Postre & Sopa: A Student’s Reflection on a Babson Elective Abroad
Post by Joseph Franco, Class of 2014
Traveling through Uruguay and Argentina during spring break this year was an amazing opportunity to grow both educationally and culturally. The perfect balance between educational and cultural experiences allowed for a plethora of different types of learning experiences. As my grandfather taught me in my traveling experiences with him, a proper trip should be equal in “postre” and “sopa”, or dessert and soup. This means that a trip should be equal parts cultural, social and fun – or dessert – and educational, informational and edifying – or soup. Throughout the trip, we were able to experience cultural and social learning, through city tours, dance classes and free time to mingle with locals, as well as educational learning, through guest speakers at Universities, lectures from local professors and round tables with budding entrepreneurs. Overall, the trip provided me with an expansion of my worldly knowledge, in terms of both cultural awareness and geography specific expertise.
Not only did my grandfather teach me that a well-balanced trip, including both “sopa” and “postre”, is essential to familiarizing and properly exploring a different country, but also he recommended, as in a proper meal, that “postre” come after “sopa”. Therefore, I want to begin the reflection with a discussion of all of the educational learning that I gained throughout my journey in Uruguay and Argentina. Afterwards, I will delve into the cultural and social activities that enhanced my knowledge of the way in which people lead their lives and conduct their personal affairs in Uruguay and Argentina from firsthand experiences.
In Uruguay, it was fantastic that we were taken to Universidad ORT Uruguay in order to engage in fascinating lectures and discussions. Not only is Universidad ORT the largest private university in Uruguay, but also, the university has a rich history that intertwines with the Jewish struggle to enhance education in 1880’s. ORT was originally an international education network that was started in Saint Petersburg, Russia by the local Jewish community. As a Jew, I found it to be absolutely fascinating that over one hundred and thirty years after the foundation of an educational network, I was personally benefiting from my past generations underlying establishment. The speakers that we were exposed to in Uruguay all provided us with different aspects, views and perspectives of the economy and history of the small country. The major takeaways from the speaker lectures and discussions were a historical background of the formation and development of Uruguay, insight about the importance of the agribusiness sector in Uruguay, a perspective on the benefits of Uruguay as a destination for foreign investment, the experience and success stories of a serial entrepreneur in Uruguay and a discussion on a specific case involving Nix soda company.
Coming from a Peruvian household, I am somewhat familiar with the intricacies involving the formation of Peru and the history surrounding the development of the country. However, my knowledge of the history and development of Uruguay was close to none prior to this trip. For example, I had no idea that the British initially created Uruguay as a country in between the powerhouse countries of Argentina and Brazil as a buffer country, to server a purpose much like the country of Belgium in Europe. Furthermore, I did not know that before Uruguay was developed, it was considered to be a land with no purpose or potential by early explorers. Furthermore, I was not at all aware of the importance of cows in the early development of the Uruguayan economy. Cows were introduced to the country, where they greatly thrived, thus creating the country’s first industry: agribusiness. Lastly, I was not aware of the fact that the soccer stadium in Montevideo was the place where the first ever world cup was played, a world cup in which Uruguay took the gold medal. All of these historical insights and perspectives that I gained through the speakers in Uruguay will stay with me forever because the context in which I learned it was both authentic and engaging.
Not only am I concentrating in Finance at Babson, but also I am concentrating in Entrepreneurship. Pablo Garfinkel, founder and CEO of Tokai Ventures, (a venture capital firm in Uruguay) provided me with a new perspective on the way in which entrepreneurs must think in different parts of the world. He explained that as an entrepreneur in the tiny market of Uruguay (with a population of only three and half million people) one must learn to think in a very creative way in order to produce more with less. He explained that in order to think big in such a small market, one must first think small and create a great working prototype. It was interesting to learn about one of his most promising projects, woOw, a discount shopping platform, much like the one offered by Groupon in the United States, however tailored to suit the needs and desires of the Uruguayan market. Not only is Pablo a great example of an outside of the box thinker, but also he demonstrated to me that the majority of the entrepreneurial process is about the creativity and effectiveness of the execution of an idea, not only the idea itself. Through his lecture I learned more than I had anticipated about the startup ecosystem that is in place in Uruguay.
In learning new concepts, I have always benefited greatly from applying general concepts and theories to specific situations in order to learn about the ways in which general models can be applied. In Babson, it is often the case that we are assigned case studies in order to reinforce the general ideas learned in class. Therefore, it was very beneficial when we discussed the Nix soda case study in order to wrap up our panel of professors and guest speakers at Universidad ORT. This case study allowed us to apply all of the knowledge about Uruguay’s historic and economic background that we had just learned to a specific case study involving an important company in Uruguay. Furthermore, it was more participation driven than the professor and guest speaker lectures and therefore naturally engaging. I thought that this was a great way to apply our newly gained perspectives to a specific situation in order to improve our application skills.
