I’ve been a fan of traveling ever since I can remember. When I was young, my family would load up in the big red Suburban at least once or twice a year and hit the great American highways to another state – many times that meant several states. Starting in Crandall, Texas, we were able to reach most destinations within a couple of days. I recall enjoying the different foods, accents, and attitudes we encountered around the US. We soaked in the local flavor, staying in modest highway motels and travel lodges. We perfected the 10-minute gas/bathroom/dinner stop so we could always keep on truckin.’ As a result, I had visited nearly 40 states before I graduated high school.
As I grew older, we traveled further – including a trip to the (now former) Soviet Union when I was only 12. I vividly remember trading “American” items like blue jeans and bubble gum that Russians didn’t have and couldn’t get for Soviet memorabilia and black market items. It’s funny to think how even at that age I had a mind to negotiate with the traders and had to overcome cultural obstacles, language and age barriers. I ended up with a few really cool items: a full-size Soviet flag, a Ushanka hat (complete with earflaps and the hammer & sickle pin), a set of matryoshka dolls, and a sailor’s dress uniform hat. All that for some branded clothing that no longer fit – Reebok, Levi’s, and Nike. I’d like to think I drove a pretty hard bargain, armed with the knowledge that they simply couldn’t get American clothing in the USSR.
A few years passed before I was overseas again – this time in Japan, Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, and Australia. These were all port calls with my first Navy ship, USS RUSHMORE (LSD-47), in a pre-2001 terrorist attack world and it couldn’t have been more fun. As a more mature person, I began to see the fundamental differences in the way many people outside the US live. I remember encountering incredibly friendly people in each country. I also got to try some new and interesting foods and had (what seemed like at the time) several near-death experiences with wild taxi drivers.
Since my time in the Navy, I’ve had a chance to travel even more. With USD, I was able to study abroad in Buenos Aires, where we looked at international business strategy while immersed in the local culture. We enjoyed visiting the South American headquarters for Wal-Mart and hearing their take on the recent currency crisis, dealing with Bentonville attitudes towards management, and stocking their discount stores with more food items than everything else combined (over half the store was food – fresh fish, wine, cheese – and all great quality!).
Also while at the University of San Diego, I participated twice in the Global Leadership Conference in Shanghai, China. Both times the conference was preceded by a visit to Beijing, where we visited with an American expatriate who had lived and worked in China for nearly 20 years. He expressed some of his highs and lows while working in China and gave some great insight for those who were considering making a career overseas. We had a unique opportunity to visit the GM headquarters in Shanghai, where we heard a German manager speak about working for an American car company in China. The entire trip reminded me of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat and just how small today’s business world really is.
Between my family trips, graduate school, and the Navy; I’ve seen several countries and 44 of the 50 United States. Here’s hoping I can add more to that list very soon. One thing that stands out from a conversation in Shanghai in 2008: no matter where you are in the world, people are more alike than they’re different.