Year in review (kind of)

Yet again I’ve managed to go an entire academic year without posting. It is june and I am one month away from graduating with a Masters in General Management from the Vlerick Business School in Belgium. I don’t intend for this to be a wrap up of the year but I do have to say that it has been interesting, informative and worth it. I believe I chose the right school at the right time. It’s recent rebranding fit with what I was looking for in a school and the name and network has given me something to connect with in this country. I have also received the education, both academic and experiential, that I was looking for. While one can always want and expect more, I was looking for the tools and thoughts of the business world and I am pretty sure I got what I sought.

Of course its not like me to stray to far from the things the interest me. So for my final internship with the school, I approached a professor and director of the Forum for Social Entrepreneurship. While I don’t want to say to much, I found a project that fit perfectly. I developed strategy, used past experience, learned from others and am pumping out a business plan for the Forum. Simultaneously identifying the resources of the school that could be used for social entrepreneurship, finding ways to involve the students, and convincing the school it needs to be done has been a great experience. I have learned much about social entrepreneurship in Belgium and am as excited as every about the leveraging of resources and development of strategies that incorporate and integrate positive societal and environmental impact into their activities and structure. Things are going well, I’m learning lots and the world keeps right on going!

Below are a few images to describe a bit about the year:

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Hult Prize, London

In March I went to London with a group of MBAs and another Masters student to compete in the Hult Prize. This is a social entrepreneurship accelerator challenge (like a social enterprise business plan competition) where teams compete in creating a social enterprise that addresses the specific challenge chosen that year. For our year it was Urban Food Insecurity. It was a great experience and my first time in London!

Shelterbox Response Team Training, Cornwall, England

IMG_06442013 was the first time I’d been to England and I somehow ended up there twice. I went to Cornwall for the last of the training to become a Shelterbox Response team member. I spent a blog worthy week out in the rain, nearly 100km wind and hail to finally become an SRT! We’ll see how it works schedule wise but I am happy to finally be a part of the team.

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And a whole lot of school!

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Good ol’ ‘s morgens in Belgium

Not all mornings are created equal. Wait, that’s not true, all mornings are beautiful and enriching and invigorating (yes mornings can be invigorating,) the problem is, we are not all created equal. Being a self proclaimed morning person, to the chagrin of my girlfriend, I enjoy mornings. I enjoy being awake and drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. For me, mornings are usually the most productive times of my week. That being said, I realize I don’t always enjoy mornings to the fullest. I wake up, I drink my coffee, read the news and do things until something else leads me to go outside. By then (seeing as school the first week doesn’t have morning sessions) the day is totally transformed. So this morning as I ventured out at 8:30 am on a nice sunny Belgian morning, I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘man, I love mornings.’

( I apologize to those of you who wake up between 5-6am every morning for work and read that and felt a small amount of bitterness festering on their tongue.)

Ik ben terug in België!

Belgian weather has been in full force since I’ve returned. 90˚-100˚ F  (30˚-40˚C) days, combining only with a few rather serious showers. One of which, I happen to be caught in one fine morning while biking to the train station, luckily (due to my REI jacket) it only looked like I went waist deep into a pool.

I began my time back in Belgium with a one month intensive Dutch course. The ILT (part of the KU Leuven) offers Dutch courses for all levels, as well as the occasional intensive course. It was only level two, but it went really well. I have been using the language more and more with my girlfriend and her family, which for me has been phenomenal practice. They are patient and supportive, allowing me to use the language in such a destructively incorrect way, that I can learn! The biggest detriment or barrier to learning a language, is ones own embarrassment and the assumption that you, the speaker, look and sound like an idiot (which is unfortunately true, but not important, because ‘those who mind, don’t matter, and those who matter, don’t mind’ – Bernard Baruch via Dr. Seuss.)

We flourish in our language learning abilities at a young age because we are brazen and experimental, we throw back what the world has thrown at us and we do it enough times that after a while we finally get it right. If you want to learn a language you have to pretend you are three years old; constantly stammer intelligibly (that’s called practice) and be curious about everything around you, point at objects and say what you think they are called, only to be corrected by those nearby, there is no better way to learn.

As for school. Returning to begin my one year Masters in General Management, I was met with a pleasant surprise. The school I am attending had gone through a rebranding process over the summer, and made a few wise decisions. Most importantly, they changed the name from (ridiculously long name with two cities in the title) to the Vlerick Business School. Simple and to the point. This is more true to the spirit of the school and the direction it is going; approval given.

