“The best memory I have of my time at Stern.” This is how most seniors or graduates would refer to the International Studies Program (ISP). And after my experiences on the trip, I will be saying the same. This past spring break, I was lucky enough to be able to travel with 200 of my classmates to Hong Kong. Starting in 2000, ISP has been made possible by the generous support of Edward (BS ‘57) and Nancy Barr. The purpose of the trip was to meet with a local business and immerse ourselves in the culture of the city so we can apply those observations to our capstone ISP project. We will be using our experiences to offer valuable insight and recommendations to the business we visited. And, just to give you a better idea of how the trip was laid out, here is a brief overview of each day.
Day 1: We flew out of JFK (John F. Kennedy International Airport) on Sunday at 10 a.m. and landed in Hong Kong at 2 p.m. on Monday. From there, we settled into the hotel and enjoyed the rooftop pool at sunset. Then we decided to venture into the heart of the city for dim-sum and dessert.
Even on our first night, it was easy for me to observe that this was a city unlike any other I had traveled to. Being my first time in Asia, I was definitely wary of just how different the culture would be. However, studying cases focused on consumer behavior in China and surrounding countries prior to the trip really helped in the adjustment process.
Day 2: All 200 students, visited Lantau Island (via cable cars pictured above) where we had a Tai Chi lesson in the central courtyard, climbed the stairs to Big Buddha, and explored the colorful Buddhist monastery. From here, we took a scenic drive around the island to get to our welcome banquet at Jumbo Kingdom. At the dinner, we enjoyed a traditional, family-style meal with a speech from a member of the U.S. Consulate as well as entertainment from a “dancing dragon.”
While this day was mostly spent sightseeing, we could really start to see how important the efficient transportation is to the hum and beat of the city. From the cable cars to the ferry, everything ran on time and as planned. For a city with such a large population, this is definitely a necessity and helped us gain insight we could use for our company visit on Day 4.
Day 3: The morning and afternoon were dedicated to the market immersion where we got to see local consumer behavior in action. First, we divided into small groups and visited a wet market where locals shop for fresh meats and produce. Next, we walked to a pharmacy and mall where we explored their differences with stores we have in the U.S. We concluded the market exploration at a small herbal medicine store and I can easily say I have never heard of or seen more than half of the products sold there. From there, we had the rest of the day free so some classmates and I got dim-sum and ended the night at the famous Happy Valley Racecourse to watch and bet on the horse races.
This day was probably the most informative in terms of learning about the local culture. Since we were able to immerse ourselves in the ways they shop, eat, and travel throughout the city, we were able to better understand how that could influence the direction we take for our capstone project.
Day 4: On our final full day, each class had office visits with their assigned local company. My class was assigned to MTR: the firm that builds and operates nearly all of the Hong Kong public transportation system that includes the subway, buses, and tramways. During our visit, we learned how they develop new projects and got the chance to go to the site where they are building a new subway station.
During the company visit, we were able to apply all the knowledge and observations we had learned from the past few days to ask questions to MTR’s executives. Unlike searching online, we got direct answers about costs and construction restrictions while also getting an inside look at upcoming projects that may not have been public information yet. It also made me realize how inefficient the New York City subway system is.
To cap off the evening, a group of other students and I visited a night market to find souvenirs and try our hand at bargaining.
Day 5: After checking out of our hotel rooms, many students decided to use their final hours in the city to take a hike or a tram up to a mountain-top view of the island. My friends and I found ourselves taking the bus up to Victoria’s Peak where we had an unbelievable (even while cloudy) birds-eye-view of the city. From there, we took a final trip to local stores and markets to stock up on Asia-exclusive items and, finally, enjoyed our last dim-sum before heading to the airport.
In short, the ISP trip was an incredible, eye-opening whirlwind. While my body and sleep schedule have not yet recovered from the constant running around, I would not have changed a thing. I went on the trip with some very close friends but coming back, I know I have created more personal relationships with students and staff that I was previously only acquainted with. In the end, not only did I feel closer to the Stern community, but I had more pride for our school and every opportunity it has provided me. And even though we were in Hong Kong for less than five full days, the lessons learned and relationships created will last a lifetime.
P.S. A special thank you to all the staff and faculty that helped to plan the trip! I have a feeling they don’t hear it enough, but I guarantee each student is extremely grateful for all the effort they take to make these trips unforgettable.