The purpose of jumper cables

I also need to take a second to mention Natalie’s commencement speech which I left out of my previous blog post.

One person was selected from each of our 4 classes.  They then had to present their speeches in front of the Dean and then the Dean selected the student who would share their speech at graduation.  Well, all of us were pretty confident that Natalie would win because we’ve spent enough time with her in class over the past year to know how supremely talented she is, how well she presents to an audience and the depth at which she is able to understand people.

I won’t attempt to summarize the entire speech, but she captured a lot of our inside jokes and shared moments.  Even though we were four different classes, she was able to weave our experiences together flawlessly.  She then brought us all to tears when she asked 2 questions.  The first was, “students, would you please raise your hand if you’ve received help from another student during this MBA”.  The second question was, “students, would you please raise your hand if you’ve given help to another student during this MBA”.  Well, as you might imagine, everyone had raised their hands.  She talked about our purpose, not only as students and as future employees, but also as human beings.  We are here to give help as much as we are here to receive help.  She recounted a story about her undergraduate graduation when her parents gave her jumper cables as a gift.  They weren’t just giving her jumper cables in case her car broke down.  The jumper cables were for her to help others whose engine won’t start.  And they served as a reminder that our duty is to help each other.  That, in a nutshell, summarizes my entire experience at IE.  So when people ask me, “what was your favorite thing about your MBA?”, I inevitably answer, “the people.”

Natalie (Canada) giving the commencement speech, bringing everyone to tears

Natalie (Canada) giving the commencement speech, bringing everyone to tears

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A week-long goodbye

Heading back to Madrid was surreal.  It feels like home at this point, yet I knew I’d be leaving for my “real” home in 6 days.  The jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks.  While my body gave out and rested, I kept thinking to myself that I was wasting precious time.

I only have 6 days!  Why am I laying in bed?!  I need to see my people!  I need to see this beautiful city!  

I arrived on a Tuesday.  By Thursday, I was back to my old self and I had to kick it into overdrive.  4 days left.  The clock was my enemy.  I had dozens of goodbyes to make and three suitcases to pack.  I barely slept.  Not because I was stressed or restless, but because I was never home.  My roommate, Pablo, was the first to leave.  When I say “first to leave”, I don’t necessarily mean that he was leaving Madrid to head to his home country.  In this instance, he was going on vacation and was not returning until the same day that I leave.  In fact, he was planning to miss graduation.  Pablo was my first goodbye, but also one of the hardest.  I have been sharing a flat with Pablo for 2 months.  He is one of the greatest people that I know.  His laughter, calm nature and thoughtfulness are out of this world.  But there’s more.

Next was graduation.  The graduation ceremony was so overwhelming and I knew that it was impossible to say hello/goodbye/I’ll miss you to over 200 students and their families.  So, I didn’t even try.  Was that the right strategy?  Probably not.  But when I get overwhelmed emotionally, I sometimes pull back.  I don’t like that I do that, but this is exactly what happened.  I said a few goodbyes.  Took some pictures.  Then it was over.  I mostly spent time with my friends (who pretended to be my “sisters”), Olivia and Jennie.  And thanks mostly to Jennie, I have beautiful photos that captured the day.

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I went home, took a one hour nap and then came my next big goodbye.  Jungmin.  Jungmin, like Pablo, was going on vacation and I wouldn’t see her again in the near future.  Jungmin has been one of my closest friends while at IE.  She hails from Seoul.  That’s over 6,500 miles from Kansas City.  We have shared so many laughs, so many experiences, so many stresses with school.  And she gets me.  Don’t let cultural differences fool you.  She is one of the most observant and insightful human beings I know.  As I said my final goodbye (because I was late to dinner), I started crying of course.  I’m crying now just thinking about it.  She just looked at me in her way, touched my arm, and that was enough for me to know that she felt the same way but that she was trying to maintain composure.  Ugh.

With a heavy heart, I headed to dinner with Miko and his family.  Miko’s family had flown from all over the world to celebrate Miko’s graduation.  We had the biggest table at the restaurant.  That is some true commitment!  Miko’s family was incredibly kind and thoughtful, his mother even giving us gifts for our graduation.  Of course the dinner and conversation were lovely as well.  It was nice to feel as though I was part of the family since my own family could not be there.

