That one time I went to Ghana…

So I just got home from an amazing week in Ghana… but before I give you the full play by play, I have to go back to a lazy day at the office this summer. On July 16th, this email came into my inbox:

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tldr: write a 300 word essay to be eligible to win a trip to Ghana.

Thankfully, I was pretty bored at work and therefore used that time to write that essay. Not sure I would have spent the time at home to do it if I were busy… here’s what I wrote:

I have always had a passion for improving the learning conditions of young girls. Prior to starting at MIT Sloan, I was the managing director of a non-profit organization, Girls in Tech Minneapolis. The goal was clear: increase the number of girls pursuing technology professions by increasing their access to education and strong female role models. Even though I am no longer involved in Girls in Tech, this topic continues to be something I feel strongly about and will continue with once I earn my MBA. Girls all over the world should have better, equal access to education. It is this passion that drives my desire to learn more about non-profit education abroad.

The increased popularity of cause marketing has also turned my attention to the 1-for-1 model of non-profits. I first heard of TOMS through Hanson’s Take the Walk tour, and have been interested in the model ever since. How can we encourage more affluent people to give to those who do not have the same? By participating in this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience in Ghana, I hope to learn ways to apply this model to future for-purpose driven initiatives.

Lastly, I know this opportunity will teach me so much. Beyond learning about education and non-profit work, I will see a first-hand account of how to start from scratch. Adam Braun created something that is truly changing lives. Through this inspiration, I know I can do the same.

I also love the impact CommonBond is making and would love the opportunity to connect further! I am also a lot of fun to travel with.

A week later I got a 7am phone call from CommonBond in NYC telling me I had been selected. Cue intense excitement.

[My essay was also published on their blog, which you can see here!]


Last Wednesday, I took a flight from BOS to Amsterdam solo. Once there, I met up with Natalie, a representative from Pencils of Promise (PoP); David, Michaela and Ali from CommonBond; and Jason and Eryn, the other winners. Looking back, it’s kind of funny because I wasn’t once concerned about traveling to Africa with 6 complete strangers.

Completely unrelated, here is a photo of an Amsterdam Airport Donut:

Good donut.
Good donut.

The next seven hours were filled with wine and movies… but nothing really worth mentioning here. We landed late on Thursday and went to bed soon after we checked in. Early thoughts? — Ghana is hot.

Friday morning we left Accra for Ho early. There, we were welcomed by a great group of students who had been in a PoP school since 2013. After a performance of a traditional dance and the recitation of a poem, we were each presented with beautiful pieces made personally for each of us. Within minutes, rain started pouring and the students went back to their classrooms. We then got to see the inside of a PoP classroom and to observe students learning. The great thing about PoP is that in addition to building sturdy structures for children to learn in, they continue to support each and every community through teaching training and onsite support.

IMG_1960In Ghana, the teachers are taught tools to support active classroom engagement. And by active, and I mean active. The kids sing, dance, and move around because that’s a part of their culture. Outside of recess, I don’t remember ever having that in elementary school.

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The junior high school was a different story. Currently, PoP only supports elementary education, due in part to their focus on literacy and obvious financial constraints. The junior high structure was over 20 years old and was in pretty bad shape. The mixture of rain and a “faulty roof” clearly impacted students’ learning experiences. Here, they are moving their desks so their books don’t get wet.

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I left this community with mixed emotions. On one hand, I was so inspired to meet such great children. At one point, a handwashing station tipped over and multiple boys jumped up to help put it back up. The students even show up early to sweep the classrooms – there is so much pride in learning. That isn’t something I’ve seen in the United States – children just ready to jump up and help. On the other hand, the conditions are pretty bad. I can understand not being able to learn when something as common as rain interferes.

Next, we went to a site that showed an example of the “before” environments. Can you imagine going to school here? Whether your answer is “yes” or “no”… it gets worse…

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On Saturday, we were honored to attend an inauguration ceremony. After a few speeches and being gifted a goat (literally), we got to see the before and after. Saying it is a stark contrast is an understatement.

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A “classroom” under a tree with just a black board and two benches
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The new PoP built school.

Even more touching was the way the children ran and cheered into the new school once the ribbon was cut. After both getting dance lessons from the kids and teaching them to nae nae, we went back to the hotel to drink some beer and tell some stories.

That night, we really got to know each other. Up until then I wasn’t sure if my style was gelling well, but after a few good stories I had at least a few of them on the dark side.

