The highlight of my MBA program is an international trip to an emerging market. Ours was to Brazil in January, when Wisconsin is locked in the depths of winter and Brazil is in the midst of sunny summer.
It turns out Brazil isn't so easy to get to. We flew all night to get to Rio de Janeiro. We stayed off Ipanema Beach and one day I ran along the beach from Ipanema to Copacabana. We took a cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain and then visited the Christ the Redeemer statue. Apparently we chose to do this on the same day as everyone else in South America.
We visited the Sambadrome where Carnaval takes place, and I felt like I fit right in.
After the fun in Rio, it was on to business in Sao Paulo, and the real point of our trip. We visited several businesses and heard speakers from others.
This was a stop at Natura, a natural cosmetics company that sells its products in a direct-sale model, similar to Mary Kay. The campus was beautiful.
Another day I went on a city tour with a small group. Sao Paulo is a massive city with the world's highest number of buildings over 25 stories. The skyline went on as far as the eye could see.
In contrast to the towering buildings and pockets of great wealth were the ubiquitous slums called favelas. These were clinging to the hillsides in Rio and tucked amongst the urban areas in Sao Paulo. They were made up of small, bright-colored blocks haphazardly stacked on top of one another. Satellite dishes and clotheslines dotted the rooftops. We made one interesting but awkward stop to a favela in Sao Paulo.
Brazil is not the most vegetarian-friendly country in the world. Its traditional barbecue restaurants feature waiters offering various animal parts on skewers. They will slice off a chunk for you if you give the OK. Chicken hearts were one interesting option.
The soccer season is over in Brazil, but we did get the chance to go to a soccer scrimmage. There weren't many people there, as apparently the game didn't count and it was pouring rain, but the fans who did attend were amazing. I've never seen anything like it. They stood the entire game and constantly cheered and unfurled banners and beat drums.
Toward the end of the trip, we visited the Port of Santos, the largest port in Latin America. We took a boat tour of the huge shipping operations. After a late night previously, I woke up just ten minutes before the bus had to leave. That might sound terrible, but four people missed the bus entirely and had to make the two-hour trip by cab, so I didn't feel so bad.
Santos was also something of a Mecca for me, as it featured the Coffee Museum. This building used to be like the stock market for coffee where they graded the coffee and bought and sold it. The cappuccino I had there was heavenly.
We flew all night again to get back to Miami, then Chicago, and then Madison. It was a quick turnaround, back to work on Monday and a new semester of classes Monday night. It was a ten-day trip, so I was ready to come home and really missed my family. I've never been away that long!
I still feel a bit discombobulated and exhausted. It will be a long slog to the end of the MBA program now that the midpoint highlight is behind me. Brazil was a marvelous place though, and I am so glad I had the chance to visit. I wish I would have had a chance to explore the Amazon areas of the country, but there's always next time.