Looking back at the MBA journey some of the best moments were without of doubt in South Africa at the study trip. A study trip that has changed how I look at problems and challenges when living in the happiest and maybe safest place on earth – Denmark.
This article is a little special because of the fact the specific elements of the study trip is confidential and something that I cannot talk about. It is secrets of the Henley alumni and something that you can only experience if you decide to be part of the Henley MBA program.
I will describe mostly the outcome and the feelings I had and of course talk about the beautiful animals and good time sitting by the fire talking to the others in the evenings.
An MBA study trip – a marketing stunt without educational relevance?
I will start with the most essential question – is the study trip of an MBA a “marketing stunt” that should sell the education?
I think that a lot of MBA providers are spending much time figuring out what the potential students (customers) value as a good study trip and this somehow makes the study trip a “qualifier”, but not an “order winner” when deciding which MBA school to choose from. At least that is what I think.
This means that the study trip is important for the provider and that it needs to be really good and something that the students might value as a good (or bad) investment.
Nevertheless it might be kind of a marketing stunt and somehow a selling point to a lot of MBA schools and maybe to some MBA schools a crucial part of the program that is partly a social event more than an educational part of the MBA.
A marketing stunt might be ok – but does it have educational relevance?
At Henley Business School the study trip is very special. It is not a typical study trip to the US or China with a traditional company visit, massive drinking and good times in the evening. Nothing wrong with the US or China (in relation to this issue at least…), but the study trip at Henley Business School is just very different and something that was not used as a marketing stunt or a way of selling the education. Maybe that was a mistake..
When I got familiar with the concept of going to a very different part of the world with no company/factory visits I honestly was a little disappointed. I thought of an MBA study trip as a trip with a few workshops, maybe some cases and definitely a company/factory visit.
First of all, the study trip at Henley Business School has very much educational relevance. The study trip is a leadership- as well as a personal development journey – and then of course a very nice safari trip also.
We spent time watching the animals and saw “the big 5” that of course impressed all of us. We had ordinary lectures and workshops, leadership- and personal development tasks and assignments and a lot of other, extremely different, cases we had to solve. Some were very challenging, some were fun, but all relevant on a personal- as well as on an academic level.
The study trip to South Africa
First of all we were not provided with a schedule or plan for the study trip in Denmark before we arrived in South Africa.
We were told to be open-minded and expect everything. Right before going away I was actually beginning to getting a little bit nervous by the fact that I was going to South Africa.
Not scared or afraid that something bad would happen or that we would get robbed or hurt. Just nervous by the fact that I knew nothing about what was going to happen – in a totally different part of the world that I knew nothing about.
This was apparently a part of the concept and something that we all had to get used to.
A bit strange since we are all leaders that are working with structure and trying to predict the future with budgets and plans. But not in South Africa – out of the comfort zone from the beginning…
As already mentioned, everything is confidential and that is still a part of the concept of the program, so I will try to focus on the overall outcome of the study trip in this article.
I will focus on the study trip as part 1 and part 2. Part 1 is in Durban, and the areas of Durban, and part 2 is the education in the bush.
The first part of the study trip in Durban city was the largest cultural chock that you could possible image when coming from Denmark. I think it would be possible to travel to Durban, live at a decent hotel, see some sights and enjoy an ordinary holiday. But that was not the case for us.
We really engaged with all parts of the society. We experienced so much that was emotional affecting me. I was pushed out of my comfort zone many times and forced to really think of how my actions and appearance was affecting my surroundings.
We not only saw, but also engaged and talked to people that were so different in all ways compared to the western world.
When engaging with the locals we learned how people in small societies or groups develop all sorts of systems and procedures.
This was very interesting and somehow very easy to compare with a business company. The connecting was interesting, especially when we experienced the sense making of the different people and why they took different roles and accepted others having other roles – just like in a company from the western world.
This taught me something about leadership and the fact that leadership is not something you get from an organisational diagram or because someone decides that you are the leader – you got to earn it!