Sunday… just.. wow. We went to a community near Togo where there must have been over 100 community members on site helping build. With PoP, they provide supplies and skilled labor, but require the community to provide the unskilled labor. It both ensures that the community is committed to bringing in the new school and that it is something they truly want. To see 50 grown men giving up their Sunday to literally make 4000 cement blocks to construct a school… I was just in awe. I think football dominates Sundays in the United States.

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After that we got in a small taste of tourism when we went to a monkey sanctuary. We were told a beautiful story about the history of the land and how monkeys came to be as important as they are. Then we fed them and I nearly lost my shit.

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And all of a sudden, Monday was our last day. We visited a commnity where PoP is piloting e-readers. It was so cool to see a classroom full of students on e-readers in the middle of a village with minimal electricity. They were actually in the middle of a sexual education lesson when we began observing. It felt rather intrusive but also really neat that they are learning about that at a young age.

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I left Ghana with such great respect for both the people in the communities and the impact Pencils of Promise is making. The children and families I met have such a strong desire for education and bettering themselves. They are hardworking and kinder than I see most days. Because of this trip, I know I will be a life long supporter of PoP. Beyond that, I formed great relationships and learned about starting a company from a fantastic CEO. I believe I have an even better appreciation for education and am excited to discover how I can impact the next generation. I have a deep understanding of what some lives and cultures in Ghana look like, and I will continue to reflect on the ways life differs in the United States. I believe this experience has even influenced the way I will raise my own children some day. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity. I’m pretty much pinching myself right now.


 

Update 10/23/2015: a version of this post was also published on the CommonBond blog.

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LA and Amsterdam and Israel

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I’ve arrived in Los Angeles. I flew in last night after a week of zero productivity back in Boston. Well, I guess it was productive in that I finished season 9 of Criminal Minds so I’m all caught up on what’s available via Netflix… that counts for something, right?

Coming to a new city and starting from scratch is so refreshing. I don’t have any bad habits ingrained in me yet and I can try to set better ones. I remember when I first graduated from Macalester and started working at Target – it was such a great time where I was able to get in shape, explore new hobbies such as baking and writing, and do a lot of self reflection. Then Joe came into the picture and while I’ve gotten a lot of good habits from him, I also picked up some bad ones. The lazy ones.

Last summer I had the opportunity to start fresh when I moved to Boston. Something went wrong though. Instead of having a home that encouraged activity, I feel the focal point became the TV and all of a sudden my entire summer disappeared. When Joe would get home from work we’d do fun things and explore the city, but I still managed to put way too much effort into Covert Affairs and Royal Pains.

Not wanting to fall into that same trap, I’ve decided to do something drastic. I am swearing off TV for the summer. Ideally I would find some sort of happy medium where I could watch some programs to stay up on pop culture but not so much that I watch hours upon hours. But I’m sort of like an alcoholic with my TV and I can never have just one.


In other news, Israel was absolutely fantastic. I believe it may be the best international travel experience I’ve ever had. On my way there, I had the opportunity to have an extended layover in Amsterdam. I was able to leave the airport and explore the city for about 8 hours before my next flight. I was a little nervous about managing all of this on my own. I had never been to another country alone before, but from what I had heard, Amsterdam is pretty accessible.

I quickly figured out how to buy my train ticket from the airport to central Amsterdam. I decided to take the Canal Bus, which not only allowed me to hop on and off the boat at places throughout the city, but it was a great way to see the architecture with a guide.

My first stop was the Van Gogh museum. I didn’t know much about him going in, but really enjoyed learning his story through the setting they offered. Afterwards, I went for pancakes at a cafe recommended to me by a friend on Facebook. They had a notice though that their credit card machine wasn’t working, so I made sure I would be able to afford something with the $10 I had. I found a Nutella pancake for $8, which also gave me enough for the tip. Once I got the bill though, I realized they charged me for water. Doh! I had to pull the whole “this is all I have” thing, and I felt like a dumbass. Boo.

Next I attempted to go to the Anne Frank house, but the line was 3 blocks long. Only having a short amount of time I didn’t want to waste it all in line. So, I just went and picked up some postcards and then sat at a rooftop bar and wrote them out to people while sipping a cocktail. It was beautiful and marvelous and the highlight of Amsterdam.

