Dean in China

Dean is a University Scholar and a senior accounting major in the Cox School of Business. In summer 2011, he is traveling to Hong Kong with the SMU-in-China Business program to get a firsthand look at modern China’s unique culture and business practices. He says he also plans to do some touring (and attempt to get by without knowing a single word of Chinese …)

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Hong Kong, the fragrant harbor

Lei ho! [Hello!] Thanks for taking a look at my blog about studying business abroad in China! We arrived in Hong Kong a couple of days ago after a flight that was extremely long but quickly made itself worthwhile. Even while still inside the airport, we were immediately treated outside the windows to a view of majestic, fog-shrouded mountains jutting up out of the cityscape. It was instantly clear that we weren’t in Kansas (read: Texas) anymore!

The taxi ride out gave us views of more mountains and sparkling bays. We soon arrived at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first sign that this college experience would be different from SMU was how vertical the campus is. The whole thing is on a mountain, and getting around requires either waiting for a bus or taking a lot of stairs in the humid summer heat. However, this also gives us some gorgeous views of the city from just about anywhere on campus.

After settling in, we got oriented: we were shown around campus and given a few items we’d need, like subway passes. We were then treated to a crash course in actual Chinese food (which, it turns out, isn’t quite like Pei Wei or Panda Express!). Of special mention among all the foods brought out for us was one called the dragon fruit (which is easily the coolest-ever name for a fruit): red skin on the outside, with an inside somewhat like a grey watermelon with small black seeds. Though nearly tasteless, it was very juicy and quite refreshing! Not quite like fruits I’ve ever seen in the States.

Exploration

After visiting a rather crowded mall, we purchased some phones with local numbers. After swapping numbers around, we were turned loose for the afternoon. Several of us banded together to strike out into the city with no particular goal other than to take it all in.

One thing I noticed as we traipsed about was how much English there is in Hong Kong. As a former British colony, English is a prevalent language here, and while Cantonese is the main language, many people speak at least some English, and just about every sign carries an English translation of the Cantonese characters. As only one person in our study abroad group speaks any Chinese, this was something we were all quite grateful for!

We eventually made our way to a street called the Avenue of Stars, which was basically the Hong Kong equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Stars, with star-shaped plaques in the ground with the names and handprints of Hong Kong film stars. We mostly stopped to fawn over the stars of Hong Kong action movie stars and a statue of Bruce Lee.

More captivating, however, was the view from the Avenue of Stars. From there, we could look across the river and see Hong Kong Island, and the amazing view of the skyline was something we spent a good amount of time admiring.

Learning about business

After some well-earned rest, our second day began with class. Our professor, Mr. Ahlstrom, is originally American and has been teaching in Asia for around 15 years. After talking to us about what it had been like for him to live and work in Asia, we set about learning about managerial concepts of strategy and the five forces that shape competition.

This lesson was immediately reinforced when we got a chance to hear about it being put to use in the real world, as our afternoon activity was a visit to the Asian headquarters of Caterpillar, the makers of construction machinery. There, we were fortunate enough to be greeted by several of the top executives of Caterpillar’s Asian branch. They gave us a presentation about how Caterpillar came to enter the market in China, their ever-evolving strategy to continually improve Cat’s position in the Asian market, and the impossible-to-overstate importance of the China market to the company today. Much of their strategy tied back to applying the basics we had learned in class earlier in the day. They were also willing to answer many questions from us about doing business in China’s unique market and culture, and from it we gleaned much valuable insight, making it a rather successful trip! (And if the people from Caterpillar are reading this, thanks so much for having us! It was awesome!)

We rounded out the day with a trip to Victoria Peak. We took a tram up the mountain, ascending far above the city. It stopped in a tower, and we slowly worked our way up through the multitude of interesting shops to reach the top, where we found an absolutely breathtaking view of the city in the light of the waning sun, just as the lights began to come on for the night. We were then treated to a little show called the Symphony of Lights, an event held each night where many buildings in the city all spend a few minutes rhythmically flashing their lights together, which made for a mesmerizing sight. Even after that was over, we all couldn’t help but stay up there and look out over Hong Kong, and think on how incredible it’s already been to be here. And there’s still nearly a whole month of adventures to come!

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