By: Evening MBA student Ryan Cutter
Hello readers! I really appreciate everyone taking the time to read the story of my adventure to South Africa. I will be spending ten full days in the country with most of the time being spent in Johannesburg, with a short excursion at the end to Capetown. I am incredibly excited for the opportunity the Kelley School of Business has provided us with, to be able to work with small business owners from (literally) across the globe. My excitement nearly cannot be contained; South Africa has been a “bucket list” country since college. During undergrad my long-time friend and roommate Amos was a native of Capetown and always bragged on the countries beauty. I am excited upon my return to be able to speak in detail with him about the country once I have my own experiences.
A bit of backstory about me and what led me on this little trip. My name is Ryan Cutter and I am a 24-year-old, second-year Evening MBA student at the Kelley School of Business, with a concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship. I attend classes at night, while working full-time at Rolls-Royce Aerospace in downtown Indianapolis. When I am not in classes, studying or at the office I am an avid runner, reader, writer and photographer. While it may be difficult for me to train while in south Africa, I hope there will be some opportunities for photos I can send back to you guys!
For the majority of the trip we will be working with small business owners in the townships of South Africa. To put the townships in context, they are ridden with poverty, with many citizens not having basic luxuries such as clean running water or electricity. These people are at the bottom of the pyramid, meaning they have little to no money or resources to buy anything that isn’t an absolute necessity. While the townships surrounding South Africa are not wealthy, they are rich with entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Here lies an opportunity: To be able to go into a small business and consult with them in order to attempt to drive growth and sustainability.
These business owners are the pillars of their communities. If they can grow, so will the opportunities for the citizens.
This is a unique opportunity to not only hone my personal executive leadership skills, but also to impact someone’s life.
While I am an avid traveler, having covered a large bit of Europe over the last eighteen months, I am still a bit nervous. First, by the fact that I will be on an airplane for 16 hours! I have always been very energetic and “antsy,” so sitting still on a plane for 16 hours seems like my version of purgatory! While in the country I will be entering a foreign environment of poverty outside my own cultural norms, and I anticipate at least a little culture shock upon arrival in an alien continent. I am glad I have several good friends taking the trip with me which should make me feel more at home while in the country!
I am excited to write about my experiences and would love to connect and chat with anyone who has questions or their own experiences with travel. Although my phone access will be limited, anyone is welcome to connect with me via email at RyanPCutter@gmail.com.
I flew out of Chicago and into Atlanta with other Evening MBA students Iris, Milan and Holger. This was an easy two hour flight before the big 15 hour trek.
Once we started the flight from Atlanta to South Africa it was very smooth, which was quite surprising and nice. I watched movie after movie and was able to get a few hours of sleep.
We landed and headed to customs, which was the easiest check through I have ever been to! It was very quick! We then puttered around the airport waiting for another student, Sunny, to get there as she had connected through Amsterdam. We waited in the airport for about five hours, which was the worst part of our travels!!
We finally got a ride to the hotel which took about 35 minutes, and we met up with Professor Lyles at the hotel. The hotel was very nice, the rooms were spacious and had a large bathroom and shower. I had trouble sleeping that night, but eventually went to bed around 1 and woke up around 12 the next day after waking up several times during the night.
I woke up and got ready in a hurry to head out and meet the others to go explore. We grabbed an Uber and rushed over to a marketplace, where there was food and drinks. It was very packed and a neat location. I had a bit of lunch and continued to enjoy the weather and live music outside. We met some locals and chatted about what to see and do in JoBurg.
We then walked around the mall and shops, then began to head back to the hotel. We grabbed an Uber at that point. The only issue was we put in “Ave” instead of “Street!” This led to us going about 30 minutes to the opposite side of Johannesburg. However, because of that, we were able to see the city and get a better understanding of our surroundings.
Afterwards, we went home to get some rest back at the hotel and get ready for dinner. Most of our other classmates had arrived by then, so we headed down to eat at a small cafe by our hotel. We dined on pizzas and breads, all together for the first time.
I woke around 6:45 to get up and run on the treadmill. I am currently training for the summer racing season when I get back home, so I have been trying to run 4-5 miles everyday while here. It’s always nice to start your day energized and excited in the morning.
After my run, I headed to breakfast. Today it consisted of a spread including lamb sausages and bacon. The juices here are very potent and flavorful, and it doesn’t include my typical orange or apple juice!
We headed to see the Cradle of Mankind, an archeological dig site as well as the Apartheid Museum.
First on the agenda was the Cradle of Mankind. We drove about an hour north to a secluded area that held the museum. The exhibits showed previous findings that helped connect the evolution of humans to our previous ancestors. One of the findings was a primate’s skull, named Mrs. Ples, a nearly intact skull.
After touring the museum, we headed down to the caves where the digs occur. We went down fairly far and we were able to see throughout the cave. At times, it was very tight within the cave, causing us to squat and shuffle as we moved about. It was breathtaking to see the underground lakes. After completing the tour we hopped on the bus and headed back downtown towards the Apartheid Museum.
The Apartheid Museum was quite interesting. It gave me a better understanding of how segregation began, what caused it and how Nelson Mandela and other members of the ANC helped to end it. There is a long complex history of apartheid and the formation of the townships, so it was rewarding to gain a deeper knowledge of the past.
Afterwards we showered off after a long day and got ready for dinner. We ate at the most highly regarded fine dining restaurant in JoBurg, and boy was it incredible! I started off with an octopus tentacle to wet my palate. I had never eaten exotic food, but it was interesting and delicious! I followed up with a filet (also incredible), while washing all of this down with some fine African wine. The restaurant was very hip, with electronic dance music softly playing and a view overlooking downtown JoBurg. It was a very unique environment.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and went to sleep after a long day. It was an eventful and educational day, but I was ready for bed.
Today was our first day visiting the townships outside of Johannesburg.
After my morning run and breakfast, we loaded up onto the bus and headed to GIBS, the university we would be studying at. We listened to lectures for several hours then had lunch on campus. Afterwards we loaded into taxis and headed into Alexandra, one of the large townships. We drove around and tried to gain a better understanding of how people lived here.
A couple takeaways:
People live in very small homes, smaller then most of our bedrooms in the states. These homes often do not have electricity, running water or proper bathrooms. While the common areas of the towns are dirty, people are prideful and keep their homes very clean.
Children as young as three or four are often unsupervised and are required to take care of themselves as both parents work. We saw a girl of about five taking care of a crying boy that was about two. Kids are raised on the streets; at one point we hung out with a large group of children who gave us hugs and danced with us on the sidewalk.
There is a huge informal base of shops. Many convince stores, a laundromat, clothing stores, hair salons and other places for goods and services are run by the locals. These are the people who provide business for the communities.
The people in the towns were incredibly friendly, always wanting to say hello and introduce themselves. Never once did I feel threatened or frightened. I enjoy talking to these people and hearing about their lives, while also chatting about what America is like.
Seeing the townships really make you appreciate what we have compared to others around the world. The people here are just trying to work hard and live their lives. They have similar personalities, dreams, goals and interests.
We got back to the school for a debrief and dinner. We had a nice meal consisting of ostrich (which is like very fine beef) and lamb. The meal was paired again with wine.
Editor’s note – This blog is continued here, in a group blog from South Africa. To read more from Ryan and his classmates, click here.