<pictures from the grad party>

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Once dinner was over, we had to make a mad dash to my apartment so that I could change and then we could head to our graduation party.  And this party was over the top.  The dj was amazing, the service was amazing, the venue was like nothing I had experienced before, the weather was perfect, and the people were…well, the people.  The people are my people.  To say that the people are what make this MBA program would be an understatement.  I will be completely honest.  In the beginning of this program, I struggled.  I couldn’t find people that I clicked with.  I wasn’t sure where I belonged.  I started questioning myself.  Is my personality too casual?  Am I too feminist?  Too opinionated?  Should I tone down my opinions?  Too loud?  Too overweight?  Too laid back?  Too accepting?  But after the 4th term started, I feel like all most of those feelings have flown out of the window.

I’m both happy and proud to say that I finally found my place.  I finally found those people who are my people.  And they will be a part of my life for a long time to come.  Some are men, some are women.  They are from all different countries, all different backgrounds.  They are incredibly smart, wise, thoughtful and understanding.  And they share an experience with me to which not many others will be able to relate.

Saturday and Sunday were also incredibly difficult.  Goodbye after goodbye.  And truthfully, I don’t know when I will see most of them again.  I hope soon.  As I work on my job search, the only thing I can think about is when I can make my first trip to go visit one (or more) of them.  My list keeps growing.  For now, Mexico City, Madrid, Chicago, Vancouver, Bogota, London, Costa Rica, Berlin, Geneva, Milan, Seoul, Dubai and Singapore are on the list.  That’s all.  Once everyone starts working, I’m sure they’ll start moving around again.

I’m so grateful and happy that I had this experience.  It has been a dream of mine since I was 18 to complete my MBA.  And not only did I complete it, but I did it at one of the best schools in the world with some of the best people that I have ever met.  Mission: accomplished!

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New York, New York

After Philadelphia, my teammate, Nada, and I headed to NYC for a weekend vacation.  We were each planning to meet friends there.  My dear friend, Nathan, met me at the hotel.  Our weekend was exactly what I needed: relaxation.  We had both been to NYC before, so our plan was to take it easy and just enjoy the city.  No running around from tourist sight to tourist sight.

We went to see Lady Day on Broadway featuring recent Tony winner, Audra McDonald.  We were blown away.  I couldn’t believe how well she was able to mimic Billie Holiday’s voice and capture her mannerisms.  Incredible.

We visited the High Line, read the paper in Central Park, brunched with Nada and her friends at Sara Beth’s, took the train to Brooklyn to enjoy the SONYA art walk, ate lots of treats at Magnolia and Eataly, and we did a bit of shopping.  We even saw quite a few celebrities (thanks to Nathan’s good eye) including Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Chris Lowell, and Newt Gingrich.  Not bad for a short trip!

It was a bit sad to depart, but I knew that we’d soon end up in Kansas City, together once again.  I was headed back to Madrid to attend graduation and to pack up my life.  Nathan was heading to KC so that he could soon pop back to Asia for work.  As much as we both travel (especially Nathan) we are never that far away from each other.

 

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Rachel: Student Consultant

As I mentioned in October, I have been working as a student consultant for the last 7 months in addition to my regular MBA curriculum.  We have been building a US market entry strategy and implementation plan for a major women’s fashion accessories retailer from Peru.

I am both happy and sad to say that we completed the project today.  I have been in Philadelphia all week at the Wharton School of Business.  At times, we were in this classroom working from 9am-3am.  I was exhausted.  Over the course of 7 months we spoke to over 50 experts, conducted focus groups, held a design thinking workshop, set up surveys, analyzed market reports and trends, debated strategy, etc.  The list goes on and on.  And we signed a non-disclosure agreement which means that I cannot share information about the project and company, but I can say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Of course I learned a lot, but the people are what made it special.  To put it into perspective…every Monday we would have conference calls at 6pm because half of our team was in Madrid and half was in the US…and even though we are done with the project and we’re even finished with the MBA, we are going to have a “conference call” on Monday at 6pm because we miss each other.  That’s love.

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İstanbul

I recently returned from Istanbul, Turkey.  And don’t worry, family, I wasn’t affected by any of those protests that you’ve probably seen on TV lately.

