My DBi New Zealand Experience

Author: Sarah Qin is an MBA Candidate at the Stern School of Business in NYU, specializing in Technology Product Management, Brand Management, and Strategy. Prior to Stern, Sarah worked in corporate finance at GE and consulting at Deloitte. Sarah interned at and will be returning to Estée Lauder as a Finance & Strategy Manager after graduating in May 2024. Sarah enjoyed being co-president of Stern Technology Association (STA) this past year and strengthening the tech community across the full-time, part-time, and focused MBAs.

Throughout my life, I always viewed New Zealand as this beautiful utopia, a place far away from me, somewhere I could easily visit on Pinterest but not so much in real life. When I discovered that Stern had a DBi program there, it stopped me in my tracks! The opportunity to spend two weeks there with my classmates, exploring its incredible scenery while learning about how business is done in that country, was too good to pass up! As someone who absolutely loves the summertime and dreads cold temperatures, it was a no-brainer for me to escape the cold New York winter for a few weeks and enjoy summer in New Zealand instead. I also happen to be a huge tennis fan, and the Australian Open and all its warm-up tournaments (including the Auckland Open) conveniently coincided with my DBi. Watching those matches live on TV in the same time zone and attending some matches in-person both during and after the DBi was another dream come true!

Despite Auckland being 16 hours ahead of NYC, I didn’t experience jet lag because I was that ecstatic to be in this paradise! The locals were so friendly, the scenery was breathtaking, and the Sauvignon Blanc was as crisp and refreshing as it gets! Moreover, the black sand beaches glistened in the sunlight, and there were abundant sheep in the lush rolling hills of the countryside. I also got to visit the Shire in person as well, and even though I have not watched any of the Lord of the Rings movies, I was blown away by the set design and felt like I was on an architectural digest tour for Hobbits. Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride away from Auckland, was heavenly with its turquoise waters and endless supply of the finest quality wine. Everywhere I looked, there was a postcard view, and I had to pinch myself many times to remind myself that everything was real life and not simply a daydream or figment of my imagination.

Loved being a hobbit for the day at Hobbiton – I fit right in!

In addition to sightseeing with my friends, I also loved going to class and learning about the different industries in New Zealand. I realized that while New Zealand is ahead of the curve in many ways, there are also areas where it strives to improve, as no country is perfect. I learned that kiwis (nickname for New Zealanders) do not embrace risk and failure as freely as Americans do, and a big reason for this is because New Zealand is geographically much smaller than the States, resulting in fewer opportunities to fail. While an aspiring entrepreneur in the US can drive up and down Silicon Valley in California or even fly to New York City or Austin to present their business ideas to accelerators and venture capitalists, people in New Zealand primarily have Auckland as their one shot for success since much of the island is dedicated to tourism and farming. 

Despite New Zealand’s substantial efforts in sustainability, the methane emitted by its sheep and cows has caused an environmental strain that is difficult to offset. Additionally, the construction industry is essential to the country but difficult to execute because of New Zealand’s predominantly rugged terrain. Similarly, the public transportation system is subpar, and people prefer to use their cars. As a result, there is little incentive for the government to invest in improving its public transport system. While New Zealand may resemble America on the surface, it is quite different in many aspects and has its own issues to address. 

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to learn about how New Zealand actively acknowledges its shortcomings and makes significant strides to increasing investments in technology, dismantling Tall Poppy Syndrome, advocating for mental health, integrating its Māori and Pasifika populations into the community, and supporting entrepreneurs. One highlight of this DBi program was visiting an incubator called the Pacific Business Hub and learning about its support for start-ups and new businesses for the Pasifika community. It was inspiring to hear from successful entrepreneurs in New Zealand about how they beat the odds and have only become more passionate about their businesses over time. It is clear that New Zealand is so much more than a vacation spot for adventurous tourists or Australia’s “little sibling.” With its growing number of direct flights to different countries and efficient shipping routes for key exports like dairy products and wine, New Zealand has potential to add even greater value and become more connected with the rest of the world.

Auckland Open
Auckland Open with fellow Sternies and tennis fans Bianca Dy and Misato Aiso

I’m so grateful for the adventures and educational takeaways I had from this trip, but ultimately, the top reason I loved my New Zealand DBi was the people! Despite completing three semesters at Stern, there are still hundreds of full-time MBAs, part-time MBAs, and focused MBAs who I have not met yet! During my time in New Zealand, existing friendships deepened, and acquaintances became friends who were also ideal people to karaoke with on a boat! As someone who typically travels solo or with a few friends, I realized how fun group travel can be, especially when Stern plans a significant part of the itinerary. Going to New Zealand as part of a two-week intensive study abroad program rather than simply visiting the country as a tourist allowed me to learn about intricacies of each industry rather than purely sightsee the main attractions. Consequently, I gained a more holistic understanding of how New Zealand operates and have developed a greater appreciation for everything the country has to offer. All I can say is that going on a DBi during MBA is a must, especially in New Zealand, and you will get FOMO (fear of missing out) not JOMO (joy of missing out) if you don’t go! So what are you waiting for? Book that flight today.