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Israel was something else entirely. The first night we had dinner on the hillside at a beautiful outdoor restaurant. The food was amazing, I got to connect with some friends I haven’t seen in a while as well as meet some new folks. It was so tranquil and a really great way to start a vacation. [Once I got home, I tried texting Joe but it wouldn’t go through. We were kind of in the middle of no where. The next day I had a bunch of texts from him and he was pretty convinced I was dead because he Googled the cell phone reception in Israel and was sure I would have coverage everywhere. Aww…]

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

The next day we went to Jerusalem and did the Old City stuff. I went in the room of The Last Supper, saw the golden dome and where Jesus was crucified… very neat from a historical perspective.

The next day we started out at the Holocaust Museum and then it was time for the Dead Sea. Holy hell it was hot. I think it was over 115 degrees, and we were in the sun and it was humid as crap. I had thrown up a few times from night before (#winning) so I was hating the heat all that much more. It was the most amazing private beach party though. There was a beautiful buffet, slushies, massages, and great music. We got all mudded up and then dipped into the sea. I didn’t actually like being in the water. I floated too much, it tasted terrible (whoops!) and made all my skin sting. I didn’t stay in too long :)

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

That night we slept in tents in the desert. I was woken up at 1am by a jackal, who I thought was a cat at the time. I’m glad I didn’t know the truth then. I was woken up again at 4am because it was time to hike up Masada. Here is my paraphrased story of the land: Masada is this mountain in the desert that is flat on top. Thousands of years ago this guy, Herod, went and built his palace there because he was a nervous SOB and thought everyone was trying to kill him. The mountain top allowed him to watch his back most of the time, and then he had other protections in place for the rest of the time. Then he died and everyone left.

Then, years later, when the Romans took over the temple in Jerusalem, some Jews fled to Masada. They set up camp in Herod’s old palace and were able to use his cisterns as well. Then, after these 900 people spent some time on the mountain, the Romans decided enough was enough and came to get them. But because it is a mountain top it is nearly impossible to take over. Eventually the Romans used Jewish slaves to build an extremely large ramp up to the top where they then broke down the wall.

Not wanting to let their women and children be raped and made into slaves though, the man in charge decided everyone should die instead. So he chose men who would go around and kill all their families and then kill themselves at the end. The next day, when the Romans come in, they found that everyone was dead. They were pissed, I believe. There were a couple holdouts though, which is how we know the story. The Dovekeepers is a historical fiction novel written about Masada and it is an amazing book I would recommend everyone read.

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

Then I rode a camel.

Photo by Matan Shiloach
Photo by Matan Shiloach

The next day I rafted down the Jordan River and then ATVed up to the Syrian border. It was scarier than it sounds. Those red signs on the fence below say “Caution, Mines.” As in, land mines. I only walked where others walked… just in case.

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IMG_1377This is the inside of the former Syrian Military Headquarters. It looks like it was bombed… we took another set of stairs to the roof though, so it wasn’t completely destroyed. Because we hadn’t done enough yet that day, we went to a winery for wine tasting. That evening I was like, wow, how the crap is this my life. It all felt very surreal. But I can definitely see myself looking at Israel a lot differently now and have a new appreciation for the things that are going on in that area of the world.

After that we headed to Tel Aviv where the trip shifted to more of a party. It was amazing. We had the best resort on the beach and went to amazing outdoor restaurants.

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Somehow, I made it out alive.

The Zoo in China

I’ve been to zoos in the United States before, and I have never seen anything like what I saw at Yunnan Safari Park. I don’t know if I’m being hyper critical because something in my own beliefs has changed, or if the conditions were truly much worse, but I have never left a zoo feeling so terrible.

First, they had these small tigers in an enclosed space that had extremely short sides. If I were a cat, I could totally jump out of it. Unless, of course, my hamstrings (or something) were cut. Which is what could have happened to these poor babies.

IMG_0781Next, they had these beautiful peacocks, including an albino(!!!) tethered to benches for people to sit on to take their pictures with. It made me sad to see this, but all in all isn’t the worst that I saw.

IMG_0791I believe the worst part was how I don’t think they are feeding the animals enough. The lions and tigers were so thin, I can’t believe they are being fed adequately. A friend I was with suggested maybe they just have been refusing to eat. However, because they allow people to purchase meat to “dangle” to feed to these cats, and seeing the way they fought over it, I have a hard time believing they are just choosing not to eat. I should not be able to see their ribs like this!

