Cape Town adventures

ct dinner

Our days in Cape Town were filled with exploring the city, visiting the District 6 museum, company visits, and a last weekend of adventure before the group left on Sunday (above, the view driving to dinner one night.) To better explore all of Cape Town’s neighborhoods, we broke up into three teams and did our own version of The Amazing Race one afternoon, running between a Pick n’ Pay store (one of the companies we visited – and our organizer’s former employer!), and a primary school. Along the way, we visited the highest point in the city, located several of the city’s landmarks from the top, met a local healer, and learned a traditional Gumboot dance. Performed correctly, the dance is fast-paced, and the sound that the boots make is incredible. Here, the winning group celebrates reaching the end, and the red team learning a gumboot dance:

winning group dance

Our final company visit was to a South African vineyard, complete with winetasting. Our fearless leader, Ammar, posed with Adi in front of the vineyards:

adi and ammar vineyard

Our last two days we split up, choosing between visiting the Saturday market, skydiving, and shark cage diving (among other things) for our final weekend. I drove to the Cape of Good Hope, a world heritage site, and then to Boulders Beach to visit the penguins. We were captivated by how playful they are – and by the chicks, some of whom were newly hatched.

Frolicking Penguins Bluffs of Cape of Good Hope


nando's wallOur last stop in Johannesburg was at Nando’s, a restaurant chain famous in South Africa (and around the world) for its show-stopping peri-peri grilled chicken. The company is a confluence of global forces: a South African company serving Portuguese-inspired chicken in 1300 locations around the world. The result is fantastically delicious – and a surprising business to boot.

We kicked off the meeting with an office tour. Nando’s headquarters looks like an advertising agency, with big windows, lots of color, and plenty of co-working spaces. The company prides itself on its casual, low-key culture, which clearly shows through in its offices. The capstone is the art displayed throughout the office: Nando’s actively purchases and supports local artists, filling its offices and global restaurant chains with South African art.

group shot nando's

Our visit itself was a fascinating look into the company’s business model. While a global firm, Nando’s still makes many of its decisions “on gut,” such as where to expand next, and encompasses three total business models (including company owned stores and franchised stores.) Nando’s considers itself an emotional brand, espouses values that reinforce this: the company seems as committed to its values – people, product, and place – as its loyal fanbase is to the brand.

We finished off the day with a fantastic meal with some of the Nando’s team before making our way to the airport.


Our first company visit in South Africa, to Brand South Africa, was the perfect introduction to the country. Brand South Africa was founded by the government to manage the country’s reputation, with the goal of maintaining a positive and compelling image for the nation (similar to the “Incredible India” campaign.) Its mission is two-fold: internally, to instill pride and hope for the future in South Africans, and externally, to encourage trade and investment with foreign nations. Our meeting offered an excellent overview of the country’s competitiveness on a range of issues, from financial market development and ease of doing business (on which South Africa ranks highly versus other nations) to health and the labor market (where it ranks far below most other nations.) We came away with a better understanding of not only South Africa relative to other nations – but with some great swag, below, to sport proudly on our way out.


After a great lunch, shown above, we made our way to FirstRand, one of the largest financial institutions in the country – and whose CEO is one of the most compelling speakers I’ve ever seen. The firm has branches across Africa, India, and the U.K., and prides itself on its owner-manager culture (which the firm credits for its impressive track record and growth.) After the financial crisis, when many lost their jobs, FirstRand was one of the sole firms to hire exceptional talent and increase capital expenditure. After the meeting, we stayed for snacks and conversation with CBS alumni, and made sure to take a group shot with the CBS flag.

FirstRand group shot

Cape Town and Parting Thoughts

We’ve arrived safely back in frigid, snow-covered NYC, which stands in stark contrast to our final destination on the 2014 Chazen Study Tour in South Africa: Cape Town.

To demonstrate, I’ll post three photos and you’ll guess which one is not like the others. Here goes:

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(It is C. It’s always C.)

