They’re already members of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta’s Young Leaders program, so it’s not as though the travelers on this week’s China trip are closed off to new ideas or different cultures. Many have already been to other parts of the world, and some even hail from outside the U.S.
But this crowd of 12 under-40 Atlantans heading across the Pacific starting Oct. 14 believes the experience in the world’s second largest economy and one of its most ancient civilizations will be invaluable to their career success back at home.
[pullquote]China in a word, according to YLFP participants:
Exotic, structured, busy, fast-paced, culturally rich, fascinating, evolving.[/pullquote]
Global Atlanta caught up with a few of them via email as they prepared for the trip to learn more about their motivations, apprehensions and vision for how it will change their lives. The group will be blogging on the website of the Office of International Initiatives at Georgia State University, whose Confucius Institute is helping fund and organize the trip.
“I hope to learn about the innovation that is taking place in China whether it’s new technology, products or creative projects,” said Shana Basnight, head of university relations and recruitment for Acuity Brands. “Since I work with college students, I am also interested in learning about some of the career paths of China’s business leaders as I am constantly advising students on possible career opportunities.”
Martin San Cristobal, finance manager at protein exporter AJC International looks forward to observing a country where his company has extensive sales. He plans to meet colleagues in the Shanghai office, one of 14 company outposts around the world, to deepen his internal business relationships. Mr. San Cristobal joined AJC in its office in his native Argentina, but has never had the chance to work in China, which in his view remains an enigma for many on the outside.
“I see China as such a powerful business force and one of the main engines of the world, but at the same time is unknown for so many people due to the geographical location and language differences,” Mr. San Cristobal said. “I think that China is unique because it has evolved throughout its rich and long history with its own values, staying away from Western Hemisphere influence.”
Hicham Jaddoud is looking forward to doing his own informal market research.
“I work in the hospitality/tourism industry, my employer hopes that by getting closer to the Chinese consumers, I am able to understand what drives their buying decision making and how Chinese individuals (business customers and families) spend their free time,” said Mr. Jaddoud, a senior operations director for Marriott Hotels.
Instilling these insights is a main goal of the China Fellowship, which was targeted at those without previous travel to the country. The itinerary includes visits to the financial district in Shanghai and an industrial park in Suzhou, with cultural experiences and shopping stops mixed in. Then they’ll take a high-speed train ride to Beijing, where they’ll engage in meetings with HSBC Corp. and Hanban, the Chinese education ministry that arranged the trip,. Many participants will block out private time in both cities to see how their companies’ local offices engage the Chinese market. One is heading to the AGCO Corp. manufacturing plant in Changzhou, a few hours by train from Shanghai.
David Krezmer, an associate with HSBC, believes the experience will be transformative, especially given that he’ll be able to connect what his smaller office in Atlanta does with the region where the bank has its origins.
“I am thrilled to see the HSBC footprint in China. It’s where the bank has its roots dating back 150 years. Sitting in Atlanta with a 20-person office, seeing my employer in China will give perspective to some of the work we do connecting the dots for global companies around the world,” Mr. Krezmer said.
And more generally, he believes travel and cross-cultural experience are always beneficial, professionally and personally.
“It gives one a new and diverse way of looking at social, political and economic issues. It bursts the proverbial bubble of complacency and normalcy to create this incredibly diverse and informed opinion of the world,” he said.
That’s especially true in international law, the field in which Kate Doty works as head of global practice preparation in the University of Georgia’s Dean Rusk Center for International Law.
“I think that in all fields, globalization is changing the way we do business, and that exposure to other cultures is a professional skill that should not be underestimated,” Ms. Doty told Global Atlanta.
Or, as Lauren Watts, protocol officer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, put it: “It reminds us that we are working within a bigger puzzle.”
Between meetings, the participants will have time for cultural experiences including visiting the famous gardens, university campuses and a section of the Great Wall outside Beijing. The latter is one aspect of the most anticipated experiences of the trip for many. They’ll also meet with GSU President Mark Becker for a discussion and dinner.
Global Atlanta will be publishing select blog posts from the trip, but follow daily updates from the participants at http://sites.gsu.edu/ylfpchina.
Meet the fellows here.