South Africa: Already Ready for a Reunion

The clamor for a Chazen South Africa reunion began minutes after the official trip ended. “I’m having separation anxiety already you guys,” wailed one particularly emotive person into our GroupMe chat while still boarding the flight from Johannesburg back to John F. Kennedy airport. In the last few days, even as we returned to our routines in New York, birthday parties have been co-opted into reunions, trips to South African wine bars planned, and much love and longing expressed for each other.

Personally, this was one of the best trips I went on, and I made many friends I don’t think I otherwise would have made at Columbia Business School. The magic of South Africa has surely something to do with it.

IMG_3059.jpgFor starters, many of us were compelled by South Africa’s history. The most soulful moments of the tour came when we understood more about the history of apartheid—either on Robben Island, home to so many political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, or at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. We had much to reflect—for instance, how apartheid started off as a solution to urbanization (certainly not the common way societies deal with that trend), and also how Mandela and the ANC’s resistance was mostly peaceful (certainly not the common way the oppressed resist throughout history).

Yet perhaps that sense of peace has ensured that South Africa’s economy is today nowhere near as ravaged as, say, Zimbabwe. It’s grown to become one of the BRICS emerging markets. As this blog detailed earlier this month, Chazen saw many interesting businesses and met many striving entrepreneurs. We couldn’t help but remark to each other how such economic energy has arisen from the ashes of apartheid.

Along the way, South Africa’s biodiversity brought us closer. There are some things in life we can’t share without becoming good friends with each other—and the majesty of an African elephant brushing past our jeep during a Kruger Park game drive, the cuteness overload of watching a penguin waddling on a beach by the Cape of Good Hope, or the exhaustion after having climbed the 1,000 meters up Table Mountain to arrive at the best views of Cape Town surely count among them.

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Lastly, this trip was successful because of our organizers: Thando Mtshali ’18, Divya Raj ’18 and Maria Sebastian ’18, who worked under the aegis of the Chazen Institute. The three perfectly understood when to hold our hands through Johannesburg’s bustling business district and when to let us discover the amazing nightlife of Cape Town on our own. I want to personally thank Thando, who grew up in Durban, for helping us see so many nuances of South African life I think we would have otherwise missed.

These organizers were so good at their task of bringing us together that they needn’t bother about organizing a reunion for us to relive our South Africa glories. As you can tell, that will happen spontaneously.

–Abheek Bhattacharya ’18

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