It’s not every day that you get to visit a country during the 2nd anniversary of its revolution and meet the President! Traveling to Tunisia through Columbia’s Global Immersion Program is easily one of my greatest experiences to date. In light of the Arab Spring, the “Doing Business in North Africa” course allowed us to explore questions surrounding investment opportunities, political upheaval, and the general business climate in the “Maghreb” (Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya) during a very transitional time for the region. With more than 90 million people in the region, the Maghreb is poised for growth given its free trade agreements with Europe and several countries in Africa and the Middle East and an increasingly skilled labor market.
January 14th: Revolution
Our first full day in Tunis was marked by the 2nd anniversary of the country’s revolution. In an effort to avoid the heavily populated streets and demonstrations, our group spent the morning exploring Hammamet, a resort town outside Tunis. We had a chance to see the town’s medina (old city), partake in shopping at the souq (marketplace), and enjoy some mint tea at a salon de the (café).
Connecting the Dots
After researching various aspects of Tunisian commerce and politics in the classroom portion of the course, we were able to connect with many thought leaders and business executives in the country to supplement our studies from a number of organizations: AfricInvest-TunInvest, the African Development Bank, the American Cooperative School in Tunis, Carrefour, COFAT/Groupe Elloumi, Ende inter-Arabe, Poulina Group Holding, Tunisiana, and the Tunisian American Chamber of Commerce.
Hello, Mr. President
The highlight of the trip was our visit to the presidential palace to meet with His Excellency, Moncef Marzouki. There, we had the opportunity to ask questions about his political priorities, the difficulties of leading during times of tumultuous transition, and lessons learned from countries that have also moved to democratic regimes. The president spoke candidly about the problems that the country faces and the complications surrounding forming a new government and writing a constitution from scratch. Afterward, we were interviewed by TV, radio, and print media as we posed for pictures. We made it to the news very quickly!
In all, Global Immersion has been one of the best parts of my Columbia experience and I encourage everyone that matriculates to consider it – There is no better way to get three credits towards graduation! Please check out the program’s Travel Blog to see what other Columbia Business School students have done during their adventures abroad.