Pohutu Geyser
Pohutu Geyser (largest in the Southern Hemisphere!) in Rotorua
Ferry Ride to Waiheke
Scenic ferry ride from downtown Auckland to Waiheke Island
Pacific Business Hub
Company visit to Pacific Business Hub, a vibrant incubator for start-ups
Completed the Maypole with Olivia Cannarozzi and Sarah Sprole at the Shire
Waiheke Vineyards
Froliking in the Waiheke vineyards in the middle of wine tastings
Downtown Auckland
Serene view of the downtown Auckland skyline from the Viaduct Harbour

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.

DBi Italy

Sarah Story is a full-time MBA student, specializing in Marketing, Strategy, and Operations. Prior to Stern, Sarah was a home furnishings designer. Post-MBA, she plans to work in marketing or supply chain management within the retail industry. At Stern, she is co-president of the Luxury and Retail Club, and a board member of the Graduate Marketing Association and Stern Adventures. Outside of school, Sarah enjoys swimming with a local masters swim team and attending concerts.

One of the primary reasons I chose to attend Stern was because of the extensive DBi, “Doing Business in…”, opportunities. I was not able to study abroad during undergrad, so I was excited to take advantage of the many 1-2 week intensive courses that are part of this program. I was thrilled that my course lottery results allowed me to have this incredible opportunity to study for a week in Milan, Italy with a focus in luxury retail. I am so grateful to have had this experience; there were many laughs, amazing food, and new friendships.

We were given a warm welcome at the hotel with an “aperitif” hosted by Stern. About a dozen of us went to a group dinner afterwards, which was a great way to introduce ourselves in a smaller group and have some time to get to know each other before the class officially started. It was quite magical to walk up to a restaurant requesting to seat 12 people, and be seated in a private dining room that also functioned as the wine cellar.

The first day was class packed with great lectures, an impressive coffee break, and was capped off with speakers from Ferrari and the CMO of Gucci, who also happens to be a Stern alum. (The aforementioned comment was, thankfully, NOT said while he was there.) After class, we began our in-class project: visiting a short list of luxury retailers to examine how they treated their shoppers, whether purchases were made or not, and the overall experience of shopping in these stores. It also became a regular occurrence to find classmates at Camparino, the Campari Bar, after class, located near our hotel.

On our second day, we headed off early to visit the Mantero Silk Factory, located just outside of Como. Seeing the printing process in action, both with traditional silk screens and digital printers, was enlightening for many. We learned how so many luxury companies from around the world, not just those in Italy, seek out the talent and expertise of the Mantero factory. Of course we all panic-shopped (there was limited time) at the sample store and came away with some great finds for ourselves and gifts for others. Upon returning to campus, we were greeted by a room full of the most beautiful, soft wool textiles and raw fibers, for a talk from a Loro Piana representative about what makes their textiles and apparel so highly coveted. After the talk we continued our “shopping safari,” visiting the last stores on our lists. Each team chose to divide and conquer differently – some shopped as a group, some split the list in half between team members, and some shopped at all the stores independently. 

Our third day was focused on brand extensions, particularly in the furniture category. We explored the history of design and manufacturing excellence of Italian furniture companies and the differences of how they are structured in design, manufacturing, and distribution compared to American furniture companies. In the afternoon we visited the Cassina, Versace Casa, and Dolce and Gabbana Home showrooms and heard from the CEO of Cassina, the design director of Versace Casa, and the Vice President of Luxury Living Group, which is the parent company of Versace Casa and Dolce and Gabbana Home. After a long day, we had a class dinner in the canal district, and mostly avoided a very rainy evening!

The final day, we heard from Paolo Pedersoli of Jakala, a consulting firm that includes a focused division in luxury and design enterprises. Before lunch, we finalized our findings for our group presentations, and presented our findings with the class in the afternoon. Gucci was one of the stores that several of the groups were assigned to visit, and the general take away was that the shopping experience was not as expected. It was quite entertaining and interesting to hear how each group’s experiences differed, and how some brands were presented in a positive light from our guest speakers, yet the shopping experiences were not reflective of that or very welcoming to customers.

The course wrapped up with a stellar group dinner, a close walk from the hotel. One of our classmates had a birthday on that Friday, so several of us toasted him at midnight in the hotel bar with some champagne: the perfect way to celebrate the end of the course.

I could not be more grateful to have had this experience. In addition to the course, I added on about a week of personal travel throughout northern Italy. I absolutely fell in love with Italy,  and I cannot wait to go back to explore more of Milan and the rest of the country.