Traveling to Colombia provides eye-opening experience
One-Year 18MBA class travels to Colombia to experience best business practices, culture
My classmates and I began our exploration of Colombia in the city of Bogota, an urban oasis sprawling with shops and restaurants, with old, beautiful buildings peeking out on every corner. Our days in Bogota were filled with excitement, learning and culture. One moment, we were sipping coffee from a local startup, and the next we were enjoying a dinner and a show in Chico Norte. The smell of fried plantains was accompanied by live performers singing the most popular Carlos Vives Spanish tunes and salsa dancing.
On our second day, we made our way over a couple of blocks to visit Percy Muente, an Emory alum, at Kimberly Clark. He spearheaded a presentation for us that illustrated the shocking differences between life here in the U.S. and the lives of millions of Colombians fighting abject poverty. Percy and his colleagues shared stories about the tension between the current growth and modernization, and the country’s history of violence and drug trafficking. We were told about the difficulties affecting businesses, such as the lack of infrastructure throughout the country, and the extreme economic differences. Imagine — you are going to the convenience store and buying one single egg or one diaper because it is either that diaper or dinner for your family, and you need to plan your day, down to the penny. This is the mindset of many people in Colombia.
With Percy’s presentation fresh in our minds, we traveled out to the ocean-side city of Cartagena, where we discovered what it really meant to live that way in Colombia. We traveled along rock-covered, windy dirt roads, outside of the bustling touristy areas and into the rural communities just 30 minutes north of the city. The sparkling, glass hotels of the city were replaced with a community built up from the ground with planks of wood, cloth and rocks. As we made our way, branches clinging to the sides of the bus, nothing but forest on either side and the entire city and life of Cartagena left behind us, we saw the infrastructure issues Percy described. We saw the impact of the rapid gentrification and change of Colombia’s larger cities.
We pulled up and a wave of children ran towards us, eager to see new faces and to help us paint the fences and prepare the floor of their new community center. One little girl, Linda, shared her story with me as we worked; her family was pushed out of Cartagena as new buildings and attractions entered the scene. Here we felt it again, that tension. Displacement, lack of resources — a different life resulting from a changing country. The lack of structure and what we consider daily necessities was eye-opening. Yet, so was seeing the happy faces and warm hearts of the people living there, working tirelessly each day to better their home.
Beautiful, growing, healing Colombia; we will see you again.