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The last straw for me was in the kitty hut. They had baby tigers that they allowed children to pet. These animals were larger than small dogs though, and nothing I would even get close to. Soon after we arrived, the kitties got hungry and started rebelling a little. In return, the “trainers” pulled them back from the gates by their tails, repetitively. Isn’t that super mean?

What do you guys think? Am I being over critical or is this terrible treatment of animals?

Travel from hell –> Pretty good week

 

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What started as the worst week ever turned fantastic pretty quick.

Traveling back from China was the worst 26 hours of my life. Physically. I’m sure I had worse emotionally, especially when I was an emo-teenager. Something I ate on Saturday, most likely the dinner of dumplings, made me sick. I didn’t realize this until 5am the next day when Victor showed up at my door to take me to the airport. I was still sleeping and hadn’t yet packed, but he was an hour early so I fully believe I would have gotten ready on time had he not been early.

Once in the car, I took out the barf bag I had been carrying around with me all week “just-in-case,” at Victor’s request. It was the mix of the driving around (which was obviously terrifying) and being up so early, and my upset stomach could barely handle it. I did make it to the airport, but the second I was through the door I had to run to a bathroom. Luckily I actually stumbled into one with an actual toilet rather than a hole in the ground.

I cleaned up and went back out to meet Victor and Anya who were seeing me off. Victor wanted to grab breakfast but I was like “omg I will just throw up again” and decided not to eat anything. We said our goodbyes and I made it through security. I wanted to buy a bottle of water because I was pretty thirsty, but apparently it is impossible to buy bottled water at the airport in Kunming. They did, however, have little water machines with paper cups every now and again so I tried to use one of those. I couldn’t make the water come out. I ended up texting Victor and he gave me instructions. It shouldn’t have been that hard.

Having something in my stomach again made me feel ill, so I went to the bathroom. But BAM! there were 15 women in line. So, I left the bathroom and used the garbage can sitting outside, right on the main walkway of the entire airport. After successfully throwing up into recycling (oops!) I made my way to my gate and painfully waited over an hour because it was delayed.

Once on the flight, still thirsty and dehydrated, I got apple juice from the flight attendant when she came around. That didn’t work either so within 5 minutes I was throwing up in the bathroom of the plane. I sat back down again. By now, you’d think I had it all out of my system. I realized this was false when I felt ill again and went to the bathroom, again. There was a line, however, and stupid me didn’t bring my barf bag with me. As I stood there waiting I was carefully evaluating whether or not I could hold it. I eyed the seat pockets of those around me just in case, when all of a sudden I knew I had to reach for one. A seven year old boy had his sticking out a bit, and even though he was at the window seat I leaned in and swiped it. And voilà, there I went again.

The flight attendant saw me this time and brought extra bags for me as well as a small cup of water. Hot water, obviously, because this was still China. I didn’t drink much more than a sip because of my inability to keep it down. I eventually went back to my seat and tried to nap. I wasn’t able to do so, but soon we started landing anyway (it was about a two hour flight). About as soon as the “remain in your seats we are landing now” announcement was made, I needed to throw up again. I felt really bad for the man sitting next to me, no one should have to experience stranger-vomit. Thankfully it was mostly liquid at this point though and therefore wasn’t overwhelmingly stinky. Yay!

He only spoke Chinese but tried to show me some hand pressure points that would help make me feel better. It was hard to hold my barf bag and really do what he was showing me, but at least I tried.

Once in Shanghai, I had to get my new ticket printed and make it to the next terminal. I found my way to the singular Delta counter in the airport and attempted to get my ticket. However, they said I needed to grab my checked luggage first, even though the woman in Kunming explicitly told me I wouldn’t need to. Okay, so I sickly walk to baggage claim 7, where she told me, only to find she meant 1. Once I get to 1, most of the baggage had come out and it was clear mine wasn’t there. This is when I began to cry. I called Joe at $1/minute because I just felt alone without any ability to communicate and sick ans arrggg.

After making sure my luggage wasn’t indeed anywhere, I went back to the counter to tell them so. While listening to them decide what to do, I throw up again. Luckily I had the extra bags from the flight. They had to check for the luggage themselves, obvi, so there was more walking around. Eventually they said “it isn’t here” and finally just printed my tickets. Because I didn’t think I would be going through security again, I bought a water which they actually sell in Shanghai. I knew I would throw it up but I was just so parched.

