My DBi Experience in South Africa

Author: Hyeji Kim is a full-time MBA student at NYU Stern, graduating in May 2024. Prior to coming to business school, she worked at Accenture working on tech implementation projects for public sector clients. After school, she’ll move to Seoul, South Korea to pursue a career in strategy consulting at the Samsung Global Strategy Group. During her time at Stern, Hyeji served as the co-president of the Asian Business Society and the co-director of a Christian business conference for MBA students called Believers in Business.

Hyeji Kim

“Whoa, I want to do that!” was the reaction I had as I tapped through the Instagram stories of MBA2s who were on their DBi’s in January 2023. I, as an MBA1, was busy preparing for interviews, hoping and praying that internship recruiting would soon be over. I looked at all of the locations that were popping up: Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and South Africa. ‘Any one of these would be fascinating destinations,’ I thought to myself and resolved to be on a winter DBi myself the following year. 

That is what I did! I spent two weeks on a DBi to Cape Town, South Africa, and every moment was extremely worth it. To be quite honest, I originally saw the DBi as an opportunity to travel to someplace cool with a bunch of friends from business school. But it turned out to be so much more. 

The Beauty of Cape Town

Our hotel and school building were located by the V&A Waterfront, a vibrant food and shopping district alongside the harbors of the Alfred and Victoria basins. On most days after school, many of us would visit the area to take walks, go eat, or simply sit and take in the beauty of the water and landscape. The water was so blue and sparkly; the backdrop of Table Mountain against the buildings, the ships, and the bustling of the district never got old. The sun shone for almost more than 12 hours a day, and save for some windy moments, the weather was consistently warm and welcoming. 

Besides the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town and the surrounding areas had so much to offer. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head offered good hiking experiences for those interested in the challenge (although many of us – aka me – chose to use the cable car that allowed for easier access). A few minute car ride would bring us to beautiful beaches for us to watch sunsets and enjoy each other’s company. Yes, many of us fell sick with the “Cape Town Tummy,” but the restaurant scene in Cape Town offered many interesting venues and dishes.

View of Table Mountain
On our first day of classes, we took a bus up to a hill that gave us a beautiful view of Table Mountain as well as the shoreline.

Deep Dive into Cape Town and South Africa

My favorite part, however, was how much we got to learn about this country that embodied such a painful past and continues to grapple with complexities around socioeconomic differences and race. We heard from phenomenal speakers – individuals we would not have had access to had it not been for this program – on the importance of entrepreneurship and its potential to lift up those living in poverty. We learned about energy and food security and how it impacts various parts of the city and country that was going through chronic “load shedding” to conserve electricity. We learned about the categorization of race and how one may or may not identify with the designations that they had to fall into.

Outside of the classroom learnings, we got to meet with locals and talk to them about how all these seemingly academic topics of entrepreneurship as well as energy and food security truly impacted their lives. We took a couple field trips to “townships,” areas slightly outside of the city center that are traditionally inhabited by individuals that would be considered of lower socioeconomic class. Some equate “townships” with “slums,” and the general tourist advice one gets when coming to Cape Town is to not visit these townships. Yet here we were in these townships (safely guided by locals) conversing with people in their homes. All of them were so interested in talking to us, sharing their views on how their lives could be improved, and how they hope that their grandchildren might live a better life. All were nuances, questions, and thoughts I would never have had if I had come to Cape Town simply as a tourist, and I was grateful for a chance to wrestle with them.

A picture with one of the locals
A picture with one of the locals (in the middle with the striped top; our local guide is in the pink dress) in the township that we spoke to. She ran a small business out of her personal kitchen baking bread and cooking chicken.

My Fellow Sternies

The group of Sternies that got into the South Africa DBi were a great group of people. I knew my fellow full-time students that were on the trip with me were great and fun to be around, but I was thankful for the opportunity to have met so many Langone students as well. Having actively stayed away from evening classes my first three semesters, my interactions with Langone students until that point were short and sweet, limited to the small interactions I had with them in student clubs. Yet here was a group of students I had not yet met, all of them so open and welcoming and eager to make new connections. It opened my eyes to the breadth and quality of the student body that Stern had to offer. Whether one was in the full-time, part-time, or focused programs, we were all on a similar journey to figure out the next steps in our careers and lives.

NYU Stern group photo

From weekend excursions to the wineries in Stellenbosch, to hiking the most southwest point of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, to seeing tiny penguins at Boulders Beach, DBi South Africa gave me the best of what Stern has to offer: community and friendships with smart, engaging, and down-to-earth people paired with in-depth learnings that expanded my worldview of how we are simultaneously so different yet the same across countries and cultures. It’s always so exciting and rewarding to be able to challenge oneself personally, relationally, and academically, and DBi South Africa fulfilled all that and more.