A Spaniard’s first trip to Asia

By Pablo Gonzalez '11/Spain

T
he MBA program at Thunderbird not only gives you a degree, but also tons of frequent flier miles. After a hectic first trimester in Glendale, Arizona, I flew home to Spain to visit my family for Christmas. Then, in early January I flew to Japan to participate in a three-week study abroad program, marking my first trip to Asia.

First impressions: I was excited to experience a new culture, something that was part of Thunderbird’s academic DNA. Curious to learn about a country that is a major economic power in the world, but smaller in size than California, I remember thinking: “These guys have to do something really well and different.”

Arriving in Japan after a 35-hour flight, including some delays, I still had to take a high-speed train from Tokyo to Osaka. At the Shinkansen bullet train station in Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, I immediately noted the amazing organizational capabilities of the Japanese. I had never before seen so many people walking—and everything running so smoothly. In Spain, there are always many people on the streets walking, but never this organized.

Weekend trip: After several company visits, a classmate and I decided to spend a weekend with a good friend I had met in Oxford, England. Her parents lived in a small, beautiful town south of Tokyo named Kofu. After picking us up from the train station and taking us to dinner at her uncle’s restaurant, we sank into the tatami beds her mother had prepared for us, complete with heated blankets to make a very cold night feel warm and comfortable.

The next morning my friend’s mother prepared a warm soup for breakfast. It was delicious! The setting of the living room, with a kotatsu, a sunken table, amazed me where you had to sit on the floor. Although my friend’s parents did not speak English, this was not a barrier to getting to know each other. With my friend acting as an interpreter, we discovered similar interests in music, and eventually her father and I ended up playing the guitar together.

Looking for excitement, we decided to go to the Fuji Q amusement theme park next to Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain and an important cultural symbol. Fuji is one of three holy mountains in Japan and is the subject of poets and artists alike. The adjacent theme park was small, but offered a wide range of roller coasters. We had an adrenaline- filled experience on the Dodonpa, one of the world’s fastest, highest roller coasters, accelerating from 0 to 110 mph in less than three seconds.

My friend had explained to us, while we were at Fuji Q, that a visit to her country would not be complete without a trip to an onsen, the natural hot springs. On what was a very cold but clear and lovely night, my friend and her parents took us to their favorite hot spring resort. We drove to a place atop a high hill where we could enjoy a view of the whole city. The feeling of being in 110 degree Fahrenheit water shocked me while outside it was a chilly 30 degree Fahrenheit. I completely relaxed in just a few minutes. It did not take me long to fall sleep that night after returning to our host’s home.

On Sunday my classmate and I had to return to Tokyo. My friend’s family bought us a nice Japanese hand-made cloth, and we decided to buy them some cakes in return. I cannot find words to describe the hospitality, warmth and kindness my friend and her family showed us when they took us in. We said goodbye hoping to see each other soon.

Overall I was in Japan for less than a month, but it was long enough to fall in love with the country, and especially with its people.

Throughout my trip to Japan and during my time at Thunderbird, I earned a lot more than a degree and frequent flier miles. I learned that I was not only a Spanish citizen, but that I was, more importantly, a global citizen.

Pablo Gonzalez graduated from Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2011. He is from Dos Hermanas, Seville, Spain and attended Thunderbird through a scholarship program called Talentia, sponsored by the government of Spain. The first time he came to the United States was to attend Thunderbird, and at the time of this writing, he was now working in Client Operations at Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, Utah.