Once I was in line for security, whoops, I saw some classmates of mine who were stationed in Shanghai for their project. I was just so so so excited to see people I knew and was able to communicate with. I just felt bad they had to watch me vomit while standing in line, but they handed me tissues and were really helpful.

You know how they always have garbages right before the x-ray machines for all the things you forgot you had? Yeah, they don’t do that in Shanghai. So when I get up to the front of the line I find I have nowhere to place said barf bag. I had to carefully hand over a warm bag of vomit to a very nice looking security woman who only spoke Chinese. She then passed it to a coworker and so forth – it finally found a garbage.

For some reason I thought that a skittle would be a good idea. Well, maybe I didn’t even think it would be a good idea but I needed something to get the taste of vomit out of my mouth. While it didn’t get the taste out because it came back up pretty quickly, it was sort of like one of those pills that makes your poop smell good. I still had to go through it but it didn’t taste as bad.

At this point, I was only 6 hours into the 26 hours of travel.

The next leg was a 14 hour flight. Once I made it on board, I warned my seat mate of my “motion sickness” just so I didn’t catch her off guard. I was on the aisle though, so at least she wouldn’t need to get up every time I needed to throw up. Surprisingly I only had to get up 3 times during that long flight, and towards the end was even able to eat some bread and managed to hold that down. Winning!

This flight was incredibly turbulent though. I really thought I knew I was going to die. And, at that moment, there was nothing I could do so I kind of just tried to stay focused and think of happy things. I ended up feeling very calm knowing that I would die, and I convinced myself that I didn’t want my last moments to be in pain so I somehow willed myself to numb away my stomach ache.

I couldn’t concentrate on any movies and I couldn’t read or play cell phone games, so I just sat there and reflected and maybe drifted to sleep once or twice. 13 hours later I’m finally in Detroit and I felt a lot more calm and not as freaked out. I didn’t even care that my luggage wasn’t there either, I just told the agents and they let me through customs anyway.

Only 3 hours of waiting and a 2 hour flight stood between me and Joe. I could handle that. I finally had real internet access again, so I watched some Criminal Minds on Netflix while waiting and then slept for the whole flight. Joe picked me up at the airport and we went to file the claim for my missing luggage together. It was actually kind of nice to not have to drag it around. Instead, it was going to be delivered!

Once home at midnight Monday morning, I slept solidly until 4pm the next afternoon. I missed class, but that’s okay in situations like this. I stayed up for a few hours and was able to fall asleep with Joe that night. Jet lag is a crazy thing.

The next day, everything in life was just so much better. My first class of the day was a new class called “Managing in Adversity.” Every class a different CEO or leader come in to share stories of how they, get this, managed through an adversity. First up? Ed Davis, former police commissioner of Boston, who was in office when the Boston Marathon bombings occurred.

It gave me goosebumps listening to the story through his point of view. All the people he had to interact with, all the things he saw and decisions he had to make. It made me want to join the law enforcement it was so powerful.

That night, I had a networking event for Netflix at the Lenox hotel. This hotel was right near one of the blast sites and was mentioned in the case we read in preparation for Ed’s talk. Even though I’ve been by there tons of times since moving to Boston, after hearing from Ed I definitely experienced it differently.

The Netflix event was awesome. I’m so in love with their focus on analytics and how they use data, I just want to work for them forever. They even had more women at the event than men, which adding this to their recent addition of Anne Sweeney to their Board of Directors, it is clear they value women in business more than most other tech companies. It is seriously such a dream company for me, I’m going to really try to pursue an internship with them even though they typically don’t bring us on.

10,000 Women Program

I knew that participating in China Lab would be a fantastic learning experience from the start. I didn’t, however, expect to be working on something so impactful.

The 10,000 women program, sponsored in part by Goldman Sachs, is an incredibly inspiring program. They take women from all over the world and supply them with the skills necessary to create and build their own companies.

All of the teams in Kunming are partnered with graduates from this program. Our CEO for Hanhung Folk Art went through the program after launching her company in 2003 and is just one example of the effect this program has. Because of my strong passion for female empowerment, I would have chosen a Kunming project instantly had I known about this partnership. Being a part of this makes me feel like what I’m working on is truly making an impact on something important.

Working with women from China and seeing first hand the changes this type of program can create it just another one of the many reasons I’ve loved this experience. I can’t wait to continue to support the 10,000 women program and women who are starting their own companies in other ways.

