Written by Dipak Kumar; iXperience '17 (Management Consulting), University of Pennsylvania '19
Yesterday, two friends and I began the trek up Table Mountain, Cape Town’s quintessential landmark. As I took the first step, I remember asking my friends how hard this was going to be. They looked back at me and smiled as if to say just enjoy the journey. In many ways, that moment reminded me of how I felt about traveling to South Africa to take part in iXperience for part of my summer. Going to South Africa and getting out of my comfort zone was something I knew I should do just like I knew that I should climb Table Mountain. At the same time, there was a lot of trepidation. I was nervous and my parents being nervous did not help either. Traveling to South Africa, by myself, would be the farthest I have ever traveled alone. Moreover, I did not know if the program would be worth it. After all, what could a summer program teach me about Management Consulting that I did not already learn from my business courses at school? Like many journeys in life though the hardest part is leaving, taking the first step. Afterwards you understand why it was the right decision.
One reason I knew I would be okay is because of the talented and caring team here at iXperience demonstrated both before and during these last few weeks. I decided to apply on a whim in late March after another opportunity fell through for the early part of my summer, but unfortunately, I missed the deadline for the earlier of the two sessions. After contacting the iXperience team, they allowed me to join the first session and even took the time out of their busy schedules to convince my parents to let me come to Africa. That level of caring and individual attention carried over to my experience in Cape Town. This blog post itself is a result of having the chance to talk to the founder of iXperience one on one about career choices. With over 200 students here this month, it was as if the Dean of the University made time for me individually, an experience that few ever get, but is common here.
Circling back to class itself, it turns out that I did learn a lot. Full disclosure - I had already been exposed to many of the concepts we learned about in class because of my major, but the difference was for the first time I got to apply them to a real world setting and now have a firmer grasp of them. Plus, we had amazing instructors. Our head instructor Anton, and our three TAs, Priyanka, Naveed, and Lynn, were all incredible individuals with amazing jobs in the consulting industry. As a bonus, they were close to our age which meant that they could relate to our worries and expectations. Each of them went out of their way to meet with us individually. A common saying about teaching is that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care." They showed they cared through their actions and effort rarely taking any free time for themselves during the day. Outside of class, without fail, they were spending time reviewing resumes, practice interviewing, or just grabbing coffee with students. I feel so much more confident about my career choice out of college and my ability to achieve that career because of them.
As great as class is, it could have been hosted anywhere, so why South Africa? I am happy to say that my time here has revealed the answer to that question. It is because South Africa is the perfect context for pushing an iXperience tenet of getting out of one’s comfort zone in terms of friendships and experiences. Let’s start with friendships. When I arrived to Cape Town, I knew one other student, but in my last week I can confidently say that I know more than a hundred. From the first day, I was put in an apartment with eight other guys, many of whom have become dear friends including the gentlemen that I hiked Table Mountain with. I have become close to my eighteen other classmates especially after spending long hours working on projects together. Informally, through dinners and excursions I have met people from Albania, the West Coast, the Midwest, the East Coast, the South, India and the list goes on. It is as if it was my first day of college again except this time we did not all have the same University to tie us together. Rather we had a shared mindset of learning, ambition, and for many a desire to change the world, the very culture of iXperience. I cannot wait to see what the power of these friendships and this network leads to in the future.
The richness of the friendships is only enhanced by the richness of the country. Ecologically, it is hard to argue that there is place more beautiful in the world than Cape Town. Every morning I try and run on the beach right outside our accommodations. In the last three weeks, I have gone surfing (for the first time) and ziplining through breathtaking locations. My friends have taken it a step further by deciding to paraglide and even skydive. Even though the locations are memorable, what is even more impactful are the people. I have had the chance to dance and play drums with the members of the Langa township. I have reflected on our shared humanity through my visit to a museum that preserves the tragedy that was apartheid and the removal of people from District Six in Cape Town in the 20th century. I have grown in health, perspective, and dare I say spirit because of my time here.
For all it must offer there is an important consideration to make before deciding to come here. The days are long and the expectations are high. This is not sitting at home and watching Netflix. Most nights we have a lot of work, sometimes even eight hours of it. If the prospect of concentrated learning, especially through work with others is energizing, this is the right program. None of the benefits I have described will materialize without effort. We have a choice here to push ourselves and like most parts of life, one gets what they put in. My only regret is that I cannot stay here longer. When I applied, I signed up for the four-week course only, instead of doing the entire eight-week program. For anyone that is thinking about applying, I highly recommend the entire program. It gives more chances to apply class learnings, but more importantly the chance to continue to develop those friendships.
While climbing up Table Mountain, my legs protested and my lungs complained, but I knew that every step made me stronger and when my friends and I finally reached the top the view was worth the journey. It was a view that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. As cliché as it sounds, that has been my iXperience. A worthwhile challenge, with rewards that will last a lifetime.