You got to get the respect from the organisation in order to get followers. If not, if people do not respect you as a person – then people will not follow you; they will only do what you tell them to do and nothing more.
This of course made me reflect a lot about how people experience my self and what I should be aware of as a leader.
The second part of the study trip was education and training in the bush. We drove from Durban to a camp with tents and with all the elements of a “safari location”.
I think that we are all (my fellow students) a bit spoiled individuals that all like luxury and are used to business travelling with good hotels and restaurants. The second part of the study trip reflected this – it was very nice safari tents with a nice bathroom, hot water and electricity. Just like a hotel room.
In fact all the practical elements of part 2 of the study trip was very nice. The food and drinks were served outside in the morning sun, the barbecue in the evening is something that I will never forget.
It was a huge contrast to the things that we have experienced in Durban and something that we talked about and made us reflect upon. It made us be grateful and respect our western world privileges.
Each day we had lectures and classroom workshops. These workshops were both in the camp and in the bush. I will not describe more about the elements of this, only that it was challenging, funny, sometimes actually very action packed and generally had a deep impact on me.
When in Rome
Of course I was looking forward to watching the animals and taking nice photos and when you are in Africa, you need to spent time watching the animals.
This was a great experience. We drove around in cars with a ranger that knew everything about the animals, the bush and the wild life. It was very interesting learning from them and listening to all the stories about how they experience South Africa, the animals and the “wild life living”.
I remember sitting 2-3 meters from male lion that was showing the rest of the world that he was king of the jungle and signalling that he feared nobody – until, to a surprise to all of us, a very large male elephant appeared behind us and ran towards the lion.
That was one of those moments where you do not really think of anything else that trusting the ranger (and that the car will start…). Luckily we were able to get away quickly and nothing happened, but my pulse rate suddenly increased to “sprinting level”!
The male lion saw the elephant and suddenly got even more scared than us, jump up like a little cat and ran like h…. to avoid the elephant. The roles changed and it was clear that the lion was nothing like king of the jungle anymore.
We saw the “big 5”, experienced very large spiders and all sorts of other beautiful animals. We got up very early each morning to experience the animals when they are most active and saw how they were hunting and eating.
Reflecting upon the outcome of the study trip
I was able to take some very fine pictures, but the real experience is of course impossible to describe.
When I got back to Denmark and started to reflect upon the study trip and the specific outcome, I actually feel that the study trip has changed my point of view in certain areas.
I have gained a lot from it and the general- and specific outcomes below summaries these areas.
General outcome for me
- Being grateful and appreciate the basics of your life.
- Understanding of the social systems of a group
- The answer to any personal relationship question is “in the bush” (or wherever you feel that you can take a break..)
- Leadership is about how others really see you – not your specific actions or how you think you appear to others.
- The most important education is done through travelling. Do not be a tourist – be a traveller. A tourist uses the camera. A traveller talks and interacts with strangers and learns so much more.
Specific outcome for me
- I am going back to South Africa and the bush with my family.
- My wife and I have talked about that we will like to spent 1-3 years abroad someday to make the cultural aspect part of the general raise of the children that we will hopefully have soon. I would like to teach my children to engage and learn from other people in other cultures.
- Staying calm and accepting that you cannot prepare for everything. After the study trip I used this a lot when coming back to my daily life. This has made me feel less stressed and then able to focus on real work.
- All people are different and do not talk about what they are really struggling with. Engage with them and show a genuine interest in them.
- Be nice and respectful to people that see the world different than you do – you will learn from then and understand their sense making that will broaden your horizon.
The study trip at Henley has definitely been on of the largest and most important “events” in my life. I have really learned from it. Actually the learning really began when I got home and started to reflect on the things we did and the things we saw and experienced.
I hope you have found my “outcome” of the study trip interesting and maybe would like to incorporate travelling as a main part of your own personal- and leadership development.