa. We’ll get up at 5:00 AM – the best time to see game – and explore the park. Our downtime in the afternoon means we can read up on the companies we’re visiting later that week, soak up the 80 degree weather in the middle of January, and spend time with new friends and old, before heading out to visit Johannesburg and Cape Town.

A group of us from the trip are arriving in Cape Town a few days before the trip starts to explore Table Mountain, see sharks, and find out why the New York Times rated Cape Town the “Number One City to Visit” this year. I’ll report back once we touch down!

Patagonia: Can we bring toilet paper?

Jennifer Rhodes ’15

Global Immersion Patagonia brings 28 students on a 10 day trek through Chilean Patagonia. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) instructs the course while we are in country, but the 28 of us are the leaders. We will each spend a day navigating through the “wild,” determining when and where to stop to eat and sleep, and motivating our tired, cold, wet, dirty peers.

In preparation for the course, we’ve had three class meetings. At the first, we learned basic orienteering skills — and confirmed there won’t be google maps in Patagonia. Our second class involved a Mt. Everest simulation and discussion about safety, challenge and risk. In the third class, we talked about ecotourism and businesses in Patagonia. We also spoke with a representative from NOLS who talked us through everything on our packing list — with tips and tricks for traveling light, wearing clothes for 10 days straight, and walking through rivers staying as dry as possible.

All along, the Patagonians (as we affectionately call ourselves) have been breaking in our hiking boots, doing (at least a little) physical training, and planning and plotting how our basic (and not so basic) needs will be met in Patagonia. We’ll be carrying everything on our backs, not showering, and cooking outdoors based on rations (that don’t include coffee or chocolate). And no, we can’t bring toilet paper.


Practicing our human pyramid (not sure why…)


Physical fitness training in Riverside park… sorta

I leave tomorrow, but will check in again after we’re back on the grid (and clean)!