The school is becoming the leading Business School in the heart of Europe. With a new campus opening in Brussels, the school has campuses in Belgium (Ghent, Leuven,) Russia (St. Petersburg,) and an MBA program in China (Beijing.) I am proud to be part of the school and excited for the upcoming year. My goal is to use a traditional management/business education and focus those skills learned on the Disaster Relief sector. I believe there is much to learn from the business world that can, is and will be applied to non profit sectors, especially Disaster Relief and Management.

Ghent Campus (I study at the Leuven Campus, not this one!)


And she’s off!

My sister has recently taken flight and landed in the formerly prosperous continent of Europe! She is part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and will be spending the year in Portugal. Talking to her before she left, seeing photos of her new family life and reading her brand new blog (which I fully recommend you all follow! http://aventuras-em-portugal.tumblr.com/) brings me back to the first days of Argentina. Youth exchange (particularly between 17-20 years old) is really something I believe everyone should take part in. And not just a few months, I’m talking about a solid year.

I’m super excited for my sister and really can’t wait to hear the stories, her Portuguese and just partake in the joy and discovery that only comes by sending youth to far off foreign continents.

She’s also inspired me to blog, seeing as I am (as usual) pretty far behind in my updates. So, with that said, expect an update to soon follow!

 

If you’re interested in Rotary Youth Exchange http://www.rotary.org/en/studentsandyouth/youthprograms/rotaryyouthexchange/Pages/ridefault.aspx

Scarlett in Portugal

http://aventuras-em-portugal.tumblr.com/


Shelterbox Assessment Weekend

This summer I completed the second phase of the Shelterbox Response Team member recruitment process. It took place in the hills surrounding Grenoble, France. It was a beautiful location, mist covered the valley in the morning and everything surrounding us was green, up until the snow covered peaks of the Alps. The assessment process had a few distinct parts, but as part of the weekend assessment is being able to deal with different situations in want of information, I’m not going to go too much into detail.

There were 16 applicants from all around the world. As expected, Europe made up the largest portion of the group, English, French, Italian and Norwegian in particular. Many of the people were living in a foreign country at the moment, which seemed to make sense, as this position (to me) attracts people with a less than sedentary life style. The group also had people from Turkey, Egypt and two Americans (myself included.)

Some of the group were Rotarians who were supporters of Shelterbox. They spoke of often giving presentations and speeches on Shelterbox but felt they needed to know more of what goes into the relief effort and about the people who would be deployed. I think this is a great way for Rotarians to better understand the program and understand for themselves (and share) what is most needed by Shelterbox.

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The weekend tested our navigation, communication and team skills. This was done through exercises, questions, role-playing and more. Understandably, the ability to be self-sustaining, motivated, calm under pressure and persistent were heavily emphasized. Shelterbox needs applicants who bring the necessary fundamentals, and only need to learn the specifics of the program. Shelterbox is a ‘small’ organization with a very large reach and impact, the money is spent efficiently and the work done precisely. SRT’s (Shelterbox Response Team members) are very well trained and continually kept up to date as to the most recent training, but in order to be as efficient as possible as an organization, they need to choose the people that already exhibit the qualities needed of an SRT.

I was fortunate enough to receive a message letting me know that I had been accepted to participate in the third phase of the assessment process. This is a nine day training course in the UK. After that I will set my availability for deployment and will be sent out. Only after a successful first deployment does one official become an SRT.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that I am about to begin a Masters in General Management in Belgium, I will be unable to complete the upcoming training, but I am hoping to participate in the following which is offered at the beginning of next year and I know that my education in Management will only add to what I can contribute to Shelterbox. It was very exciting for me to be closer to my goal of becoming an SRT and playing a role in the Shelterbox organization.


A city of cemeteries and roses: Sarajevo

To many, it may seem like the last few months I have been all over the place, so let me fill you in a little bit about where I’ve been and why. First was an amazing trip to Switzerland over Easter. My girlfriends brother lives in Nendaz, so we drove there Friday night, had a beautiful few days on the mountain (my first real time snowboarding!) and headed back the following Tuesday. I joke that it will be the cheapest Switzerland trip I will ever make. We bought food for the trip in Belgium before we left, drove in a friends car and stayed at the brothers apartment. The only real cost was the ski lift.

