Cohort 8 reflects on trip to South Africa

The Cohort 8 executives from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program have been returning in waves over the last several days from South Africa. The business portion of the trip ended last weekend, but many of the students opted to stay extra days to enjoy more of the culture and — for some — shark diving!

“It was an incredible trip,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator. “I would really like to go back again sometime. The students had a great time and we all learned a lot!”

Apartheid was the most riveting aspect of South Africa’s culture and history for most of the students. For Raul Herrera, the highlight of the trip was visiting the Apartheid Museum.

“I am so amazed how far the people of this country have come in the last 15 years when it comes to race relations considering where they were,” said Herrera. “Apartheid was one of the most oppressing forms of government mankind has ever seen.”

Dr. Stuart Michelson, director of Stetson’s Executive MBA program and dean of Stetson’s School of Business, concurred. “It was remarkable to learn about apartheid and how much this country has changed in such a short period.”

Herrera found inspiration in the plight of Nelson Mandela, who spent three decades in one of the most brutal prison in the world, Robben Island. “He insisted on reconciliation, not retaliation or revenge — in marching toward a unified South Africa instead of a South Africa that will sulk in its past,” Herrera said. “Whoever thinks one man cannot affect change is sadly mistaken and should read about this man and his struggle for freedom.”

The business visits were very professional and organized, said Michelson. “Vodacom, especially, was so first-class. The top leaders of the company took the time to meet with us, and after having just unveiled the company’s new marketing campaign, they were eager to share their strategy and findings.”

“At all our business visits, our speakers were very candid about the country’s dark past and how they are all working toward the future,” added Herrera. “No one tried to sugarcoat anything about what happened, nor were they trying to condone it.”

In addition, experiencing wildlife and nature was icing on the cake. “The safari was great,” said Michelson. “Seeing the leopard that has only been seen three times this year was incredible!” Cohort 8 executives enjoyed getting close to many animals on their trip, including elephants and penguins.

The bike ride through Soweto was Lowe’s highlight. “It was a three-hour ride, up and down hills, and it was vigorous! The sights and the people made every minute worth it,” said Lowe. Lowe said she and Michelson would consider future visits to South Africa based on their recent positive experiences. “We are confident that our weeklong visit just scratched the surface of what the nation has to offer,” said Lowe.

“South Africa has an amazing power to forgive and move forward,” Herrera said. “It’s an amazing country with amazing people.”

Cohort 8 students immersed themselves in South African culture

The UMOJA dinner show taught the students of Cohort 8 about South African music and dance, and illustrated the country's rich history.

Students in Cohort 8 experienced South African culture first-hand yesterday when they visited the Apartheid Museum, rode through Soweto, and attended an UMOJA dinner show.

Their day began with a guided tour of the Apartheid Museum, where they participated in exhibits that communicated the atmosphere of the troubled era into present time. They learned about the political upheavals and the move to the transition from a racist state into Africa’s beacon of hope for the future. “The journey to understanding, freedom, and equality were important lessons,” said Wendy Lowe, Stetson Executive MBA program coordinator.

Their next stop was Wandie’s restaurant in Soweto. It’s a converted home in the heart of Soweto, where home-cooked local cuisine and local musicians entertained them as the students learned about the evolution of change in this densely populated area.

The best way to experience this change from very poor, to middle class and rising prosperity was to take in the sights and sounds on bicycle. As they navigated the hilly terrain, the guide stopped at key destinations where he explained to the group about local people’s habits and way of life. Locals were very hospitable, and children ran up and down the streets celebrating the cohort’s visit and requesting photographs. “Soweto proved to be a place where the community bonded together to improve their way of life,” said Lowe.

Later, the group went to UMOJA for a dinner show. The show used music to illustrate the change in South Africa from oppression and segregation to peace and liberation. It was an energetic show that had the students up on their feet, enjoying the music and dance depiction of South Africa evolution.

Today, the cohort is going on safari!

Cohort 8 students get their first “taste” of Africa

This bartender made sweet & sour drinks at Cohort 8's table at Carnivore. The drink was called Dawa.

After arriving in Johannesburg, the cohort had lunch in Nelson Mandela Square in a fabulous cafe called Balio’s, overlooking the Nelson Mandela bronze statue.  After an afternoon of sightseeing near the hotel and/or taking a brief nap, the students headed to Carnivore for the Welcome Dinner and an authentic South African meal.

Carnivore specializes in 13 different meats that come to your table on large skewers or tribal spears for your tasting enjoyment. Cohort favorites included common fare chicken and beef, zebra, antelope, venison and a variety of sausages. Members of the cohort were adventurous and tried many new meat selections, plus the side dishes prepared in local sauces and spices. The Welcome Dinner was a perfect way to set the stage for the African way of life.

Tomorrow, the group heads to the Apartheid Museum, Soweto for a bicycle tour, and in the evening, dinner and a broadway show called UMOJA.

Skydiving is only one of Michelson’s adventures this month

While the students in Stetson University’s Executive MBA Cohort 8 were getting prepared to fly across the Atlantic to visit South Africa in a just a few days, their director was flying as well — but mid-flight, he jumped out of the plane.

Dr. Stuart Michelson, dean of Stetson’s School of Business and director of Stetson’s Executive MBA program, went for a skydive last weekend at Skydive DeLand to celebrate his birthday. Jumping out of a plane at 13,500 feet might be too scary for some people, but Michelson called it “fun.”

“This is something you just have to tell yourself you’re going to do and then not let yourself back out,” said Michelson, after his jump. “Like many people, I don’t like heights, so the first step out of the plane is the hardest, but once you’re out, it’s great. The free fall at about 170 mph is a tremendous rush, and when the chute opens, you have a very peaceful quiet glide into the landing area. You can see for miles.”

This wasn’t Michelson’s first jump, though. In May 2010, he and another professor, the late Monique Forte, and eight Stetson University students went skydiving together, the day before graduation.

What’s up next for this daredevil, of course, is the trip to South Africa, where the current students in Cohort 8 are visiting for their international trip.

“It all seems very exciting,” said Michelson. “I’m especially looking forward to visiting the Apartheid Museum, the Pilanesberg Safari, the Robben Island Tour (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned), the Cullinan Diamond Mine and Warwick Winery.”

Michelson and the members of the cohort depart Orlando International Airport June 16 and return 10 days later. We’ll be posting updates throughout the trip on this blog. Stay tuned!