We made it. The final day of GLP. It's sad to be leaving.
Well, after 8 days, two countries, 5 companies, one football game, and more screaming One Direction fans that you can count, we found ourselves waking up to the final day of the GLP. Our final company visit had been cancelled at short notice, so we had the whole day to ourselves.
A few of the others in the group had seen the photos from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, and asked whether I would lead a climb that morning, and I was only too happy to oblige, given that I would likely not get to hike a hill until I move to Milan in August. So we piled into a taxi and headed to the trailhead. The morning was clearer than the previous few days, but the geography of the valley meant that the Andes were still obscured from view. Half an hour of solid hiking and we made it to the summit, looking down upon the city that we had fallen in love with.
For most of us in the group, Santiago had turned out to be an unexpected gem. Most of our preparations for the trip had focused on the history of Chile and its associated instability. It painted a picture of the city that was not truly aligned with what we experienced. Yes, the historically driven issues of income inequality and poverty were still apparent, but what we also saw was a nation of ambitious, hard working and friendly people, who took great pride in their city. It says a lot about the attractiveness of a place when most of our group starts drawing up plans for how they can get a job posting in Santiago.
Once we had gotten back down the hill, I took the chance to go by myself on an exploring tour of the city. I wandered through modern parks (including one below with a plane sticking out the side), past newly constructed office towers humming with activity, and through bustling city streets.
At the very centre of the city, I climbed Cerro Santa Lucia, a small hill upon which Santiago was founded, crowned by an old watch tower. The hill had been transformed into an ornate park over the centuries, adorned with fountains, statues and palatial buildings.
After wandering for hours, it was time to head back to the hotel and from there to the airport. A short ride on the metro system and a final walk through the suburban streets of Las Condes. It gave me a chance to think about all that I had experienced in this past week and a half.
In this short space of time, we had immersed ourselves in two very different cultures, met directly with businesses that operate in vastly different sectors and with vastly different business models, and as a group forged deeper friendships that will last beyond the travel. I can't speak for the others, but this was also a growth experience for me. Even though I have travelled a fair bit, I hadn't travelled in large groups, and I had been given the responsibility for handling some of the logistics of ensuring people were in the right place at the right time.
To be honest I was very nervous about taking on the role, and I'll readily admit that for the first couple of days I didn't do the best job; I got all the people there on time, but in the wrong manner, and I rubbed a few people up the wrong way as a result. However, with the help of the group, I was able to take feedback on board and get better at it, and by the end we were able to get everyone to every meeting, with no latecomers, and in a way that didn't upset people. It was a proud achievement. It taught me a lot about managing and leading others, and hopefully the lessons will stick with me in the future.
The experience also reinforced how mature and professional the group are as a whole. We certainly played hard, but we also worked hard, and I think we presented an overwhelmingly positive image of the school to the companies we visited.
When I applied for the Cox School of Business, they told me how important the GLP was to our professional development, but having now experienced it, I can see how right they are. It's a unique chance to step outside our comfort zones, broaden our understanding of the world, and to build relationships with our peers (and if there's something that SMU Cox is known for, it's relationships).
And with those reflections turning over in my mind I found myself back at the hotel, the group gathered together in the lobby watching the Europa League Final on the TV, enjoying a last chance to savour the local wine and beer. When the game finished, we packed into the bus and began our journey home.
As we left for the airport, the haze cleared just enough for us to see the Andes mountains behind the city, looming large over the rows of buildings. It was as if they had turned up to say goodbye to us, and to beckon us to return again.
The next morning, we were all back in Dallas, and back to reality. On Tuesday we'll present a summary of our trip to local business leaders, and finish our GLP journey (and with it, year 1 of the MBA) with a reception at the business school. We'll certainly have a lot to talk about.
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