Winter Treks Combine Wildlife Adventure with Business Lessons

Dozens of Haas students spent the winter break doing more than just itching to ski on the dry, snowless hills of Tahoe. They ate caterpillars and fled hippos in Africa. They rode elephants and climbed mountains in Thailand. They camped in the rain and cruised around New Zealand in a colorful van. And that’s not the half of it.

When they weren’t having a purely adventurous time in Cuba, Colombia, and Uruguay, some students picked up a business skill or two along their routes. Above all, the trekkers reported that their sometimes harrowing travels gave them the opportunity to bond with fellow Haasies in ways they never got a chance to in class.


Sunset in Chobe National Park.

Michael Nurick, MBA 14, teamed up with classmate Nivani Govinder, also MBA 14, who hails from Durban, South Africa, to plan the Haasfrica 2014 trek for 42 classmates and some friends. For Nurick, it was a way to rediscover the country his family has called home for many generations. 

Nurick, the son of South African immigrants, grew up in the United States and hadn’t visited his parents’ native land since 1989, when the apartheid government still ruled and the late Nelson Mandela was still in jail.  

“I learned about parts of my family’s past that really struck me," says Nurick. "I plan to apply for dual citizenship in case there is ever an opportunity for me to do business in South Africa, and make myself a part of South Africa’s story.”

In addition to crafting an itinerary with life- and perspective-changing experiences, Nurick and Govinder wanted the trip to supplement their business education. In Cape Town, the group met with two Haas alumni living in South Africa. Gideon Granville, MBA 04, hosted the group at Woolworths Financial Services. Then the group visited the  Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town GSB to discuss some of their social-impact initiatives. And Haas student Grant Takahashi, MBA 14, arranged for a visit to a nonprofit called Happy Feet in a Cape Town township.

Students also had plenty of opportunities to sample local cuisine, enjoying South African braai—BBQ—in Soweto, not to mention the crocodile and caterpillar they sampled elsewhere. They got up close and personal with elephants, played with lion cubs, celebrated the new year in the South African bush, and even had their boat chased by a hippo.


Cuba: Lee Jacobs, Maya Tobias, Rebecca Grubman, Tammy Guo, Patrick Lavender, Molly Bode, Erica Bliss, Emily Hahn.

Seven Haas students traveled to Cuba as part of an independent study of the Cuba health care system, for which they received one school credit.

The group, including many students working on joint MBA/MPH degrees, met doctors, visited a community-based clinic, and talked to an American medical student who compared and contrasted the two medical systems in Cuba and the United States.

“We conducted interviews with almost everyone we met and got a very diverse perspective on the health care system,” says Maya Tobias, MBA/MPH 14.

Of course, Tobias said, talking to Cubans and learning about their culture and country was a huge highlight of the trip—even if it meant learning about the “incredibly low wages” Cubans earn, such as janitors, who average $7 a month and entry-level doctors, who average $30 a month.


Laguna del Dorado, Guatavita, Colombia.

Lina Cardozo Medina, MBA 14, led a dozen Haas classmates through Colombia to tour the countryside and dispel misconceptions about her native land.

“I can't describe with words how amazing it was to bring this group of Haasies to beautiful Colombia,” says Cardoza Medina. “Two decades ago, many things crossed people's minds when talking about Colombia: cocaine, drug cartels, and violence. Today, those who hadn't visited before can't stop talking about how amazing Colombia's biodiversity is, how friendly Colombians are, and how fun each day was they spent in Cartagena, Bogota, and Medellin.”

Nine members of the group also braved a wet, treacherous climb to visit a cloud forest. “A cold rain, a freezing stream of ice pellets fell on us in waves,” says Kory Vargas Caro, MBA 15. “The flow of liquid hypothermia rushed down stronger and faster. Haasies have a sick way of choosing death before quitting, so we pushed on."


Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Brendan Shanahan, MBA 15, led the Haas Southeast Asia trek through Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where the purpose of the trip was to see cultural sights, relax, have fun, and bond.

During the height of the trip, the group included 53 students and partners in Vietnam, which, luckily, four trek mates managed to visit only after convincing airline officials to get them into the country despite having the wrong date on their visas.

And that wasn't the only mishap. A fellow Haas trekker was stung by a bee during a bike ride through the countryside. He swerved and fell hard, requiring 13 stitches to his chin. He went to the hospital alone, refusing to ruin the trip for any classmates and never complaining. “He really, to me, represented the amazing principles that make Haas great,” Shanahan says.

South America
Punta del Este.

Twenty-five Haas students traveled to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil this winter break with the sole mission of seeing “some of the greatest parts of South America,” says Bill Blaustein, MBA 15. The group rang in the New Year in Punta del Este, Uruguay, where Haas students Federico Merino and Rodrigo Sanchez Prandi, both MBA 15, hosted a 150-guest party that included 30 Haas students and five alums.

A more sobering, poignant moment came when the team bonded from working together to scale the “magically” beautiful, but extremely steep Pedra da Gavea, the largest rock mountain in South America.

New Zealand
Brandon Cato, Chip Malt (top of car), Eric Miller, Matt Gunderson (in window), and Brian Canty stand by their van, which they named “Jeffrey.”

Chip Malt, MBA 15, led an adventurous winter break trip to New Zealand and Fiji, where a group of five students rented a van and drove south to Milford Sound, at the very south of the South Island, and then to Christchurch, before flying to Fiji to scuba dive. Malt was joined by Matt Gunderson, Brandon Cato, Eric Miller, Brian Canty, all MBA 15.

The group rafted through glow-worm caves, ice-climbed a glacier, mountain biked and bungy jumped, and dove with 35 bull sharks. The trip, however, got to a damp start when the students arrived in Tongariro National Park to set up camp in an absolute downpour. “It was a team effort, but no one complained, and we ended up having a pretty funny time stuck in the tent all night. soaked," Malt says. “It was a good bonding moment.”

Brian Canty, MBA 15, in New Zealand.