Cultural Exploration at the Great Wall

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For aspiring business leaders, cultural competence is an invaluable part of management. The ability to interact effectively with people of different cultural backgrounds is critical to managing teams, structuring business plans, and devising strategy.

For Lauder students, summer immersion is an opportunity to enhance not only our language skills and management acumen, but also our understanding of different cultures. In China, this has taken the form of intensive Mandarin language courses, exchanges with Chinese business leaders, and visits to Chinese companies. These guided activities have allowed us to better understand how culture underpins consumer behaviors, markets, and the ways business leaders interact with one another.

My classmates and I have also discovered that the most fulfilling cultural exploration can occur outside the classroom. A quintessential example of this is a recent trip to the Great Wall.

mmexport1403411420321 copyAny seasoned traveler in China is well-aware of the convenience and accessibility of redeveloped sections of the Great Wall, such as 八达岭 (Badaling) and 慕田峪 (Mutianyu). While exploring such sections of the wall is valuable and educational, my Lauder classmates and I looked for something a bit more authentic. We set our sights on an unrestored section of the wall called 板厂峪 (Banchangyu), situated some three hours northeast of Beijing and far removed from any metropolis in China’s vibrant Bohai Rim.

When we arrived at Banchangyu, we were struck by the challenge ahead of us. Without the aid of a cable car or well-constructed trails, we clambered through miles of alpine forest and ascended a mountain to reach a stretch of the wall. As we walked the trails, we took in the sights, reflected on our first few weeks in China, and even stumbled upon artifacts from the Sino-Japanese War—Communist soldiers famously used Banchangyu as a guerrilla stronghold during World War II.

After nearly two hours of hiking, we reached the Great Wall and were mesmerized by the magnificence of this national treasure. The wall snaked through valleys in front of us and the horizon was peppered with beacon towers famously used to alert Beijing of aggressive nomadic armies to the north.

As we explored this unique, completely unrestored section of the wall, we came to better understand the significance of the wall to Chinese culture. It was used not only as a defense mechanism, but also as a vehicle for preserving Chinese culture—something it continues to do today some 2,000 years after its initial construction. We were struck by the durability of the structure, its form and technology, and the attention to design, as the wall was built to perfectly meld with the topography of the land. We realized then that the wall today is something much more than a historical artifact; it is a living representation of enduring Chinese civilization, the harmonious relationship between heritage protection, innovation, and strategy in achieving massive national undertakings.

We will carry these experiences long after we finish summer immersion in July, as the lessons we learned during our trip to Banchangyu will be instructive as we continue to develop into business leaders.

By: Drew Soloski (Lauder Class of 2016, Chinese Track)