Istanbul is a place that I’ve wanted to visit for over 10 years, but I never made it that far east during my European travels.  Back in January or February, my dearest friend, Maria, and I were talking, trying to coincide our travel schedules and plan a trip together since we’re both living in Europe at the moment.  She mentioned Istanbul and I gave a resounding “yes!”  As it turns out, our friend, Harry (also from Kansas), had some free days and wanted to join us.  Side note: Harry is teaching at the University of Santiago de Compostela which is located in the northeast of Spain, so he is also nearby.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, exactly.  I mean, I knew they had awesome food (döner kebabs, humus and baklava anyone?) and I knew they had a famous bazaar, a famous mosque and a “European” feel.  But I was really ignorant when it came to Turkey.  I messaged my friend, Elainne, who has lived in Istanbul for 4 years, with some naive questions.  I asked her about women’s clothing in general, appropriate dress for visiting a mosque, which areas are less safe for tourists, etc.  I was surprised when she simply replied with “just a scarf for the mosque” and that’s about it.  Well, it turns out that she was perfectly right.  With my lack of education, I was imaging the situation to be a bit more sensitive for tourists.

Maria arrived nearly an hour before me.  To my relief, she was waiting right behind the customs area of the airport.  Together we made our way to the exit where our driver was waiting for us.  Immediately we were feeling strange/feeling guilty that we couldn’t speak with our driver.  Between the two of us we speak around 4 languages.  None of them are Turkish.  And it had been a long time since I had traveled in a country where I didn’t speak the language at least a little and where English wasn’t prevalent.  I couldn’t even pronounce the driver’s name, so he just sighed and said “Rudy”.  Great.  Glad we solved that.  And off we went with Rudy to the rental apartment.

The apartment was cozy, we were hungry, and Harry’s flight didn’t arrive until much later in the evening.  So we decided to look up a few restaurants from our list and head out to find something to eat.  Well, we weren’t able to find the two restaurants that we had mapped, but we ended up finding food to fill our bellies anyway.  We moseyed up and down Istiklal Avenue, enjoyed some sweet and savory treats and did a lot of people watching.  The sun was setting, prayers were being recited over loud speakers, and we were soaking it all in.  Around 9pm, we decided to head home and grab a durum kebab to-go for Harry since he would be arriving late.

After an uneventful evening, we woke up around 9am and spent a few minutes choosing our breakfast spot.  If you’re not familiar with Turkish breakfasts, you should be.  They put the U.S. breakfast/brunch to shame.  And we sure did pick the best spot.  In fact, Van Kahvalti Evi was SO good that we ate breakfast there 2 days in a row!  There was a line out of the door when we arrived, but we didn’t have to wait long.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  But the best part was the bottomless cups of Turkish tea, the plates of cheeses and spreads and the bottomless basket of delicious breads.  Mmm.  Here’s the verdict: Maria’s favorite was the bal kaymak, or clotted cream with honey; my favorite was mixing the bibir salcasi, or red pepper spread, with cheese and spreading it on warm bread; and I believe Harry’s favorite was the dense bread-stick-thing and the kavut or “warm sand” as we like to call it.  Kavut is a warm sandy paste made from walnuts, honey and flour.  So delicious!

After we were stuffed, we headed out to see touristy things.  Nearly every mosque we saw was impressive.  I think I took just as many pictures of regular mosques as I did of the famous Blue Mosque.  Here are a few photos of the “everyday” or “ordinary” sights.

We then stumbled upon the Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest bazaars in the world.  We weren’t quite ready to shop, but we did take a stroll and eventually found a cozy spot to “enjoy” a Turkish coffee.  Turkish coffee grounds are boiled in a pot and then served in these little cups where the grounds settle towards the bottom.  Well, once you near the mid-way point of your cup, I suggest you stop drinking.  It gets really muddy from there and not so tasty.

  

After getting lost a few times, we finally found the famous Hagia Sophia which is a Greek Orthodox basilica-turned mosque-turned museum.  Construction began in 537 and ended in the 15th century.  Yeah.  I’m unable to describe the effect that the lighting created, but it was breathtaking.

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After the Hagia Sophia, we took a little break to warm up with some hot wine.  Then we headed over to the Basilica Cistern.  This cistern is one of the largest cisterns underneath the city and was built in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.  Towards the back of the cistern, there are two heads of Medusa.  According to Wikipedia, “tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons‘ gaze.”  Great.  Love it.  Let’s go with that story.

