Tips for CBS Capitalists Coming to Cuba

Cuba: the land of cigars, rum, and pre-conceived notions.


A group of 28 CBS students are venturing to Havana this Saturday. Despite what many Americans may think, Cuba is a “low” travel risk country, and you can still visit despite President Trump’s travel restrictions. If you don’t know the first thing about actually living in a communist nation (or perhaps if you’ve just heard Camila Cabello’s song “Havana” and are feeling particularly inspired), I’m here to give you a few pointers we learned in our pre-class sessions prior to departing for Cuba.

  1. Cuba has two currencies. If you’re not Cuban, you have to bring cash. There are two currencies, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso, or “kook”) and the CUP (monida nacional, 1.00 CUC = 25.00 CUP). The CUC is not traded internationally and is used in all the enterprises that use hard currencies such as: stores, hotels, privates and state restaurants, bars, cafeterias, taxis and car rental agencies. You can only access CUC as a non-Cuban citizen, and the official exchange rate for dollars is $0.873. If you’re changing money, expect to pay a 10% tax on USD that Euros, CAS and other currencies don’t have. The US credit cards and ATM cards will not work. fullsizerender-3-copy
  2. Don’t expect your iPhone to work. Though telecom in Cuba has vastly improved, it is still at times slow and unreliable. Internet is limited to hotel lobbies and public Wi-Fi hotspots scattered throughout major cities. You can roam in Cuba with your cell phone, but rates are very high. Try downloading or OSMAND for functional offline map apps of Cuba.
  3. Don’t forget your papers! The US currently has a comprehensive set of trade and travel restrictions in place with Cuba (the “Cuban Embargo”). Under this embargo, only certain types of travel is authorized to Cuba. Entities are granted permission to organize educational tours, business trips, research delegations, and conferences. We are visiting under the educational visa, through Cuba Educational Travel. The Cuban government and citizens open their arms to visitors, but at times we may receive questioning about why we are visiting (especially at US customs when coming back).
  4. Tipping well is a social good. Cuba is a communist country. Doctors and engineers sometimes are motivated to work as hotel attendants or taxi drivers, because they have contact with hard currency. If they worked in their normal professions, they could be paid $20 a month – versus $100+ a day that can be earned from foreign tips! tippingincuba04
  5. You don’t need to worry about getting ill when you’re in Havana. Well – to some extent! It’s never good to get ill, but Cuban doctors are best in class. Cuba infant mortality rate is lower, at an estimated 4.76 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013, compared to 5.90 for the United States. The life expectancy in Cuba about the same if not greater than the US. The Pan American Health Organization found in 2012 that life expectancy was 79.2 years in Cuba, compared to 78.8 years in the U.S.

Now, onto packing… looking forward to this forecast!

-Jill Wang, 18

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Brazil Company Visits

Joe Qiao ’17

I would like to first respond to my presumptions from my previous blogs. One of my observations during the weekend was that Sao Paulo was a quiet and calm city. I wanted to see if the city will become hectic on workdays like other similar size cities around the world such as Tokyo or Shanghai. After two days touring around the city, my observation tells me that Sao Paulo is indeed a calm city. We had traffic but nothing like those in New York. We saw people on the street but nothing like those seen in Beijing. We see some high-rises but nothing like those in Hong Kong. Like I said, Sao Paulo has its unique charm from the relax and calm environment. I do have a question. Where are the 20 million people? !

The second observation was that Brazil does have a large income gap between the rich and the poor. Brazil’s GDP/ Capita is slightly over $10k, which is almost doubling that of China. However, the rich part of the city looks like any developed countries around the world whereas there are still many slams in and around the city. I can see why it is such a priority for the Brazilian political leaders to address the inequality problem in the society. I was told that Sao Paulo and the Southern states are considered the wealthiest part of the country. The Northern states and Northeastern states are in very bad shapes.

Back to the topic of company visits. I have previously attended world tours in a few cities but I have to say that the company visits in Brazil so far are the most professional and well-prepared. The company presentations were full of interesting content. For example, we had so many questions during our Natura and Suzano visits that we run over our schedule in almost every session and had to rush through our plant tour. Sadly we didn’t even get to shop at Natura after all the talks about their all-natural and environmentally-friendly products. We had a great time regardless. I was pleasantly surprised that the companies were so willing to receive us and spent a lot of effort giving us the best experience. The CEOs of both Natura and Suzano gave us warm welcome and high level company officials gave speeches and took us on the tour. We asked so many questions during the presentations. Of course the best questions always came from Professor Singh’s “I have two questions for you”.

My favorite experience was seeing the wood logs turning into packaged A4 paper at Suzano’s factory. Learning about how the company became so efficient made me wonder if I still want to work in Finance after graduation.

We also had a great time at Ambev and learned a lot about beer market in Latin America. We had a happy hour in their office and enjoyed some good food and beer. One of my takeaways was the Zero-Alcohol beer taste just like a regular beer!