Switzerland was just as beautiful as people say. And for me it was the sheer amount of peaks and snow filled valleys that amazed me. Also to be on the mountains, seeing them up close and from a different perspective was exciting. I’ve seen many many mountains but have only had a few opportunities to be on them so high up.

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The next trip I made was for visa reasons, meaning I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t necessary but I also had an amazing time. As I’ve attempted to explain before, as an American in Europe I have a tourist visa (technically there is actually no visa) for 90 days. But I can use those 90 days however I want within a 6 month window, beginning from the time I land in Europe. My 90 days would have expired on May 6th, but I have an interview/assessment with Shelterbox May 11-13th so I needed to leave ‘Europe’ (the Schengen Visa Region) for a week or so, then I would be able to stay longer for Shelterbox.

So I found the cheapest flight Ryan Air had outside of the Schengen and off I flew to Zadar, Croatia. But knowing me, I didn’t stop there and after a night in Zadar I took a bus to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I had always wanted to visit the Balkans and really understand better the region and the war that ravished it, and being so close, I couldn’t resist. Like all of us, I’ve read the history books, seen the news stories and documentaries, but the Balkans/Yugoslav wars just never really made total sense to me (kind of like many types of Math, still to this day.) But being there was amazing and really allowed me to get a better grip and understanding of the complexity of the conflict and justifications (as ridiculous as they may have been) for war.

I am by no means an expert in this subject and am only going to say a short bit on the history, please read more from real sources! and I’ll also put a link to a great NY Times article that discusses the wars and the consequences of the peace.

Post WWII Yugoslavia was a communist country that comprised of several different ‘republics and provinces,’ including: Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. The president, Josip Broz Tito, who himself had background of mixed nations (mother was Slovenian, father Serbian and he was born in Croatia) was able to balance the  US (west) and Soviet Union to create a fairly stable economy and standard of living (of course this can be debated, but the nostalgia for that era is heavy.) With his death and the gaining of the presidency by Slobodan Milošević (pronounced Miloshevich), a pro Serbian nationalist, the multinational federation began to fall apart. Milošević wanted a greater Serbia, while the other republics both feared Serbian expansion and wanted their own ‘greater’ lands. The first war was with Slovenia, and lasted only around 10 days, the second was with Croatia and lasted roughly a year. These wars were fought mainly using the Yugoslav army (dominated and controlled by Serbs) against the local defense forces (croatian or slovenian) if they existed. Now on to Bosnia. Bosnia was the most culturally mixed republic in the area. It had large populations of Bosnian Croats (Roman Catholic,) Bosnian Serbs (Eastern Orthodox,) and Bosniaks (Muslims.) The communities were very intermixed and there was very little ethno-national tension ( Caveat: I say ethno-national when I really should say religious-nationalist. This is a very hard distinction to understand. All the people in the region are decedents of Slavic tribes, speak the same language and only differ in historical influences, culture and religion. The Croatians, Croats, were influenced by the Roman Catholic expansion and became Roman Catholic, the Bosniaks by the Ottoman Empire and became Muslim and the Serbians by the Byzantine Empire and became Eastern Orthodox, to simplify things.) The religious and cultural tensions were very much suppressed during the communist era, only to be ignited by politicians during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In 1992, as Bosnia held a referendum on independence, Serbian troops had surrounded the Capital of Sarajevo (it sits in the bottom of a valley surrounded by hills). When the referendum was passed and independence was declared, the Serbians began to fire on and bomb the city.

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Sarajevo from Above

The seige of Sarajevo lasted for three and a half years. The city was surrounded by Serbian troops who in the end killed over 11,000 people. Sarajevo had no army, no real weapons, and had to build civilian defense groups, and come together as a community in order to survive. They spent 3 1/2 years living in basements, darting across streets and always in fear of being killed. The city is still filled with cemeteries that popped up in all available spaces, school yards, soccer fields, parks, anywhere they could to respectfully bury the dead. It is also filled with roses, or what they call ‘Sarajevo Roses.’ These are places where Mortar shells hit, killing three or more people. They’ve filled in the crater and shrapnel holes with red paint as a memorial to the war and those who died.

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Park filled with old and new cemeteries

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Sarajevo Rose

These roses were all around the city. A few times, while looking at something I looked down to find myself standing on top of one of the roses, shocked as I thought about how the people who died were standing in this spot, and how out of no where, everything ended for them.

