No substitute for travel

Written by Latha Ramchand on December 12, 2011

Data on the competitiveness of the U.S.:

We are #4 or #5 in terms of ease of doing business, our infrastructure has gone from being in the top 10 to being #24, and our human capital as measured by the number of graduates has declined considerably.

It sounds too cliché-ish but it is certainly true that travelling abroad is an enlightening experience.  I was in Beijing in November and in Dubai more recently, teaching in our Global Energy EMBA (GEMBA) program.  These trips reinforce my belief that while people look, speak, dress, eat and talk differently, we are very similar in many respects.  People everywhere want to have a good time, eat well, and appreciate the opportunity to be heard and listened to.  When convinced that the listener can be trusted, most cultures are willing to critique themselves and appreciate the opportunity to learn from others.  This does not, however, equate to global integration.  In fact I am not sure what ‘integration’ means – does it mean we all buy the same bundle of goods and listen to the same music and watch the same movies?  Does it mean that chains like Walmart are able to sell to consumers in India (India is currently debating the benefits and costs of allowing companies like Walmart to sell to Indian consumers and the rhetoric has a strong political tone)? Does it mean that in a country like Dubai where the local population accounts for less than 15% of the population, immigrants are allowed the rights to citizenship? How do we preserve the ability to understand and appreciate differences without standardizing everything we do?

I visited a friend in Dubai who lives in an apartment surrounded by neighbors from Syria, Iran, Iraq, India, Australia, and the U.K.  Children of these neighbors play and work together, celebrate holidays together and trust each other in a way that is refreshing.  In a world where Facebook and Twitter have changed the way in which we cultivate relationships, there is still no substitute for physical proximity.  Travel will not go out of fashion in my life time.  What do you think?