And of course, I have to show off my favorite picture from today!


Great experience so far and I look forward to seeing Rio tomorrow! Stay tuned.

Soju, Maekju, and Empire Building

I have put off writing my first in country blog post partly because exploring Korea has been too much fun but mostly because it is difficult to capture how truly amazing this experience is.

Day 1:

On day 1 of the trip we immediately see the benefit of being a Columbia Business School student. We get to check into a 5-star hotel, VIP style, because of the generous support of the Lotte Chairmen Dongbin Shin (I’ll get back to him more later). The hotel is immaculate and our every need is taken care of. The rooms are so nice that it is almost a shame we never spend anytime in them.

We leave the hotel for our first event which is a non-verbal Korean Dance Show “Ballerina Who Loved a B-Boy”. The show is a mix of ballet and break-dancing. We are blown away by the talent of some of the dancers and generally feel like the moves we will display at the clubs later will fall far short. One of the cool things about the show is that it is interactive with the audience so of course a group of non-Koreans gets called out by the hosts. After the show we went to our first group dinner at a Korean Seafood Well-being restaurant. What that translates to is food that will test my nerve. We get everything from skate wing to tofu to uncooked crab (best described as warm fishy jelly). Once dinner was over I wish I could say we went out but the jet lag made us all pass out

Day 2:

CBS takes over the Korean news media, for good reasons. We got a private audience with the Mayor of Seoul in his personal office. I have never seen more stacks of paper in my life. The Mayor turns out to be the nicest politician I have ever met, he genuinely cares about hearing the wishes of the citizens. His office has a full wall of post it notes written by visitors to city hall with comments and suggestions. He even has a herb garden in his office to encourage others to develop urban farms. From the Mayor’s office we travel to the Blue House (Korean equivalent of the White House) to meet with the Senior Minister of Finance. The visit with the minister feels like a GEE class. He discusses total factor productivity, labor rates, and capital stock accumulation, thankfully we ask good questions and know what he is talking about. I should note that the faculty member on the trip is my econ professor so he was beaming after the talk because it reinforced his material. The main takeaway from his talk is that Korea is going to maintain GDP growth by focusing on innovation and encouraging female employment. It seems as though the current administration has a strong sense of direction and that the future is bright.

Day 3:

The best way to describe this day is to say empire building seems like a good business plan. On day 3 we got to meet Dongbin Shin and learn about his diverse Lotte business empire. We start the day off with a visit to their home shopping network tv studio. There we get the royal treatment: tv cameras, executives, presents, the works. The tv studio has the largest live studio in Korea and we got to watch a live taping, I am pretty sure viewers could hear us making a ruckus in the background. During this portion of our visit we get a presentation from Chairman Shin on the Lotte business. Lotte seems like the biggest company you have never heard of. They operate a shopping network, confectionery business, hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, food/beverage, and petrochemicals all over Asia. From the studio we went to the Lotte confectionery company. We donned clothes covers and got to see the making of chocolate, gum, and ice cream filled with more samples then we could handle.

Lunch is at one of the hottest restaurants in Seoul, TGIF (yup you heard me right). We go to the TGIF in Lotte World Amusement park. In Korea it is considered an upscale restaurant and our tour guides from earlier in the day are super jealous that we get to go. Since this is a Lotte restaurant we have the red carpet waiting for us when we arrive. The whole staff is lined up to high five us as we walk in and I think they prepared special “American” sized portions of hamburgers for us.

After lunch we get to do one of the coolest things I have ever done. Remember that whole empire building thing I mentioned earlier, well one of the perks is that you can build skyscrapers…really really tall skyscrapers. We get to visit the under construction Lotte World Tower which will be the largest building in Korea and the largest in the OECD. This building will be taller than the World Trade Center in New York. We get to go up to the one of the highest unfinished flowers for a crazy view of the city. There is something surreal about being 46 stories up with no walls and just concrete. The tower is the final part of our visit with Lotte, a company I will be keeping my eye on in the future.

You would think that all of this would be enough for one day but of course this is Chazen and we do not get a break. From Lotte we go straight to AmorePacific, the largest skincare company in Korea and a leader in skincare globally. We get a tower of their offices and design studio. As we learn more about Korean skincare products, I think all of us are subconsciously thinking about how inadequate our skincare routines are. Fun fact: on average French women have 6-7 skincare products in their house, Koreans average about 20. They are serious about flawless skin. No tour of a skincare company would be complete without a visit to one of their company stores where we run to try on product. There is something pretty funny about watching guys in suits all rubbing cream into their cheeks.

This ends the business visit portion of the day. All this means is that we can finally take off our suits and put on our party clothes. When in Korea the only way to party is to get a Karaoke room. All of us jammed into our own private room for hours of hits and beers in Gangnam, and of course we did sing Gangname style. I would love to tell you more about the evening but needless to say it was a blur.

Until next time,

Slava Druker reporting from Seoul, Korea ‘2015