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Read this post at its original location here.

Saturday in China

Holy crap is this really my life? Saturday was a free day from work, so my hosts said we could do what ever we wanted to. Thanks to Pinterest, I knew of a local tourist destination called Stone Forest, and suggested we go there. It was only about an hour outside of the city and we got there around 11am. It was absolutely stunning and amazing and holy crap how is that even natural? It was an incredible experience and makes me excited to one day see the grand canyon too…

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Afterwards, we went to lunch at a place that was clearly very upscale.

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But we had beer too so it was all good. Next, we went go get massages at the most crazy place I’ve ever seen. I seriously thought it would just be a normal massage joint, but we got there and it was just breathtaking. There were large velvet couches, huge chandeliers, and a staff that could only tell me how beautiful I am. Then, we went to go shower where they had new toothbrushes and all these other amenities for us. We then put on robes and got led to bedrooms and were brought blueberry juice. My masseuse came in sporting a Maserati t-shirt and I knew I was in heaven. After an 80-minute massage and a foot shaving – seriously – I went to the buffet. Thankfully they had corn and cauliflower and watermelon so I got filled up on that. Here we all are in our robes:

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After eating and dominating (aka, losing my ass) in ping-pong, we took a cab to the local KTV spot. I was under the impression that this karaoke place would be similar to karaoke in the US: tons of people, one stage, lots of drinking, etc. However, we arrived at this luxurious place with huge chandeliers and men in suits everywhere. They brought us to our private room, which would be ours for singing for the night. I had never seen anything so cool ever.

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There we drank a lot and they delivered food, such as chicken tenders and French fries, to our room. I sang Sara Barielles (for Joe) and Hanson and Adele and Taylor Swift and Steven Tyler (because I love him) for the whole night. If we had something like this, at a similar price, in the US, I’m not sure I could ever be torn away. Pretty sure I’ll need to have one in my house some day. Best. Day. Ever.

Editor’s note: Kate is in China and unable to post herself, so I’ll be uploading her submissions as they make their way to me.

Hanhung Folk Art – Week 1

Our team has made a lot of progress this first week in China. On Monday, we went to the Folk Art factory and were finally able to meet the CEO. After seeing the bags in person, we were impressed with the great quality of the handbags and the wide assortment of styles and designs. After a tour, we had the opportunity to dig deeper into what the current problems are and started forming our strategies.

On Tuesday we went to both of the local specialty stores that sell Folk Art handbags. The first one was located in a huge mall targeted at tourists called Flower City. The visit began with a walk through the most beautiful flower garden ever.

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Once in the shop, we did some customer surveys to understand more about why they chose to buy (or in some cases, not buy) Ms. Camellia handbags. Thankfully our Yunnan University teammates were with us to translate because we got a lot of great information.

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Since then we have just been putting together our recommendations in the PowerPoint for Monday. Between now and Monday we hope to practice at least 5 or so times, and then we’ll present our current findings to Ms. Ren and the faculty for the projects.

This weekend our hosts are taking us to the Stone Forest and I could not be more excited! They have been so wonderful, showing us around and just generally taking care of us. It has been an amazing experience so far!

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Read this blog again at its original location here.

China Is Amazing

I’ve only been in China now for just over a day and I already know I love it. The flight here was extremely long and taxing, made worse by my cold, but now that I’m here I’m glad I’m staying awhile before having to go back.

The first thing that caught my attention was the cars. There was a pink Bentley at the airport and it was beautiful and amazing. All of the other cars are really nice too – the man that picked me up from the airport, Victor, was driving a pretty nice BMW. Within the first 10 miles I also spotted a Maserati and the rest are really modern too. Up until this point my experience in other countries, Egypt, Costa Rica, Mexico, even Italy, has been that their cars are pretty old and not as nice. I asked Victor about it and it turns out that they have to pay 100% import tax on cars too. So, they are hella expensive.

This doesn’t make it any less scary when they are whizzing at you on the highway though. The traffic laws seem to be lacking, or, potentially the only one they enforce is no running red lights. Otherwise people don’t stick to their lanes or use turn signals either. That part feels pretty standard for outside the US.

I’m also treated like a princess here. We went to the zoo and I got all dressed up in fancy Chinese dress, and they lightened up my face more because light is beautiful, they say.