Cape Town was remarkable in its natural beauty and in how it differed from Johannesburg. A trip down to the waterfront or up to the top of Table Mountain makes it abundantly clear why the privileged residents of Johannesburg escape to Cape Town for vacation. It is a wonderful place to relax. For consistency’s sake, I might liken Cape Town to San Francisco because of their similarly rugged coast, stunning landscapes, and outdoorsy culture. Cape Town does, however, seems to lack the Silicon Valley energy of SF. Instead, it has much more of a beach town vibe.

While yours truly and the rest of the CBS gang did indeed take advantage of the good life in Cape Town, we also managed to fit in a bit more culture and business education into our final 3 days in South Africa.

Koos Becker, CEO, Naspers

Meeting with Mr. Becker, an alum of CBS, and his team at Naspers was not only a treat because of his insight into the media industry and entrepreneurship, but also because he invited us to his 600 acre estate (which features a farm, orchard and vineyard, a 14-room hotel and a restaurant) for a wine tasting after our meeting at Naspers’ headquarters.

Being an entrepreneur is very lonely and very hard. You need thick skin and some ‘defect’, which makes you want to prove yourself.

Fail hard, fail fast, fail cheaply.

While Naspers has become an incredible success as South Africa’s media powerhouse, he emphasized that entrepreneurship is immensely difficult and conceded that Naspers has made its share of mistakes along the way. He encouraged us to think beyond the glamor of starting a business and to start developing a certain level of fortitude and resilience if we wanted to be successful entrepreneurs. As the second quote suggests, Mr. Becker felt strongly that it was OK (indeed requisite) to fail in business, but that failure should be a source of learning and inspiration in one’s career.

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Wine Tasting at the Babylonstoren Vineyard
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Koos Bekker’s Babylonstoren Estate

Robben Island

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. -Nelson Mandela

On Saturday morning we took a 40 minute boat ride out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The visit featured a bus tour around the island and then a walking tour into the high security prison and cell that Mandela called home for nearly two decades. Of special note, the prison tour was led by a former political prisoner. It was certainly a highlight of the trip and small glimpse into what Mandela, and many of his colleagues in the struggle against Apartheid, endured on his “Long Walk to Freedom”.

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Table Mountain & Some Final Thoughts

Looming over Cape Town is Table Mountain, named so because it looks deceptively flat. Here is a photo taken from my hike to the top of another peak in Cape Town, Lion’s Head:

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When the clouds sit on Table Mountain (as shown in the photo), the locals the call it a “Table Cloth”.

On our final evening in Cape Town, we headed up to the top of Table Mountain to take in the magnificent views and get a feel for what it is like to hang out in the clouds. While the great majority of the crew took the civilized way up via cable car. My fearless roommate for the trip, Riley English ’15, and I decided we’d hike it up.

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We got lost along the way, but we mad it, and it was well worth the steep (and sweaty) march to the top.

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Parting Thoughs

In the glow of the glory that accompanied summiting Table Mountain, or perhaps in the altitude sickness (see grimaces in Exhibit A below), my appreciation for our time in South Africa hit hard.

Exhibit A

In South Africa, we had taken a whirlwind tour through so many issues that relate to the modern condition. We had seen the bright spots: thriving businesses, successful entrepreneurs, democracy, vibrant cities, and a pervasive but cautious optimism about the emerging economy. On the other hand, we saw some real challenges: tremendous poverty in areas like Soweto, growing income inequality, security threats and fear (manifested in the barbed wire and armed guards), and the broader socioeconomic scars from a bygone era of institutionalized racism.

During one of our bus tours around Johannesburg, Uzayr Jeenah ’14, one of our tour leaders, leaned over to me and pointed to the largest building in city, Ponte Tower. Uzayr explained that, based on its storied history of ups and downs, Ponte can be viewed as a barometer for the African economy as a whole. In the bleak Apartheid years of the 1980s, the South African government considered turning Ponte into a prison. These days, however, Ponte is (albeit slowly) being converted into luxury condos, which is perhaps indicative of South Africa’s generally improving economic trajectory.

