A dream come true! One of the rare adventures in TALL is the foreign travel experience. Its also common in other state programs to feature a trip out of the country. Frankly, its value has been debated in other states on the basis of cost. As stated previously, the foreign travel/study session may well absorb a significant share of the total budget.
But from the first, it has been the firm belief of the majority of directors that (a) a travel/seminar trip to another global location is essential to round out the learning experience, and (b) the out-of-country experience sets Leadership Programs apart from the general run of the mill.
Early on in Class I, it was necessary to carefully hoard a slim budget and even more difficult, to select the travel experience that would really count. There were few options. A trip to Mexico was considered, but set aside in favor of an overseas venture. But where to go on very limited resources? TALL members joined in the decision, with wide diversity of opinion. John McDowell of Shamrock finally broke the ice with a logical conclusion: “Take whatever money is available…go as far as we can…learn as much as possible.”
A swing through northern Europe seemed a good possibility. Other states had taken this route and could help immensely in planning. A network of agricultural attaches was available, a valuable resource. It would be an eye-opener to see world trade and agricultural operations in this vitally important consumer area, to say nothing of the very real problems with urban sprawl, environmental impacts, farm subsidies and global trade. From the decision-making level, strongly backed by Director Carpenter and the administration, the “go signal” was set for the fall of 1989.
Subsequent travel seminars for TALL have involved trips to Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, New Zealand and China. The results are much the same. First, it is interesting to note that probably half in each class have never been out of the U.S., except a few to Mexico. Thus the matter of vaccinations, passports, visas and minimum luggage were new experiences, probably to be repeated a number of times in later years. The bonding that occurs during the foreign trip is substantial. The realization that there are other nations, other people with similar problems and desires is impressive to the young mind. The world shrinks as long-standing views are set aside.
Suffice it to say that the 9-day, four nation trip through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and a brief glimpse of Germany was a success – exhausting but highly satisfying. Among the many lifetime memories: The worldwide flower auction at Alsmeer near Amsterdam, huge freighters offloading African peanut meal at Rotterdam, and a Belgian farmer with 140 acres (considered big for that country). Then there was the very sophisticated French vegetable producer and his family with their own processing operation right across the line of trenches of World War I, as evidenced by a pile of rusty grenades and armaments stacked in a corner of the yard. And, of course, there was a brief glimpse of Versailles, a Paris vegetable market, a champagne cellar with millions of dollars worth in store, and a late night extra – a visit to the cathedral at Cologne, miraculously spared the ravages of World War II.
But as in all TALL out-of-country experiences, it was the contacts with key leaders that counted most. Their knowledge of world trade, even of our own agriculture and finance, and their willingness to reach out and participate in business relationships with other countries was most impressive. The experiences of a businessman from AT&T, in charge of Belgian operations, on how to survive and prosper in another country was a rare insight into problems of doing business in a foreign environment. For TALL members who considered Texas to be a world of its own, it was a global lesson indeed.