This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NIBS Competition

So, first progress report.
A reward after 15+ hours of
traveling: Our first European coffees
After our 43-hour day starting Friday in Nashville, taking us to NYC, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Brussels, and ending in our hotel late Saturday night - 2am Rotterdam time, we stayed in for the most part and caught up on some much-needed rest on Sunday.

Or, rather, my teammates caught up on some rest while I sat in the lobby studying all day for an exam I thought I would have to take online this week.  (As unpleasant as it might seem, three good things have actually come of that... 1) I met that really neat Dutch journalist while I was alone in the lobby, reading; 2) A lot of the principles in my strategic management book were solidified in my head, and have actually been quite useful in the case competition; and 3) My wonderful Strategic Management professor agreed to allow me to take the test when I return instead of online -- so I studied for several hours with the urgency of an impending test date and now find myself thinking about the material from time to time, letting it sink it, and feel that with some more revision I will be well prepared for the exam!)

The first day of the competition was stressful, especially since we didn't know quite what to expect, and it turns out that European case competitions are quite different from American ones in many ways. There is a huge emphasis here on the format and structure of the presentation, rather than the idea.  Judges want to see detailed implementation and contingency plans over everything else, and are less appreciative of creative, innovative solutions than their American counterparts. In the head-to-head rounds of this competition, the panel of judges has a total of 11 points to split between the two teams.  We lost our first round (3-8) to the best team here, who gave an incredible presentation. The positive side of this is that by watching them we immediately had a great example of excellence that my teammates and I were able to use in restructuring our own style and approach.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A promenade through Brussels' downtown café district

Follow me for a short walk through the tourist-saturated back alley ways of downtown Brussels, only a few blocks from le Grand Place.  I can't remember a more beautiful, sunny day in Belgium!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Curious Encounters of the Traveling Kind

There are some legitimately fascinating people out there, and it seems I never fail to meet some of the most interesting, friendly, and eccentric ones during my travels.  Our group of five just navigated a transatlantic flight, then trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, then to Brussels, then back to Rotterdam. Check out some of our most memorable encounters of the past 48 hours...

The Well-traveled English Expat
Spotted: Filling up her water bottle at the airport drinking fountain, outfitted in Nike from head to toe.  Turns out she lived in Amsterdam for several years, traveled India, and now works at Nike global headquarters in Portland (Oregon), in Event Management.
Why she stood out: She was so sweet and encouraging; was genuinely interested in the details of our case study and the competition we were headed to.  I can't help but think that our mutual love of Oregon was a bonding factor :)

Typical American Tourists?
The setting: We rush onto the JFK-Amsterdam flight with just seconds to spare. Luckily I'm in an aisle seat. Two native New Yorker guys in their late twenties are already sitting in the seats next to mine, outfitted in comfy sweat pants, playing Uno and licking pink heart-shaped lollipops.
Behind the scenes: I finally asked about the pink lollipops, and was informed that, in fact, they were marijuana-pops... To make a long story short, they were quite relaxed and pleasant passengers; I won several games of Uno and the six and a half-hour flight was interesting. Also, thanks to these guys' ordering of multiple jack & cokes, vodka and rum, I learned that alcoholic drinks are free on KLM international flights.
True story: These two guys both have pretty good jobs in accounting & finance in NYC, and they were en route to a 4-day weekend in Amsterdam, where they were meeting up with old college friends.  Hitting up coffee shops and bars seemed to be the main priority, and, unfortunately, I have a feeling they won't remember much of this expensive weekend.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A First Taste of the Coffee Industry

A new adventure starts Friday morning when we leave Nashville, headed for Amsterdam.  A busy first weekend includes a train trip to Brussels to Saturday.  The NIBS competition kicks off with a welcome banquet Sunday night.  Much to be excited about!

I'm scrambling to get next week's assignments into my professors' inboxes tonight before I leave -- the last thing I want to worry about is trying to connect to the internet in a foreign country while under pressure to get my work in on time.

Now about this trip...
We just had our pre-departure briefing for Guatemala this morning.  It was so neat to have Bob Bernstein, owner of beloved Belmont Blvd coffee shop Bongo Java, tell us about his experience starting a fair trade coffee cooperative several years ago to buy coffee directly from small-scale farmers -- although he doesn't use the term "fair trade" anymore because "it's been bastardized," as he puts it.  Most people refer only to price when talking about fair trade requirements, but it's so much more than that, says Bob.

Bob has a lot of thought-provoking ideas and experiences to share with us, especially in regards to responsible sourcing for coffee sellers, so you'll read more about this as I think about our discussion throughout the trip. What really caught me off guard, though, was this: Of all the coffee-growing and -producing communities Bob has visited during his travels, Ethiopia is the only coffee-drinking community. In all of the other coffee-growing communities, the bean might be the region's biggest economic driver, but it's final product is not enjoyed there.  

Some of the reasons coffee isn't so popular -- or good-tasting -- in Guatemala?  Uneven and inconsistent roasting, and the inability to get water hot enough for a good-quality brew present major challenges. And of course all the best coffee gets exported, so what stays in Guatemala is definitely not the cream of the crop. Bob's cooperative is now working to help coffee farmers in Guatemala improve their equipment so that they can taste their coffee. 

I can't wait to explore Guatemala and experience the entire tree-to-bean-to-latte process!

In other news: I was honored to be nominated by my peers to Belmont's Homecoming Court last week, and even though I wasn't crowned Homecoming Queen, it was so much fun participating! (In fact, I didn't even know that we had a homecoming court in college, so the entire event was a surprise.) My friend Rami was also nominated, so here we are walking out on the court together at halftime of Belmont's Men's Basketball Homecoming game last Friday night!  