Uzayr continued by saying that as goes Ponte so does Johannesburg, and as goes Johannesburg so goes South Africa and its economy. Finally, according to Uzayr’s analogy, as goes South Africa so goes the African continent. While my time in the country was admittedly brief, many of the issues and opportunities in South Africa seemed more universal. As I sign off of my last post, I am tempted to suggest that as goes Ponte so too goes the rest of the world, but I fear that places too heavy a burden on one building’s infrastructure.

Thank you for reading!

-Samuel Wollner ’14

Johannesburg (Pt. 2)

Our Joburg itinerary was so jam-packed with interesting people and places that it wouldn’t have done it justice to cram everything into one post. So here goes Joburg Part Deux…

George Bizos & The Apartheid Museum

The timing of this post is most appropriate as we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. tomorrow in the United States. George Bizos was friend and colleague of the late Nelson Mandela. He was also part of Mandela’s defense team during the Rivonia Trial when Mandela was sentenced to life in jail. When we met with him, Bizos (humbly) denied that he saved Mandela’s life during the trial, but he is credited with shaping Mandela’s testimony in such a way that would be both true to the cause but not overly antagonistic to the judge (who could have sentenced Mandela to the death penalty).

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Prior to visiting Bizos, who graciously welcomed us to his house in Joburg, we visited the Apartheid Museum. The museum was designed by some of the same team behind Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. To those who have visited the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum, you will not be surprised to know that the museum is very powerful. Upon entrance to the museum, guests are given a ticket that reads “White” or “Non-White” and instructed to walk through separate entrances based on their designation on the ticket. What followed was a tour de force of South Africa’s Apartheid era and the Struggle that eventually led to its demise.

The Apartheid Museum visit served as excellent preparation for our meeting with Bizos. He provided more context to the Rivonia Trial and the ANC movement to end Apartheid. Bizos is a leading human rights lawyer and continues to practice law (he is serving as part of the legal team for the families of the deceased in the Marikana trial). He encouraged us to fight for what we believed in but cautioned against violence and extremism:

“Be a revolutionary, seek fundamental change, but avoid fanaticism.”

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Brett Levy, CEO Blue Label Telecoms

Mr. Levy founded South Africa’s leading e-commerce platform with his brother, Mark. The visit to Blue Label’s office was fantastic for a couple reasons beyond Brett’s insight into entrepreneurship: (1) the office features an incredible collection of memorabilia (allegedly the largest private collection in the world) (2) we got a peak at the Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky collection that inspired the name of the company. Brett and his colleagues celebrate every major achievement for the company with a bottle of Blue Label. Based on the number of the bottles on the wall (and the company’s continued success), they’ve had a lot of success.

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“The worst handwriting in the world is better than the best memory. Document everything.”

Mr. Levy is a battle-hardened entrepreneur. While he has had a lot of fun on the path to building a successful business, he has also encouraged us to learn from his experience that it is essential to document everything when business deals are done. There is, of course, one exception: he has never signed a contract with this brother (and co-founder), and they share a bank account.

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Andile Khumalo, CEO, MSG Afrika Investment Holdings

Mr. Khumalo is the founder of MSG Afrika, a private equity firm specializing in media companies. The company won the rights to the 1st commercial radio station in post-Apartheid South Africa. He spoke to us about the opportunities and challenges of starting a business in South Africa as part of the “next generation” of black South African business leaders. He caught his first break when Deloitte sponsored him to go to univesrity and gain a degree in accounting (full disclosure: yours truly will be joining Deloitte’s consulting practice this coming fall).

“South Africans want liberation from the isolation of apartheid. They want a clean break from the past. We want to present ourselves as the liberated South African radio station.”

