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Cally Thornton

Winter Break – My Trip to Brazil

by Cally Thornton Friday, February 3, 2012

Let me start by saying that we got 37 days off for Winter Break. After working for five years with a measly two weeks vacation per year, this was a gift of unbelievable value to me. So, in a flurry of stress and caffeine, I finished up my finals and drove back to Minneapolis to spend some time with my family for the holidays. After a busy semester it was really nice to relax, although while watching episode after episode of How I Met Your Mother, there was still something in the back of my head telling me I should be reading a marketing case or scheduling a group meeting.

On December 30th I embarked on my adventure for break – New Year’s Eve and a week of fun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with some new friends from the MBA program, followed by meeting up with the school program for a week of company visits in Sao Paulo to learn about business in Brazil. The Global Trips are something that really drew me to the Wisconsin MBA. Around 15 students and one faculty member spend 6-8 weeks over lunch learning about a country and then visit it over winter break. This year the trips were to Brazil and South Africa.

It was an exciting time to visit Brazil – as I am sure you have heard their economy is growing quickly and Brazil will be taking the world stage with the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. All I heard before I went was how dangerous Brazil is and how careful I needed to be but I can’t express to you how comfortable I ended up feeling there and how grateful I am for the experiences I had. The fireworks on New Year’s were unbelievable. We visited a Favela (the “slums” of Brazil) and were welcomed with kisses on the cheek. We ate traditional “feijoada” (rice, pork and beans stew), had our share of Caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail), and were even able to watch the Badgers Rose Bowl appearance in an Irish Pub in Rio.

The company visits were as interesting as the culture. We visited a wide span of industries from Petrobras their main oil company, to Bradesco one of the largest Brazilian banks. We also saw how the American company P&G has adjusted their approach to sell their products to Brazilians. I learned a lot about their economy – they are lacking in physical infrastructure, which makes it costly and slow to move goods through the country. They have not had a strong education system, which is causing a shortage of qualified workers. Business is heavily influenced by relationships both in the day-to-day work and even in mass advertising – at P&G they told us about how having Brazilian spokespeople for their products has helped them enter the market.

Overall it was a once in a lifetime experience that I would have never had without the Wisconsin MBA. It also gave me a great chance to hang out with a group of people across all the specializations that I might not have otherwise gotten to know. My goal is to take full advantage of all of the international opportunities that are offered and I am looking forward to my next trip - China for Spring Break with the Nielsen Center.