A colossal part of business school I’ve yet to cover is the travel. At least in my program, there weren’t a ton of opportunities in my first semester. We were all busy meeting hundreds of new friends, exploring our new city of Boston and trying to keep up with homework and internship searches. But now first semester is O-V-E-R! I have my bearings and some great friends; I’m signed up for super interesting classes next term – it’s time to get on a plane!
Over January, my classmates boomeranged to different corners of the globe: meeting with entrepreneurs in Tanzania, touring Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, exploring Fiji, and hot air ballooning over New Mexico. Let’s be clear: this travel is by no means cheap, though it is framed as an integral part of the 2-year experience. Some trips are subsidized by the school if you do a corresponding class and project, so look out for those options too. Nonetheless, if you’re considering B-school, save up for some flights or plan on allocating a good deal of your loans.
I took the chance to head to Hong Kong and China with MIT Sloan’s Luxury, Retail and Consumer Goods Club. If you’ve read any WWD in recent years, you know what a huge – make that HUGE – deal China is in the luxury market. I couldn’t have been more excited to go.
Over the 10-day trip, we glimpsed the country’s explosive consumer spending growth face-to-
face. Plus, we got to hear about this emerging market from top industry executives. Traveling with a business school club opens a lot of doors including access to the pros at Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Apple, Nike, as well as luxury retail consultants from Bain.
In the first leg of the trip we went to Macau, Asia’s Las Vegas, and Hong Kong. Macau is… I don’t even know the word. Absurd? I toured spectacular malls with virtual mermaids swimming on the walls and tried my luck at the slot machines. Not to brag but I won $2. Then we took a boat to Hong Kong to get our dim sum on. I visited one of Hong Kong’s famous tailor shops which I highly recommend. They make custom shirts and suits for reasonable prices—think $60 for a custom, monogrammed button-down. Hong Kong is a real gem with sweeping views and packed, city-wide escalators taking crowds up and down steep hills. I absolutely love that city. We also visited with Esquel, a firm that produces shirts for companies like J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. It was refreshing to study another angle of the retail industry, hearing how there are fewer laborers willing to work for such cheap wages and what strides these big companies are taking to become more sustainable.
Before I knew it, we were off to Shanghai. My favorite memory there was speaking with Sara Villarreal, the visionary American who opened The Villa, a darling boutique in the French Concession neighborhood. She’s a total pioneer considering the consumer culture in Shanghai still centers upon overtly branded items like LV bags or Cartier watches. In these big tier one cities, nearly everyone was a walking brand billboard (whether those products are real or fake is a separate matter). Yet, Sarah has stocked her boutique with cool, subtler brands like Altuzarra and Derek Lam. To move to China, learn Mandarin, and open your own business – wow. She’s amazing. Also, for any Mandarin speakers interested in luxury, there are tons of jobs over in Asia. Email the HR department of your favorite brand and see if they have openings (…they will)!
Now I’m back in Boston, recovering from a dumpling food coma and gearing up for second semester. I’m taking courses in marketing and leadership and finance (yawn…but important!). My internship search begins this semester too, so I’ll be busy editing my resume and answering questions like “What’s my biggest weakness?” I have no weakness, people! Eye roll. Happily, I’ve got a little more travel penciled in too with an entrepreneurship trek to Silicon Valley and a fun Spring Break week in Israel. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going, and feel free to ask any questions here or on Twitter (@kendall_to_go) about China or my second semester.