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It was powerful to hear an entrepreneur in South Africa branding his business as part of the “new” South Africa. While respectful of the politicians who led the movement to end Apartheid, he spoke with optimism and anticipation for the next generation of political leadership in South Africa who, he hopes, will place fostering entrepreneurship higher on the list of government priorities.

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Stephen Kosoff, CEO, Investec

“I like people who tell me what to do, even as CEO. If you want to hire intelligent people, then give them a voice. It gives them a sense of ownership.”

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Mr. Kosoff attributed much of the success of Investec, South Africa’s leading investment bank, to the attitude of his employees. He emphasized the importance of culture, and client-first service, especially in the banking industry. Mr. Kosoff told us that he hires people to join his team based on their demeanor and their ability to inspire. He believes that skills can be taught, but attitude is intrinsic and distinguishes great hires from mediocre hires.

Adrian Gore, CEO & Barry Swartzberg, Managing Director (Co-Founders), Discovery

In my humble, and highly biased opinion (as someone interested in a career in healthcare), we saved our best business for last. Discovery’s health insurance division (Discovery Health) is amongst the most innovative company’s in the world. They pioneered a program, named Vitality, that incentives its client base to live healthier lives: buy healthy foods, exercise at the gym,  and receive preventive health screenings. By making people healthier, Discovery has created a profitable business. This, in my mind, is the ultimate accomplishment in business.

“Our mission is simple: we want to improve people’s lives. We want our employees to feel like they’re part of a family that is changing the world.”

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Despite their lofty goals, Mr. Gore suggested that their continued success is grounded in their sense of hubris and a healthy paranoia of competitors. Like Mr. Kosoff, he also believes strongly that values and attributes drive success, and that education and IQ are secondary tools for employees and entrepreneurs.

Well, that wraps up my recap of some of the highlights from our time in Joburg. I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely incredible dinner that the Mizrahi family hosted for us at their house. It was very generous of Eran and his family to have us over, and I know I speak for everyone when I say we are very grateful to have had a fantastic family meal during our adventure. Thank you, Mizrahis!

Next up: beautiful Cape Town.

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Samuel Wollner ’14

Johannesburg (Pt. 1)

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure who constitutes the readership of the esteemed Chazen Institute’s Student Travel blog. Therefore, I will take some artistic liberties in articulating my experience on this study tour. The first liberty I’ll take is to compare South African cities to US cities.

Johannesburg is a lot like Los Angeles. It is completely inaccessible without a car, or, as is our case, a giant tour bus. It is also a brilliant city: full of energy, creativity, and life. It is the heart of South Africa’s economy and as you drive in from the North (aka “coal country”) you notice the array of power plants and power lines that serve as the lifeblood to the city.

Coming from Kruger National Park, it is remarkable how quickly the tables turned for us. Suddenly, I sympathized with the giraffe at Kruger as I became a spectacle of great intrigue and amusement to the locals: ~35 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed MBAs tumbling off a bus and on to the streets of Joburg is something to be seen for sure.

I chose to sit in the front of the bus to take in the spectacle that became of the navigation of our vessel. Our fearless leaders, Uzayr, Eran, and Nick, have done a truly admirable job of organizing and executing a fantastic trip (and I mean that with sincere gratitude and respect). There were, however, moments when I was reminded of the Three Stooges as we travelled around the city.


Our driver, Gilbert, demonstrated saint-like patience and skilled maneuvering through it all as we braved unintended side trips and sharp turns. I should also give a nod to the incomparable Jonathan Lechtman, owner of the Maximilian Group, and our official guide for the trip. For the sole purpose of continuing the analogy, we’ll count him as the Shemp to our Stooges (but his rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” begs for a more favorable celebrity comparison).

Cheers, gentlemen, it is easy for me to criticize. Thank you for everything, including a few solid chuckles at your expense.