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We were beat after that long day, but we managed to work up enough stamina to join Elainne and her friend for a few drinks.  We enjoyed some Turkish rock music, asked her a million questions about Turkey and then headed home for a long awaited sleep.

I might be getting this a little out of order, but the next day we decided to have breakfast at our trusty place.  This time it was quite crowded and we felt a bit rushed.  So we decided that we would try something new the next day.

After breakfast, we headed to the Blue Mosque.  The mosque is closed during prayer times, but we were first in line for the afternoon visitor session.  The entire entry process was very quick and in hindsight, I wish I would have taken some photos at that point.  We quickly pulled off our shoes and stuffed them in plastic bags that we were given to carry them.  If women weren’t covered, there were robes available.  Maria and I had come fully covered with scarves which we quickly wrapped over our hair.  Once inside, we just gazed at the ceiling and tile work for what seemed like seconds even though it was quite a bit of time.

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After the Blue Mosque, we decided to briskly walk towards Topkapi Palace to make it before closing time…but we weren’t so lucky.  Then we decided to take the bus towards home so that we could dry off and warm up because it had been raining all day.  Once we stepped off at our last stop, we decided to enjoy some Turkish street food: simit, açma, and I also ordered a börek stuffed with cheese.  There is so much street food in Istanbul, from stuffed potatoes to oysters to roasted chestnuts to döner kebabs.  I highly recommend trying them out if you ever visit.

The next day, we decided to try a new place for breakfast which was equally satisfying and had a huge selection of teas which was nice.  After breakfast, we wanted to head over to Topkapi Palace which we had missed the day before.  When crossing the bridge, we had always taken the bus, but this day we decided to walk across the bridge instead.  The bridge was full of fishermen and good views.

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Once we crossed the bridge, we made a beeline for Topkapi Palace.  It is quite large and was home to many of the Ottoman Sultans.  It is also an UNESCO Heritage site and it hosts a laundry-list of famous artifacts.  I saw *supposedly* Moses’ staff, the skull of John the Baptist, Prophet Mohammed’s beard and cloak, and humongous diamonds to name a few.  Unfortunately, no photos are allowed of the artifacts.  But here are some pictures from the outside and inside the courtyard.

The next morning (and very early!), Harry left for Santiago.  Maria and I made a quick trip to the bazaar to spend our last few Turkish lira and then headed back to the apartment to pack up.  I was very proud of us because we managed to find the bus shuttle to the airport in time for our flights despite the language barrier.  Yay us!

Once at the airport, Maria and I chatted until her flight left.  I was trying to hold back the emotions, but I kept thinking that this would be the last time that I would see Maria until after graduation.  She is so kind and is such a positive influence in my life, so it was a little hard to say goodbye.  Skype is always there for us, but the real thing is so much better.  Until next time.

Enough of the sad stuff.  Before I end, I also want to say that I loved Istanbul.  The people seemed very nice, the food was terrific and there is much more to see in the future.  I know why Elainne loves living there.  Sadly, there is still a lot of political craziness going on right now.  I hope that it is resolved soon.

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Aniversario

Happy Anniversary to my blog (and to those that have been reading it)!  This time last year I was texting back and forth with my dear friend, Sergio, for his advice on a blog name.  After debating some hilarious options, I landed on Habla Rachel.  Not only is it a blog about my thoughts and experiences, but the title is similar to an HBO special featuring the perspectives of U.S. Latinos from all over the U.S.  If you’re not familiar with them, you can check some out here, here and here.

I may not have the same experiences as the people featured in these videos, but I have had quite a unique experience for which I’m very thankful and which I like to share.  I am also very thankful to those of you (friends and family) that have supported me during the past year.  I can’t wait to see your faces and give you bear hugs when I get home!!!!

 

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No more excuses

I’m in the last week of Term 4 with only one exam and one paper to go.  Before I know it, I’ll be starting my fifth and final term.  I often feel guilty that I’ve let an entire 3 months go by without writing on my blog which further inhibits me from writing a post.  I get overwhelmed at the thought of remembering and writing about all of the moments that I have had during this time while I have so much to complete for school, the Women in Business Club, my social life and my job search.

So I’m going to stop making excuses and take a simple twenty minutes to write about a few things that have happened over the past three months that have been significant for me.

