Monday, January 09, 2006

Long Way to Get Here

When I got to the meeting place, pretty much everyone was already there and boarded the bus. A few of the students were taking pictures for this "historical" journey. Some were saying goodbyes to their family members. Dick showed up unexpectedly to make sure everything was OK. One thing for sure, it was not as dramatic as the one we took six months ago to China when the bus got there so late that we thought we were to miss our flight.

After Dick wished everyone Bon Voyage, the bus got on the way. To be honest, I did not really know what to expect. The good thing was that both Memo and Bob were the "old hands" and had done this before. They knew what we were getting into.

Traveling with 28 students was definitely not an easy task. But we had two advantages. First, our students were very good and well behaved. Second, Memo managed them well. He appointed two of the students working in BEACON as general mangers who each in turn managed two MBA student managers. The managers then manage four groups of the undergraduate students. A classical management science example of hierarchical structure was on display.

While waiting for boarding, Bob shared with me some of his experience with the US Air Force. It was just fascinating.

The plane ride was largely uneventful except for some turbulence. One time it was so strong that I though it would have had torn the plane apart. The good thing was that the pilot knew it was coming and warned us ahead of time. This created an impression that the situation was under control.

We arrived in Paris ahead of the schedule so there was no one to greet us at the exit. Memo managed to find the bus driver's cell phone number. After a while on the phone, he directed us to the "Promised Land" where the bus was waiting. For trips like this one, we do need someone who can converse in the language. This also underlined the importance of languages in the business world.

The bus took us to one of the train stations in Paris where we would take the high speed train TGV (260 kmh) to Grenoble. Again we had to suffer from being early. Our train would not depart for about two hours. So we had to stand in the cold waiting since the train station was not heated. We took a big chunk of space because of our group size and luggage. Some passengers had to pass by us to get on their trains. They seemed cold and unapologetical when they stepped on us or knocked down our bags. Some of the students wonder why they did not say "excuse moi?" I did not know whether we were partially at fault by blocking their way.

Finally after 16 hours on the road, we got to our final destination. Julian met us at the train and took us to our hotel. Chris, the Associate Dean of the Business School, hosted a reception for us in the hotel. He was warm and funny guy. He said that both Memo and Bob came back because they failed his wine tasting class last year. Everyone was surprised to find out that he was an American. He had been here for 17 years. It was amazing that the school maintained more than 120 schools worldwide. How could he do it? He told me that he went to China almost every two months. We joked that he went there more often I did. He briefly mentioned different programs (student exchanges, faculty exchanges, executive programs, etc) he had with some famous Chinese universities in Beijing and Shanghai like Beijing University and Fudan University. Could this be a model for Perdue? Forms of cooperation can be multifaceted, could be as simple as sending one student over to study business, for example.

He also said he would arrange me to meet some of professors here for some collaboration research. I was really excited by this because this was one of the missions I had for this trip.

Julian gave us a short orientation after Chris' welcome remarks. Afterward he told us that he was to come to the hotel tomorrow morning at 8:45 and walk us to the school.

A bunch of us walked to the downtown to have dinner. Since I was too tired that I decided to walk back from the restaurant where they were to eat and go to bed early. After all, we traveled a long way. I got lost on the way. So I went in a hotel to ask for direction. To my surprise, the receptionist understood my broken French and pointed me to the right direction. It was just a block away. I took a shower and went to bed around 9.


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