It was also a very beautiful and interesting place. With rich history from the time the Ottomans established the town, to the Austro-Hungarian empire and the assassanation of Franz Ferdinand near the Latin Bridge, to the present day. It has a wonderful Ottoman influenced old town with many beautiful mosques and even the oldest public WC in Europe. There are also many Austro-Hungarian buildings built during their rule over the land and the less beautiful communist section of the ‘new’ city. I did a few tours (which I normally don’t do but there was no way I would have learned so much so quickly without them) and really became enamored of the city, its past and future. (if you are going to Sarajevo, please do this tour www.sarajevowalkingtours.com definitely worth it!)

The next city I visited in Bosnia was Mostar. The place with the beautiful old bridge, Stari Most, as most people know it.

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Mostar experienced a shorter war, but no less fierce. Here fighting was between the expanding Croatian republic and the Bosnians. The war saw families who had gotten along for generations split apart and a town which is still segregated to this day.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DAYTON PEACE ACCORDS READ THIS ARTICLE!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/opinion/dayton-ended-the-killing-but-bosnia-still-needs-fixing.html?_r=1&ref=world

Mostar is a beautiful old city with a rebuilt ‘old’ bridge (it survived hundreds of years and two world wars but was destroyed during the Yugoslav wars.) I stayed at a great hostel called Hostel Miturno, which I highly recommend but unfortunately only had an evening and a day there.

CROATIA 

After a week in Bosnia, I went back to Split, Croatia to spend the weekend with my girlfriend before flying home.

(ATTENTION: Ryan Air has flights from Belgium to Croatia for as low as 10€.Seriously, thats dangerous…)

We went the island of Brac and stayed on a beautiful beach, Zlatni Rat, for the day and also did a great sailing trip before hoping on a plane back to Belgium.

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Croatia was beautiful, Bosnia was fascinating and in the end, I get to stay in Europe long enough to do the second assessment for Shelterbox, not a bad week.


Een pintje alsjeblieft…

Again, long overdue for an update as to where I am and what I’m doing. I’ve hesitated posting because I feel its only fair to post when things are new and exciting. And while my recent location change is exciting, my activities are more of a build up to this fall. So now let me explain.

I am currently living in Leuven, Belgium. It is a great little city about twenty minutes from Brussels. It holds one of the oldest universities in the world, the KU Leuven. The university dominates and is spread throughout the city, really creating a student vibe that I haven’t seen before (granted I’ve never lived in a real university town anywhere.) So for some of you it may seem strange that I have found myself in Europe, for others who have given up on predicting where I will be next, it may seem slightly expected. To make a long story (really a pretty long story) short, I am here to study and to be with my girlfriend, who is Belgian and studying here as well. We first met in Argentina while on Youth Exchange (thanks Rotary) and had kept in touch since then. After both of us spending this past year hopping on planes to jump continents multiple times to see each other, we decided we should be in the same city. She is finishing a second degree near Leuven and I was in a place in my life were a masters is what was lacking to move to the next level. After deciding not to continue working in Kenya, I found a great Management School in Leuven, (The Vlerick Leuven Gent School of Management.) It is the autonomous management/business school of the KU Leuven and the University of Gent. I will be doing a one year Masters in General Management on the Leuven Campus. In order to be accepted in to the school I had to complete a full day entrance exam, and after almost being able to take one Nairobi, it ended up being that I would have to come out to Belgium. And here I am.

 I spent the first few weeks studying for the exam, which apparently I passed with flying colors (although I was almost certain everything would fall through and I wouldn’t get in!) And since then have been talking Dutch classes three times a week, playing roller hockey with a local team and working on a number of small projects. It is a great time for me to focus on the language, because I know that once I begin at Vlerick I’ll no longer be able to study Dutch, but it is a language I want to learn if I am going to spend a significant amount of time here. I am also able to catch up with a lot that I’ve been putting off for a while.

 I have to return to the States mid May in order to get my Student Visa (which unfortunately you can only get from your home country) and then will return around mid July. The last thing I will do in Europe is attend the second assessment round to become a Shelter Box Response Team Member. I successfully passed the first round earlier this year, which consisted of an application and interview with a number of Shelter Box SRT’s. Unfortunately due to my travel plans I wont be able to due the second phase in the US, but there is one offered in May in Grenoble, France. Whether its for better or worse, my visa expires a few days before the assessment, but I will be able to leave the Schengen Region for a week and then I will get those days as extra days I can stay in Europe (and therefore complete the assessment in France.)