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But on top of that, I feel very comfortable here. Everyone wears colorful outfits and has bright pink luggage too. I’m seriously in love with their style here, I feel like I fit in. AND! They wear fanny packs. It is beautiful. The only reason I didn’t bring mine was that I didn’t want to look weird… now I’ll know for next time :)

I’ve had trouble eating with the chop-sticks, maybe I should have practiced first. I’m not going hungry though, and even if I do a little that’s okay because I was still carrying around Christmas weight. Anyway, I now know to ask for a fork if I think I need one. Last night we went out to dinner and I tried pig skin, bamboo, tofu, and some really spicy soups. The pig skin was a little tough for my taste, and some of the soup really spicy, but I’m happy to be eating authentic food rather than just McDonalds (which I can get literally everywhere).

Another potential reason I’m not going hungry is that I’ve discovered Oreos. And not just any Oreos, Chinese Oreos, which surprisingly are different from American Oreos. There are just a lot more flavors. So last night Victor took me to a store and we bought every flavor they had. Strawberry, Green Tea, Blueberry/Raspberry, Mandarin Orange, Grape/Peach, and Vanilla Ice Cream. I also got these amazing chocolate covered Oreo wafers, which were better than they have any right to be.

chinaoreos

Re: Water. They have to boil water to drink it from the tap here, and so with dinner, they served hot lemon water. I then asked if I could get a bottle of water too because the food was so spicy, and they apologized that it was cold but I said that’s how I like it. Even the beer I had was room temperature, it is interesting that they don’t drink cold things much, especially when it is so hot here! In Kunming, it has been and will continue to be a consistent 80 degrees every day. Which could be another reason why I love it so much.

Editor’s note: Kate is in China and unable to post herself, so I’ll be uploading her submissions as they make their way to me.

Keeps getting better

disneyland

Day 2 in Los Angeles was even better than the first. I went to four different entertainment companies, from studios to video games to theme parks. The first stop was amazing – they showed us secret places and I saw people but that’s all I can say. I’m so much more excited about the entertainment industry now and I didn’t even think that was possible. I’m also finding ways that my skillz can best be put to use. I can tap into my previous experience in content distribution to work on the digital distribution side of a company. I’m also really interested in the data analytics side of things, and because those are turning into my favorite classes at MIT too, I might actually be prepared to do them.

Day 3 was a bit more relaxed which meant that we had time for me to try In N Out burgers for the first time (I wasn’t impressed with anything but the price). I also got to go to a donut place, DK’s donuts, and I got a wo-nut, which was my first ever waffle-donut and it was amazing. It was red velvet with white cream and then oreo crumbs. I also got a couple other because let’s be honest donuts are my life.

The first company we went to was really neat and I got to meet the man who created the candy for Katy Perry (yes, my mind was blown). In the evening we went to Universal Studios and I nearly crapped myself from excitement on both the back lot tour and the Simpsons Ride. It was just all so awesome and I’m like “could this seriously be my job?”

LA also continues to bless me with amazing weather so all in all I’m pretty pumped.

Application time!

I’m in Berkeley. I’m here visiting the business school. Mainly because Chris Kluwe lives nearby and I miss having him close, but also because it’s a pretty good program. Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never experienced it. I’m not a good reference.

I submitted my MIT application on Monday. It was the earliest deadline and a good starter. The application was average in terms of essays/prompts, amount of information, etc. I haven’t visited yet, but really like a lot about what the program has to offer. I also think the location would be great. One down… 7 to go?

Next Wednesday is the infamous Stanford deadline. I went and tried to psych myself out today by looking at application stats and stuff. Only 7k people apply for the less than 400 spots, so, it’s not like it’s impossible… My essays are in “okay” shape. Questions like “what is your favorite place” and “what is your favorite thing to read” give me not only the opportunity to let my personality shine but also make an ass out of myself in less than 300 characters. If I had to guess, I’d say 23% of applicants get an interview. If I’m not in that bunch, I’ll be a sad cat who failed. If I’m in that bunch but then don’t get in, that’s okay. At least I tried.

I’ve also been maybe over-doing it lately. Work has been pretty busy, Girls in Tech stuff is in full force, and I’ve been getting up every morning at 5am to work on my essays. Yesterday I just wanted to come home and sleep but I had already volunteered to help out Tix for Tots at the Lynx Game, they kicked ass, by the way. And now today I whisked off to Berkeley, delayed flight and all.

I’m just going to be so relieved when it is all done and I can impatiently wait for months on end.