Thursday, September 01, 2011

KWEST - Around The World In 7 Days

The following article, capturing my first couple of months at Kellogg, was published in my Financial Times blog today. Reproducing without any edits.

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In late August around 750 Kellogg students and their joint ventures (more commonly known as partners in the rest of the world) left on 35 trips to countries from Australia to Zanzibar and everywhere in between. This was a part of the annual Kellogg tradition of Kwest (Kellogg Worldwide Experiences & Service Trips). These trips are voluntary and although they not a part of the curriculum an overwhelming majority of students take part.
Each trip is led by about 5 second year students, following their summer internship. The idea being to help the incoming batch of students to get to know each other in an informal environment. Students have non-stop fun for a week, while at the same time helping the local community, – cleaning the streets of Florence, painting a swing in a school in Punta Cana or building homes in Nicaragua. During this period participants are not allowed to mention the country/state they are from, or their education and professional background until the ‘big reveal’ during the trip! It’s absolutely amazing seeing everyone trying their best to second guess each other’s stories and mostly failing miserably!
My wife and I were a part of the trip to the Dominican Republic and I am at a loss to know where to start and what to include in this post about one of the most memorable weeks of our lives. From the moment the 26 of us, groggy eyed at 3am boarded the bus from Evanston to Chicago Midway airport until we returned home a week later it was a blur of activities, food, parties, beaches, buggy rides, playing with school kids and what not. It was quite literally a bunch of strangers getting on a flight and going to an exotic island to come back with some friends made for life.
We stayed in Punta Cana, an eastern beach town of the Dominican Republic. The trip leaders did a fabulous job of ensuring everything was taken care of down to the minutest details. Unfortunately they couldn’t account for Hurricane Irene which decided to pass over the Dominican Republic in the middle of our trip. But we were not a bunch to be easily deterred, so when we couldn’t hit the beaches or the pools we ended up conducting a hotly contested quiz competition and a highly animated game of charades!
The week included a mini-golf tournament and of course was peppered with some of the most delicious meals available on the island of Hispaniola.
The highlight of our trip has to be the Xtreme buggy tour where we drove six, stripped to the bone Volkswagen Beetles, through the rough, wet, interiors of the island into its rural pockets and mines and quarries.

The weather was on our side and pumped up the adventure level by opening up the skies while we were in the middle of nowhere. The drive through the heart of Punta Cana in the blinding rain and the water splashing all over us was an experience of a lifetime!
We visited a small public school, run by a local, not-for-profit body and spent a day with pupils painting a newly installed swing. 
Although most of the children spoke only Spanish and most of us English, it was remarkable how quickly and effortlessly we bonded.


We all returned from our various trips and our social networking streams are brimming with updates and photos of Finland, Belize, Ecuador, Croatia and dozens of other place. There are also frequent notifications of ‘…is now friends with ….and 10 others’.

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