By Annie Lindseth, HBS Class of 2017
What could possibly happen when you send 900 MBAs to 12 countries to interview locals and develop new products? It turns out that you can’t anticipate everything, even with a GEO team organizing minute details. And that’s a good thing. Unexpected experiences made Field 2 travel more fun than many of us expected.
That was certainly the case for me. After a week and a half of traveling in China, I thought I had a handle on things. Then I went to a hot pot restaurant in Chengdu with a few of my classmates. There was absolutely no English spoken or written, and before we even attempted to order anything, the waiter brought us a giant vat of broth. Half of it was full of Sichuan peppercorns that numb your mouth in a way that no cold call can. Half of it contained a fish head that looked like it had just been discarded from a meat counter. I wouldn’t have picked these soup options if I had had a choice, but with no Mandarin language skills, I didn’t have one.
Vegetarians in China had an even bigger challenge. Raghav Iyengar (MBA ’17), who successfully navigated Shanghai with a vegetarian diet, explained that he was frequently pointed towards items like “vegetables from beef.” Sometimes both the translations and the food options required a sense of humor.
Outside of the food world, a few enterprising members of the Shanghai cohort used Field 2 to launch their modeling careers in China. Alula Eshete (MBA ’17) was featured with his team on two different Chinese websites in photos featuring his Global Partner company’s high-end outerwear. Unfortunately he did not get the chance to take home the coat that made him famous. He added, “I returned to Boston wearing my same ol’ jacket. That said, the people were extremely warm and I can honestly say I have a greater appreciation for the growth within and the complexities of the Chinese market. Plus, we got our 15 minutes of WeChat fame!”
But Field 2 wasn’t all glamour. One enterprising team in the Ghana cohort tackled a “sustainable public toilet option for middle to upper class Ghanaians,” according to Ashley Zumwalt (MBA ’17). If anyone ever told you that MBAs are afraid of getting their hands dirty, this team proved them wrong – and took on a crucial public health challenge at the same time.
Of course, the Field 2 experience that generated the most headlines by far was the Philippines cohort when it met Manny Pacquiao, a world championship-winning boxer and politician who is also one of the Philippines’ most famous residents. According to David Liang (MBA ’17), the HBS Club of the Philippines helped organize the visit, which was supposed to take place at Mr. Pacquiao’s house. When the cohort was halfway there, the location was moved elsewhere in the city. After half an hour of navigating Manila’s infamous traffic, Manny Pacquiao hopped on the bus unannounced. According to one student, “He was going to go play basketball so we had to catch him here.” He took selfies with several HBS students, all incredibly excited to meet him.
But the most extraordinary thing about this meeting wasn’t the surprise or excitement that HBS students had at meeting Pacquiao. It was the fact that he cared so much about meeting us. Manny Pacquiao posted a video of meeting HBS students on a bus to his own Facebook page and received over 40,000 likes. The fact that so many people around the world paid so much attention to visiting HBS students is humbling, and it’s a great reminder of the weight that the HBS name carries around the world. Outside the HBS bubble, we all have a lot of responsibility to live up to it.