I went home in December.  It was only a week, but it was enough to see most of the important people in my life and to feel like myself once again.  I loved sleeping in my giant bed with lots of covers and two puppies to cuddle with me.  I loved when my mom would wake me up and when we ate meals together just like when I was little.  I missed my brother, of course, but it was nice to be with my mom.  And I felt more connected to my brother just by being stateside and only 1 hour away by phone vs. 6 hours away.  I saw my closest friends who validated some of the feelings I shared about being away from home, being around people who are so different from myself, being stressed about the fact that I may not find a job in the end, etc.  That validation and empathy went further than I expected.  It was sad to leave, but it revitalized me for two more terms of school.

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Once I returned to Madrid, I met up with my cousin and friend, Emily.  If you don’t know Emily, I can tell you that she is a ball of energy and light.  She has a smile bigger than the sun and she is wise beyond her years.  It was so nice to come “home” to her.  My friend from school, Pablo, met Emily at the airport since I couldn’t be there and took her to my apartment so that she could rest before I arrived.  We enjoyed Madrid, celebrated New Year’s Eve together and had one too many chocolates con churros.  I was sad to see her leave, but I knew she would fall in love with her next stop: Barcelona.

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Soon after Emily departed, I began working to do some last minute research for our consulting project and then I was off to Peru.  I had the opportunity to travel a week on my own, thanks to Codi’s help (she’s a great travel agent if you ever need one!), which opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I worried about things that I normally don’t worry about.  Is it safe for me to walk here by myself?  Are they staring at me because I’m eating alone?  After the paranoia subsided, I was able to relax.  But by the end, I couldn’t wait to see people that I know.  I was craving social interaction so much! And Peru was A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y amazing!  The people were so nice, the food was incredible and the views…well, they are self-explanatory.  Here are some photos.

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And here are some photos of the time that I spent with my Wharton consulting team.

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Once I returned to Madrid, the atmosphere was different at school.  Many people had left for exchange programs or internships.  The hallways were a little less crowded.  But when I did see someone from my class, I got a big smile on my face and threw my hands around them.  In fact, the night I arrived back in Madrid, I went straight to my friend Miko’s new apartment to catch up.  I had no idea I was going to miss my IE family so much.  And on a sad note, I think the feeling I had is foreshadowing what it will be like in May when we all say goodbye to each other.  I don’t want to think about it.

More recently Maria came to visit as she has been working in Paris (so close!).   She spent one week with me in Madrid and then met up with our KU friend, Harry, in Barcelona. Unfortunately, as when most of my friends have visited, I can’t escape classes and the work that comes along with them.  So the typical stress I face is always in my way. Needless to say, one week with Maria was too short.  It was so nice to be with someone so familiar, someone that I care about so much.  I could talk to her about anything for hours on end.  After we said our goodbyes in the airport, I headed towards the bus to return home.  I might have shed a few tears on the bus, but I won’t go into that.  I was going to insert photos and then I realized that they’re all on my phone!  To be continued…

After I returned home, I helped organize a going away party for my roommate and her closest friends because the next morning she was leaving for her internship in Albany.  It was a good chance to see many people that I typically only see through her since they were in a different class the entire year.

Once my roommate left for the US on Friday, I got busy cleaning and preparing for my new roommate, Patricia.  Patricia is from Barcelona and is currently in dental school.  I feel a little old since she is only 23, but we get along great.  We’re gym buddies and dinner buddies and everything-buddies.  At first, I have to admit, it was somewhat exhausting being on campus all day and then coming home and speaking in Spanish the entire evening.  Speaking Spanish, for topics that are deeper than the weather or school, really require a lot of thinking from me because it has been so long since I’ve been surrounded by Spanish like this.  But it is getting easier.  It is forcing me to practice which exactly what I needed.

My lease ends in one month, so instead of renewing our lease for just two more months, I’ve decided to move in with a classmate.  Pablo has an extra bedroom (with it’s own bathroom – sweeeeeet!!!!) which I will move into on April 1st.  It is a little further than campus than I would like, but I know he will be a great roommate, I don’t have to worry about a housing contract, and the place is very clean.  All pluses.

So that is Term 4.  It has flown by.  I’ll try not to make so many excuses for avoiding this blog from now on. 😉

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