But wait, the comparisons to LA continue: Joburg seems to sprawl endlessly, and the poor of Alexandra Township live immediately adjacent to the wealthy of Sandton with the same jarring contrast that one could find between the pristine campus of the University of Southern California and its surrounding area of South Los Angeles.

Sandton, where we called home for the past few days, could be confused with Beverly Hills. It features luxurious condo buildings and impressive mansions, all wrapped in security blankets of 10-foot high walls, electric fences, and armed guards. “If you look twice, call it in” read some of the signs around the neighborhood, echoing the cautionary reminder, “If you see something, say something”, which is familiar to many Americans. We were never in danger in Joburg, but the the highly visible security presence provided a palpable sense that a threat existed somewhere in our midst.

Alas, I’m afraid I’ve rambled on for far too long. We’ll now return to our regularly scheduled programming and my second artistic liberty: I’ll report on our visits with some of South Africa’s business and cultural leadership with a few of my favorite quotes (and a bit of background/context). I place “quotes” in apostrophes because I can’t possibly claim 100% accuracy as I furiously scribbled in my notebook. For fear of becoming a blog tyrant, I’ll also include the favorites of my colleagues and classmates.

David Shapiro, Deputy Chairman, Sasfin Securities

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Mr.Shapiro was our first speaker. He provided on context, both historical and economic, on South Africa.

“Most investors think vertically when they should be thinking horizontally.”

Eran Mizhari ’14 and I discussed this point after our meeting with Mr. Shapiro who felt that investors often take an approach that is far too narrow. He encouraged us to think less about a given company’s origin and more about how they operate. If companies are operating across the globe, or “horizontally”, than investors should be thinking globally as well. As an example, Mr. Shapiro cited Zara’s success despite its parent company’s roots in Spain (an economy in which most investors are reluctant to invest these days). This point was most appreciated by Clara Colina ’15 who hails from Madrid, Spain.

Similarly while some might balk at the idea of starting a business in South Africa, Eran proclaimed that he is “frothing at the mouth” when considering the idea of returning to his home country because of the tremendous opportunities to be had as an entrepreneur here.

“South Africa is a 20 year-old democracy. Most 20 year-old’s have little idea what they want.”

One important theme coming out of our meeting with Mr. Shapiro was the evolving role of the South African government in the economy. As Professor Alireza Tahbaz-Salehi (known to us simply, and affectionately, as “Ali”) pointed out, there are some similarities to be drawn with his home country of Iran in that both Iran and South Africa have a de facto one-party governing system. Needless to say, the one-party in both countries has a great deal of influence in the economy. While Mr. Shapiro suggested there is much room for improvement in the South African government, he also noted that it is indeed a new system and, understandably, going through some growing pains.

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Robbie Brozen, CEO & Founder, Nando’s Restaurants

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Mr. Brozen is the founder of Nando’s, one of the world’s most successful “fast casual” restaurants featuring PERi-PERi chicken (a dish sourced from Portuguese cuisine via Mozambique) as the main attraction. Our site visit to Nando’s differed dramatically from our visit to Sasfin. While were surrounded by the creature comforts of corporate South Africa at Sasfin, we found ourselves sitting on cinderblocks and plywood at Nando’s headquarters (which is undergoing a massive renovation). Mr. Brozen is an exceptionally charismatic man, a brilliant entrepreneur, and a die-hard champion of his Nando’s brand.

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“The journey is part of the reward. Don’t focus only on money, also focus on fun. If you’re not having fun, something is wrong. You should want to skip to work.”

By Mr. Brozen’s logic and experience, happy employees make a great product and a great product makes happy customers. He started Nando’s because he was unhappy with his prior job, and he wanted to do something he loved. It is a powerful reminder to us MBA students that you can do something you love, and that love can translate into a great, profitable enterprise.

“We were able to succeed in an emerging economy, which allowed us to succeed in places where others struggled.”