Photo courtesy Belmont University

Friday, February 17, 2012

The one thing you can control

I just saw this on Facebook and cringed. This is so NOT my philosophy in life and, in fact, I think it's wrong on so many levels.  If you want to live on an emotional roller coaster and allow yourself to be ruled by the whims of others, subscribe to the perspective espoused below....

But notice that many individuals whom society regards as successful, fulfilled, and positively influential have taken the opposite approach:

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Je viens de trouver ce petit essaie que j'ai écrit au but de mon séjour à Bruxelles.  C'est incroyable que ça fait déjà presque 5 ans que j'ai quitté la Belgique, mais j'ai eu la bonne chance de rendre visite déjà une fois - l'année passée - et j'y rentre dans deux semaines!

Cela est un bon reflection sur le temps passé là-bas; je pense que c'est évident que c'est voyage à été pendant une période tellement important pour le développement personnel et confiance en soi.

« Je descends de l’avion avec tous les autres. Je suis prête avec mon passeport et mon visa. Après plus de vingt heures sur l’avion il me semblait que le moment n’arriverait jamais. Mais voilà, je suis là. Fatiguée, même épuisée, j’essaie de garder un esprit d’aventure. 
Sortant du bureau de la douane, je rentre dans une salle pleine de gens qui semblent parler mille langues différentes, dont je ne connais aucune. Un groupe m’approche, ils me rattrapent, ils m’embrassent chacun à son tour. Je suis surprise, étonnée : pourquoi sont-ils aussi intimes ? Je ne les jamais vus auparavant ! Je compte huit personnes, ce doit être ma nouvelle famille. Ils semblent sympas, mais je ne comprends qu’un ou deux mots de chaque phrase. Après quelques minutes je les suis dehors. Dans le parking je suis perdue. Je vois des milliers de voitures, toutes tellement petites qu’elles paraissent appartenir à une maison de poupée, à un monde de poupée. C’est quoi ces marques ? J’ai l’impression d’être sur une autre planète. 
En voiture je me retrouve coincée entre deux sièges d’enfant. Les petits s’énervent quand je ne réponds pas aux deux cents questions qu’ils me lancent toutes à la fois. J’essaie de réciter quelque chose, n’importe quoi suffirait à ce point, mais ils s’ennuient et commencent à se chamailler. Cela fait 35 heures que je n’ai pas dormi, et ma maison, ma famille, ma vie semblent être à l’autre bout du monde. »

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Women: Natural Entrepreneurs?

The author of a blog dedicated to earning passive income online recently wrote about the strength of women entrepreneurs in a post titled Why Women Do So Well Starting Businesses.  I can't find a name on the site, but judging by the site design, content, and writing style, I'm guessing this blogger is male.

He claims women are predisposed to be great "entrepreneurettes" -- as I've dubbed them -- for several reasons.

  1. Historically women have been independent (managing the home alone) while men have been off working in groups (hunting, fighting, etc.)
    ....he seems to be asserting that self-starting is now in our genes or social fabric.
  2. Women are more comfortable asking for help.
  3. Women are more accustomed to tasks that are "meticulous and repetitive."
    The author cites food preparation and sewing. I think a better description is "detail oriented."
  4. Women have more experience facing adversity
The underlying thesis is that all of the above traits or skills are useful and/or necessary to start and run a business.  My question for other women: What do you think of this blogger's assessment?  What other gender-specific traits or experiences present advantages or disadvantages for women entrepreneurs?

Empty Me

"...of the selfishness inside, every vain ambition, and the poison of my pride..."

Empty Me by Chris Sligh on Grooveshark

Friday, February 03, 2012

Next Stop: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Almost exactly one year since I last visited Holland, I'll touch down once again in the flat, beautiful, windmill-dotted lowlands just three weeks from today.  My arrival in the Netherlands will mark the beginning of a multi-continental voyage sure to be filled with adventure, challenges, camaraderie, and memorable experiences.

In case you didn't hear...

Belmont University has a team that has qualified for the final round of the 2012 Network of International Business Schools (NIBS) Worldwide Case competition in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
College of Business Administration students Ayesha Ghaffar, Rami Nofal, Jordan Holt and Shirah Foy will compete at the Kralingse Zoom in Rotterdam from Feb. 26 to March 2. They are among the “10 best teams in the world”  who will face off at NIBS to come up with solutions for a strategic business problem. Each team will have four hours to prepare a case without outside help. Their presentations will be assessed by a jury of professional and academic experts.
This will be the second international business case competition for Belmont’s team, which previously participated in the Eighth Annual Center for International Business Education and Research Case Challenge in October.
Click here to read more on the 2012 NIBS Worldwide Case competition.
I have had the pleasure to work with one of my teammates, Rami Nofal, over the past few years as we've helped build up Belmont's International Business Society.  Rami is our team's macro-economic specialist, while Ayesha is the finance whiz, Jordan brings great marketing skills and creative thinking, and I'm the "pull it all together" person.  It's been so much fun working with all of them, and I'm so excited that our wonderful, always-encouraging faculty advisor, Dr. Marieta Velikova, will be accompanying us to the finals!

There is much more than scholarly activities on the itinerary - this is sure to be an amazing networking opportunity, filled with sightseeing, great conversations, myriad learning experiences, and international business exposure.  What a neat opportunity to participate in such a competition during my last semester!
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