 This second phase will test our physical ability. They want to see if we can handle the physical and emotional stress that comes with being a Shelter Box Response Team Member. I am excited both for the test and to be able to move on to the third round. If all goes well I would go on my first deployment after I complete my Masters (because obviously during my study I won’t have time to leave.)

 For those of you who are curious, I am really enjoying Belgium. I think it is a fascinating country, it blows me away that it is so overlooked, although I think this is partly the Belgians fault. I hear a lot about the negatives here (the weather sucks, no one learns the language, there aren’t any hills, there’s nothing different or exciting….) but there is such much to be proud of and inspired by. Belgium has a super complicated and interesting political structure, a mind blowing amount of linguistic tension and a people that are some of the most practical, attentive and intelligent that I have ever met. It is also true that I am talking about Flanders and the Flemish (the northern half) having not yet been to the south, Wallonia. But that is also interesting, that within such a small country there are such different cultures, language and ways of life. Many places around the world have immense linguistic and culture diversity, but few places have the diversity, tension and challenges that come with it, yet simultaneously succeed in preserving the diversity while also projecting an incredible influence on the world (and not really telling anyone about it!) Look closely at anything and you will find that a Belgian was involved, trust me, try it out.

I imagine and hope I will keep you updated in the next few weeks. And if there is anything in particular you would like me to write about, feel free to comment and let me know! 

Tot zeins! 


Wrapping up Kenya

Last day of work. Although I know it’ll be a long and email filled transition, there’ll be no more working from home, no commute to the office, no frustrating emails to people we owe money and they owe a response. Do I sound bitter? Well I’m not. I’ve had a great time, I have  had some amazing hands on experiences and really learned  an immense amount. For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been in Nairobi on a Fellowship placement with the Ambassador Corps program of the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of the Pacific. A lot of words, I know, but definitely not enough to describe what  a great opportunity it’s been, and I can’t thank them enough!

In my time here I’ve played a number of different roles. I still remember my first visit to a Franchise Farm (Distribution and Training Centers, of which it was my job to coordinate.) I basically had no idea what was going on, still felt like I was traveling and not working (all that was missing was the Lonely Planet) and there I was sitting in a Farm in the country about to do an assessment of programs I was still learning about. I’ve come a long way since then, going from meetings with people floating millions of dollars, to discussing at the warehouse (or as they call it here, the ‘go-down) where our irrigation order scurried off to. From having 30 cent lunch of beans, cabbage, kale and a chapatti at the place by our ‘office’ to Nyama choma (barabcued beef) with Bank managers and potential franchise partners, to Hotel catered buffets with the leaders in Ag from all over Africa. Its been an interesting mix of ties, boots and rain coats.

I’ve visited farms around the country and learned about the beauty of the soil and the care that goes into growing the crops. The landscape here in Kenya is so diverse, but my favorite is the green hills, covered in trees damp from the rains along the Rift Valley (an area that saw the majority of the 2007 election violence.) Small little one acre plots dot (more like square) the land for kilometers off the road side. Its exactly who we work with, and it was exciting to understand better something that is so important to so many people. Farming is much more than an activity or a business. Although I don’t believe I’ll ever become one, I see the fascination and complexity in it. Before I just overlooked things, I was ignorant when it came to the world of farming and now its as if someone showed me the ocean, and then plunged my head underneath, exposing me to a whole world I never knew about.

I’ve also met some amazing people. From the women that work in the office, who have offered me their houses to stay in when I get married and come back for my honey moon (I was both unaware that I was getting married and that Kenya had been chosen as the place for my honeymoon.)  To the colorful group of expats I’ve met, European, African, American, with some crazy stories and intriguing perspectives. Even the Matatu (public transporation suicide vans) drivers who I occasionally feel the need to curse at (usually not out loud and if it is, not in English) who I might actually miss, bumping music too loud to enjoy, jumping in and out of the vans whistling and yelling ‘bepa!’ (basically, ‘get on!’) to everything that moves, or doesn’t.

I’ve been on great trips, met great people and have learned  and seen both fascinating and horribly depressing things. But for everything you see or hear that rips a little at your heart and conscience, there is something equally as impressive around the corner. The smiles, the creativity, the laughs that fill the streets are contagious. Thank you Kenya for sharing them with me.

And although this seems like it should be my last update before I head out, I actually have two weeks left and am doing some hopefully blog worthy things. So expect more to come!


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