I just returned from my MBA Study Abroad Course in South Africa and it was a great opportunity to meet with many companies from various industries as well as experience the diversity the country has to offer.
In total we met with seven different companies from two main business areas of the country: Johannesburg and Cape Town. In Cape Town we met Olgivy & Mather, a marketing firm; SACD Freight and Maersk/ Damco, companies involved in shipping/freight; and Metrorail, the state-owned commuter rail service. In Johannesburg we had the opportunity to meet with officials from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and leaders from a local pharmaceutical company called Glenmark. Our last company visit was with the Chief Economist from FNB Bank, Sizwe Nxediana, who gave a very insightful presentation on the economic history of South Africa. Every company we met had its various challenges but one main theme that stuck with most of the companies was dealing with the vast diversity that exists in the country.
In South Africa there are 11 official languages and about 80% of South Africans are of black African ancestry, from which 9 of the 11 official languages are derived from various sub-ethnic groups (the other 2 are English and Afrikaans). There is also great class diversity. Though there is a rising middle class in South Africa, one cannot help notice the immense poverty that exists in the country. From the many beggars on the streets of Cape Town to the townships and “ghost city” of downtown Johannesburg, it is a sight that one cannot be prepared for until you actually experience it. There is also plenty of wealth in South Africa, as witnessed in Sandton City, and it was interesting to watch both classes exist on the same streets. With class struggles there are also lingering effects of racism from apartheid. Though you see improvements of integration throughout the country, there are subtleties one can catch while eating dinner, walking the streets, or drinking at a local bar that give a glimmer of the issues that still exist.
It was great to have a chance to meet so many companies and experience a new culture but I can’t forget to mention the fun stuff! South Africa is full of fun activities for all types of tourists: safaris, vineyard tours, beautiful beaches, landmarks, great hiking, whale watching, and excellent food and drink (especially with the exchange rate), but my personal favorite was shark diving with Great Whites. If you ever go to South Africa be open, be hungry, and enjoy all it has to offer.
Trey Standing grew up in Virginia Beach, VA. Before moving to Baltimore to pursue his MBA, Trey worked for Ferguson Enterprises for 8 years holding positions in sales, training, & operations management where he worked in Chicago and Richmond, Va. In his spare time Trey enjoys being with his wife and two young daughters. And is in his spare, spare time he enjoys anything outdoors, particularly biking, swimming, and surfing (when he can get to a beach).