The sentiment of this quote is quickly becoming a broader take-away from this trip. Companies that have succeeded first in South Africa have developed a unique skill set and scrappy swagger, which has allowed them to thrive more broadly. Mr. Brozen believes that Nando’s has been successful in emerging economies, like Malaysia and India, because of its roots in South Africa. In this sense, South Africa can be seen as a laboratory, or test kitchen, for business ideas that could eventually be scaled to a global level. As Uzayr Jeenah ‘14 likes to point out, South Africa often serves as the “springboard” for many African businesses.

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We have had many other fantastic visits during our time in Joburg. More to come soon!

-Samuel Wollner ’14

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is roughly the size of Belgium. It is home to, amongst other animals, roughly 1.5 million impalas, 27,000 buffalo, 18,000 zebras, 12,000 elephants, 9,000 rhinos, 3,000 hippos, 3,000 lions, 2,000 hyenas, and 2,000 leopards. It became South Africa’s first National Park in 1926 and is named after Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal Republic that first designated the area as a wildlife park.

It is also a 6 hour drive North from Johannesburg.

As the first portion of our adventure here in South Africa, the drive to Kruger represented a daunting first hurdle. On the morning of January 10, ~35 bleary-eyed, jet-lagged Columbia MBAs boarded two cramped shuttle busses (fully equipped with rather precarious luggage trolleys) and headed North to the province of Mpumalanga.

Kruger did not disappoint.

In fact, it exceeded all expectations. We saw an unbelievable amount of game. Including the “Big 5”: hippos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and rhinos (author’s note: I am admittedly bitter that I rode in the safari vehicle that did not come across a rhino). Highlights included several sightings of leopards, giraffes, and the king of the jungle (and mascot of Columbia). One male lion even serenaded us:

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The trip was off to a magnificent start, so it was hard to imagine that Johannesburg could possibly compete with the awe-inspiring Kruger. But, Joburg has risen to the challenge. Tune in later in the week for my Joburg update (or follow me on Twitter, @samwollner, for real-time updates).

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Sawubona South Africa!

Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will. – Nelson Mandela

Greetings from the Hong Kong International Airport as I wait to board my flight for Johannesburg. In just under two days, I’ll be joining more than 30 of my CBS classmates for the Chazen International Study Tour to South Africa.

To the great credit of my classmates, Eran Mizrahi, Nicholas Crosthwaite, and Uzayr Jeenah, we have an incredible itinerary set for our ten days in the Rainbow Nation. Our journey will officially start in Johannersburg, but we will immediately head North to Kruger National Park to see one of Africa’s largest game reserves. It also happens to be the setting of the famous “Battle at Kruger” YouTube video featured in Professor Daniel Ames’ Managerial Negotiations class.

Next, we will head back into Johannesburg to meet with David Shapiro, a well-known South African investment expert, for an overview of the South African economy. As The Economist points out, perhaps no other country better exemplifies the challenges confronting Africa as it develops. Twenty years after Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress delivered democracy to the people of South Africa, the country is still seen by most as Africa’s leading nation. On the other hand, South Africa suffers from unemployment rates as high as 40% by some estimates. No doubt Mr. Shapiro’s talk will provide greater context and insight into South Africa’s potential and challenges.

I will hold off on providing any more specific details on the adventure that awaits us in hopes that you’ll tune back in for my next update in a few days. Instead, I’ll close on a personal note. In my humble opinion, it is hard to think of a nation more inspiring than South Africa. The passing of Nelson Mandela last month was a somber reminder of one of the nation’s great gifts to the world. We might also remember that a young barrister by the name of Mohandas Gandhi spent his formative years in South Africa before returning to his homeland to lead the Indian independence movement. Gadhi’s non-violent activism would go on to inspire Martin Luther King Jr.’s tactics in the American Civil Rights Movment. With this in mind, I am particularly excited to visit and learn from South Africa.

Sam Wollner ‘14