Ian Manahan traveled abroad for his first time as an MBA student to study in Düsseldorf, Germany and reflects back on an amazing experience he had while in Brussels, Belgium, due to an unexpected connection he had with a resident there.
Finally! I was a thirty-year-old MBA student that had been blessed to study abroad for the first time in my life, as so many of my friends had done before. I was in the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf in Germany, taking three classes at the recently minted WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management. It was January, so I was enjoying the cozy feel of winter whilst exploring the German landscape and culture. When I consolidated my plans to study abroad, I wasn’t sure what doors could open for me, since it would be my first time in Europe as well as outside of North America. I didn’t have much context for what was going to be the best use of my free time away from my studies. Little did I know how formative my time abroad, and for that matter, a side trip, could be.
I believe I’ve underestimated the network that my family has connected me to, up to this point in my life. I was homeschooled and never really saw my stay-at-home mom as someone who would be connecting me with future business partners or friends. However, she emailed me during my stay in Germany about a friend of hers she knew in Brussels, Belgium who would like to visit with her son. Brussels turned out to only be a €14 and 3-hour bus ride from where I was living, so I jumped at the opportunity to visit another city in order to meet a friendly host. I was excited to cultivate a more meaningful relationship with my mother’s friend.
Damilare, my mom’s friend who turned out to be only a year older than me, luckily had a similar schedule to my own, so we made plans for me to travel to Brussels over Super Bowl weekend. I was ecstatic to see as much of the city as I could and also to engage in some of the nightlife. I arrived on a Friday and during my first afternoon there, we visited the Atomium, which was built in anticipation of the 1958 World’s Fair. The structure gives one of the best views of Brussels, as seen in a few of the pictures included within this post. We then made our way to the world record holder for most beers available for order – Delirium Café. On the way, however, we stopped by Gran Place at the city center where I had my first Belgian waffle with Nutella and wondered why I ever gave up baking. Having two more full days on the agenda, we decided to retire early.
Saturday started with some Italian style coffee, (which is now my favorite), and we were off to walk as much of the de facto capital of the European Union, Brussels, as we could. We took a free tour of the city from a couple of entrepreneurs, who were working to create an online platform where people could host themed house parties and attract like minded strangers to come mingle. Their personal experiences and stories ended up being more informative than the tour itself. The tour seamlessly worked with our mid-afternoon meal and timely arrival to a tiny cheese and baguette sandwich spot right before closing. We made it in time to be served, but the caveat was that the shop had run out of bread. Damilare ran out to buy bread from a local baker, while his wife and I held our place in line. Our sandwiches were well worth the effort of the bread run, as my mind was opened to my cranberry, wild honey, goat cheese and meat sandwich. Simple, fresh, and profoundly good meals were a theme throughout my time abroad, especially in Brussels.
On Saturday night, Damilare showed me the incredible dance scene in Brussels. We went to ‘Groovalicious’ and hip-hop danced our butts off into the middle of the night. Leaving sometime after 2AM, there were still hundreds of people dancing to the beats. On Sunday, we slept in and took mass transit to Brussels’ giant Sunday market. Observing the military presence/patrol in the market, we ruminated over the folklore of being able to ‘buy anything’ at the market. We parted so I could go to mass and attend a speed dating function, since it was a week away from Feb 14th after all. The plan was to join back up for more dancing that night. This time, we decided to go salsa dancing at La Tentation, with a free lesson.
I arrived early for the lesson, met some people in line, and paid my €2 to get unlimited access to the bathroom for the night. I had the chance to dance with two wonderful girls during the lesson and have kept up with both of them through the recent horrific attacks on March 22nd. One is a business student nearing the end of her degree and the other had recently completed her Masters, which focuses on user responses to online advertisements in order to predict future behavior. Damilare and his wife joined me at La Tentation later in the night. We all danced until we decided to watch Peyton Manning win his last NFL football game in Super Bowl 50 till about 4:35 in the morning. All told, it was a jam-packed weekend that I look back at having gained four new friends and an appreciation for the diversity offered on one of the world stages in Brussels.
Damilare is originally from Nigeria. I really benefitted from hearing his views on life and learning about the unique challenges a Nigerian faces versus an American in obtaining a visa. While we may have equal amounts of fun on the dance floor, our world-views and perspectives are still strongly linked to our geographical and familial connections. Brussels food and beer are right up my alley, and I’m looking to bring some of that inspiration back to San Diego in the form of healthy eating business ventures. Even though salsa dancing is prevalent in San Diego, I didn’t find a love for it until I travelled to Brussels.
While in Germany, I learned how to adapt to a generous and efficient culture for roughly two months and gained pertinent knowledge through my course work at WHU. I’m also very grateful for the few side trips I took and the friends I made that ended up being some of the most encouraging and inspiring experiences. One of my two favorite trips was visiting Brussels and I was inspired to make this my post to honor the victims of the recent tragedy. If we all took a chance to meet a stranger we were somehow connected to, how much closer could individuals in the world become? My studies abroad have certainly brought me closer to meeting like-minded people thus far.
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