Moving along to Argentina, the different speakers and office visits provided me with an extensive array of insight into the political, governmental and economic backdrop of the South American country. Our first educational experience involved guest speaker and professor lectures in the Universidad de San Andres in Buenos Aires. Alberto Fohrig gave us an in depth look at the political situation in Argentina. Not only was I unaware of the amount of corruption that the country is suffering from, but also I did not realize that factions and coalitions run the government, much like in the Israeli government that I am more familiar with. We were shown interesting videos and statistics illustrating the wide array of problems that Argentina is facing. Ranging from unqualified political leaders to corruption with government funds, the Argentinian government is plagued with problems. This was the first instance in which I realized that Argentina is truly in a negative point in its rich history.
The last educational activity in Argentina, and of the entire trip, which had an enlightening impact on me was the presentation by Guillermo Casarotti of Inti Zen about being an entrepreneur in Argentina. Firstly, Guillermo’s positive energy bled out of him from the second he took to center stage. His enthusiasm and passion showed me the extent to which he valued his company and the entrepreneurial method. He spoke to us about the successes and struggles he encountered in his journey to create Argentina’s premier top shelf tea company. Not only were his anecdotes of his past tribulations inspiring, but also they demonstrated the importance of honesty and perseverance in any entrepreneurial venture. Guillermo’s teachings and stories will stay with me throughout my journeys navigating through the business world.
After all of that discussion of “sopa”, it is now time to go over the “postre” from which I learned so much over the travel experience. In Uruguay, we began the trip by heading straight over to the beautiful shores of Punta del Este. Not only did I love exploring through the beach town and eating the wonderful food offered, I also enjoyed crashing through the waves of the rough ocean. This was a great opportunity to bond with the rest of the classmates on the trip in a fun and stress free environment. That evening, our group had the opportunity to dine at Casapueblo, a beautiful restaurant on a cliff over looking the ocean of Punta del Este. Coincidentally, there was another event going on with live music and dancers that we were lucky to have been able to observe. Overall, this experience allowed our group to unite from the first day of the trip.
The next social activity that served as a cultural learning experience was the Peñarol vs. El Tanque soccer match in the historic Estadio Centenario. In this exciting Peñarol four goals to three goals victory, we experienced firsthand the passion and fervor that Uruguayans feel for their soccer clubs. The fans were cheering at the top of their lungs throughout the entire match without stopping. It was truly impressive to see the importance of soccer to the citizens of Uruguay. Next we were taken to a park in which there was a drum ensemble that played traditional Candombe beats for us. We were taught about the African origins of this music genre and were taught the basic underlying beats that dictate the musical tempo. The last social experience which had an impacting impression on me was the asado dinner which our Uruguayan coordinator, Pao Katz, graciously hosted for us in her house. Delicious meats were served by the asadores, or grillmasters, and catchy Latin tunes played in the background. After filling our bellies, we circled up and began an upbeat dance off. The newly infused Latin blood surfaced in all twenty of our group mates as we began an all out salsa dancing frenzy. This was truly a magical moment in the trip.
Moving along to Argentina, there were a number of social and cultural experiences that enhanced my overall knowledge on the Argentine society. One night, a large number of our group decided we would go out and check out the vibes of the bustling Argentinian nightlife. I was surprised to learn that much like in New York City, the nightlife begins very late into the night. People do not get to the dance clubs until two in the morning at the earliest. Also, I was pleased to discover that Argentinians are friendly and willing to talk to new acquaintances, however they are more cautious about dancing with new acquaintances than Americans tend to be. However, if one plays his cards right, it is not impossible to court a dance from an Argentinian beauty. The last impacting social experience in Argentina that had a lasting impression on me was the Tango lesson and show. I personally love dancing salsa and merengue and thus thought that learning Tango would be a breeze. This was my first ever professional tango show experience, and it really impressed me the way in which the dancers navigate through the dance moves so swiftly and gracefully on stage. This show will remain in my memory for years to come.
My grandfather would surely agree with me that this balanced trip was a total success in both catering to my need to grow educationally while simultaneously cultivating my cultural awareness. The lessons learned inside and outside of the classroom were irreplaceable and I am confident that everything that I was able to learn will remain with me throughout my life. I am very thankful that I was able to partake in such a fulfilling experience with such a great group of friends and professors.
For more information on Babson Electives Abroad visit our website.