The MBA Enterprise Corp training and orientation week
I arrived at my hotel Monday night and received the info packet from MBAEC detailing our agenda for the week—a packed schedule. I had dinner and the opportunity to meet some other Corp members: Ryan and Julia who were going to Bulgaria with me, and John who is going to Angola (and turned out to be our ‘class clown’—he looks and acts a lot like Conan O’Brien.)
Tuesday morning the training began a few blocks from the hotel in a classroom at George Washington University—very nice facilities by the way. I met the two lovely young ladies with whom I had been corresponding (MBAEC staff): Phyllis and Jill, as well as the rest of the 2005 Corp: Paris (no, he’s a dude) who is also going to Bulgaria, Tom Moore who is headed to Angola with John, and is a fellow USC IMBA graduate (however, previous to this, I had only seen once—at our graduation—since he did an exchange last fall, and I was gone this spring.) Going to Romania are Amit, an Indian national from UNC, and Mike from U of Minn. Our Thunderbird graduates (generally considered the #1 international program—ahead of USC) are Norm who is going to Azerbaijan and Manish, another Indian national, who is going to Kazakhstan—or southern Siberia as he like to call it. There were other staff members from MBAEC and associated organization, most notably—for those of us going to Bulgaria—Doriana and Kamelia from VEGA-BTD in Sofia.
As expected, this is a group of sharp, highly motivated, and well-traveled young people who are either unprovoked or burned-out by high paying jobs their education and experience assure them. However—thankfully—I am not the only one who is a little ambivalent about my future, and is using this experience (granted a very valuable one) to delay an inevitable ‘real’ career.
The first lesson was understanding the organizations involved. The MBA Enterprise Corp (or MBAEC) merged with the Citizens Development Corp, which—interestingly enough—was created as a result of George H. W. Bush’s commencement speech at USC in 1990 (so I guess I am now officially one of his “thousand points of light”—make sure to simultaneously do the ‘air quotes’ and say in an exaggerated nasally voice as SNL’s Dana Carvey would do.) The CDC is funded by USAID—the government agency charged with distributing foreign aid money. However the CDC has found it necessary to align itself with other economic development organizations under the umbrella VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance.) My project will be with the Serdon Foundation—a Bulgarian business support organization (BSO)—they, in turn, are there to help out local small-to-medium size enterprises (SME.)
After a full day of meetings on Tuesday, the entire Corp and staff was invited for an evening of dining and entertainment at Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant characterized by low couches & tables, food you eat with your fingers, and—to top it all off—a belly dancer! A very interesting experience. This is apparently a famous DC establishment; the walls were filled with photos of various politicians and other celebrities with the owner (including, separately, Shimon Peres and Yassar Arafat.)
Wednesday was another full day culminating in the MBAEC Alumni Panel consisting of about 7 people who had served a term in the Corp and therefore were very helpful in letting us know what to expect. In particular there was a couple that went to Bulgaria in 1999 and were USC alums as well, not only that, but they had done the Vienna track too; they met in Austria, and are now engaged. Most of this group was now working for governmental and non-governmental agencies in DC.
When we were finally free that evening, I made a point to do a little sightseeing. I walk past the World Bank and IMF to the National Mall. There I saw the new World War II memorial that had just been opened last year, and then walked back in through a beautiful summer night past the White House.
Thursday we headed to the Mount Vernon campus of GWU for the “ropes course.” It was mildly amusing, but I was disappointed that there was no high wires, zip lines, etc. that one would expect from a ropes course.
Friday’s activities wrapped up around lunch at which Ben Posil joined us (as Tom and my classmate.) Ben drove me around town for some windshield sightseeing, after which I walked down to the mall again and briefly visited the following Smithsonian museums: American History, Natural History, and the National Gallery of Art. The Boy Scout’s National Jamboree was in town, so all the sights were overrun by teenage boys in brown uniforms.
Unlike previous visits, I really fell in love with Washington DC this time. It’s a city of neo-Greek/Roman to 19th century architecture unmarred by towering glass and steel of most modern city—very much like Vienna in that respect as Ben pointed out. It is a lively, cosmopolitan city with plenty to do and an abundance of restaurants representing every imaginable cuisine. There is a palpable energy from the transient population of bright people with interesting occupations: government leaders, foreign diplomats, those working in the national headquarters of numerous organizations, lowly interns, and students. I could see myself living and working here after the Corp.
That evening we put on our suits for a reception and dinner given for the CDC and MBAEC’s 15th anniversary. There were over 100 people in attendance, mainly from other economic development agencies in town. It was a really nice event, but it droned on a little to long; it was after 9:00 when the keynote speaker was finally done.
Saturday morning’s “working breakfast” ended at noon with admonition/pep talk from Dr. Jack Behrman—founder of the MBAEC. After this, as a group, we walked down to a liquor store in the Watergate complex to prepare for our farewell party in Mike’s palatial suite (we are still wondering how he got that) after the official farewell dinner that evening. Below is Manish trying out his new ski mask with Mike and John. We joked that with the ski mask, his dark complexion, and foreign accent he would certainly be detained at the airport as a terrorism suspect. ;-)
On Sunday some of us had a final American meal at TGIF and at 2:00pm said our goodbyes as we set off in a van to a very crowded Dulles airport. There we said goodbye to Mike and Manish (who were on different flights), and with Norm, boarded our flight to Frankfurt.