Photo by Alan Stephens
By Vijay Kannan
There is much to be said for traveling with students and helping them to see the opportunities that come from having a global mindset. In one month, our ‘RAT pack’ traveled through Russia, Armenia and Turkey. We visited internationally recognizable firms, such as Toyota and Coca Cola, as well as small entrepreneurial furniture and chocolate-making businesses. We learned about the realities of doing business in Russia, the challenges Armenia faces as a small land-locked country with challenging neighbors, and the opportunities Turkey has embraced as it seeks to strengthen ties with countries of the European Union and Middle East. The students made the most of every chance to learn from our hosts and embrace the opportunity they had been given. Seeing them ‘get it’ was the ultimate reward.
The trip was more than just business. We spent time at an orphanage in Armenia. Hearing the director’s vision of how he wanted to provide a home for children and give them the chance to grow was inspirational. Seeing the reality, children who were loved and cared for, was a stark contrast to some of the images in the media of orphanages in the former Soviet Union where children have little to look forward to. The energy and commitment our students showed while interacting with the children and helping with repair projects was moving. In the short time we spent, connections were made, and the entire group left wishing we could have done more.
We enjoyed a diversity of cultural experiences. Traveling by train into the heart of Russia, visiting the birthplace of Tchaikovsky and the lake that inspired Swan Lake, and seeing the ballet performed by the Russian Ballet Company in St. Petersburg were memorable and unique experiences. We experienced Russia’s “fourth of July” in a city that was once closed to foreigners. Despite temperatures in the 80s, walking through the Armenian genocide Memorial in Yerevan was a bone-chilling experience. Feeling the pain of an entire nation was a sobering experience. In contrast, experiencing Sunday morning at a fourth century church in the world’s oldest Christian country (Armenia), and the splendor of the magnificent Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, was moving in very different ways.
Most people do not experience in a lifetime what we did. To help our students do so in one month was a privilege; to see their commitment and enthusiasm, a source of pride.
Photo by Alan Stephens