Who Survived the Culture Quest?!

Team Variety Pack earned "picture of the day" honors with this wedding crash photo.

Team Variety Pack earned “picture of the day” honors with this wedding crash photo.

Today, 17 teams’ worth of Lauder students can put up their feet. They have finally completed the “Orient Express”—the third annual Lauder Culture Quest.

To complete this Amazing Race-like course, the teams traveled by land from Vienna to Istanbul, starting May 15 and finishing on May 24. Along the way, they completed activities similar to what you would find on the popular CBS reality TV show and competed for points.

We caught up with one participant, Nicholas Majka, WG’13, G’13, before he left, to get a sense for his expectations. Majka was actually considering the Culture Quest his “buddymoon.”

Right before leaving for the trip, Majka married one of his Culture Quest teammates, Annie Wang, WG’13, G’13. They met at Lauder in the French track.

“We’re looking forward to getting the chance to explore a new part of the world together as husband and wife!” he wrote in an email. “We’re looking forward to combining a scholarly understanding of [Eastern European] history with an on-the-ground perspective through our road trip. My best learning at Lauder has come when I’m actually in the country we’re researching; you get so much more context out of the sights and interactions.”

“The Balkans has played such a critical geo-strategic role in history (Ottoman Empire, WWI, Post-Yugoslavia, etc.), and we’re excited to get a better understanding of the countries, their people and their culture—and the food too!” he continued.

The rules of the game were pretty simple. Teams were free to pick any “reasonable route” by land between Vienna and Istanbul. Teams could not split up along the way. And teams could complete on-list tasks for points, as well as any number of “off-list” tasks, which included things like:

• winning best picture of the day

• meeting for a midway dinner in Sofia, Bulgaria

• eating a typical local dish

• crashing a wedding

A member of Team Buddy Moon zips through Vienna.

A member of Team Buddy Moon zips through Vienna.

• writing a poem about trip experiences

• meeting with a local Wharton/Lauder alum

• business-related activities (touring a local business, interviewing a business owner or selling a good not available in a local market)

• adventures (sailing, kayaking or horseback riding)

• service-related activities (meeting with a sustainability-focused NGO, volunteering)

• political activities (interviewing a government official or police officer, engaging the local media in a Lauder track language)

Today, on the trip’s final day, all of the 70 or so participants visited with Vedat Sadioglu, W’86, a member of the Wharton Executive Board for EMEA, who with his wife Claudia hosted the entire group at his home in Istanbul. Alums Kemal Ege Cansen, WG’66, eminent newspaper columnist; Sami Habbab, W’98, co-president of the Penn and Wharton Club of Turkey; Ali Ferzan Nalbantoglu, WG’05, of Turkven Private Equity; and Ali Ispahani, W’00, of Actera Group, also met with the students.

The annual Lauder Culture Quest is an experience designed to challenge internationally curious Lauder students to interact personally with the peoples of various countries in a given region. Through creativity and resourcefulness, participants demonstrate teamwork by completing challenging tasks that impact local communities in positive ways. Students traveled to Central America during the first Culture Quest and South Africa during the second. It is a unique offering in the already eminent MBA/MA Lauder Program, which prepares future business leaders by integrating the Wharton MBA with an MA in International Studies from Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences.

Editor’s note: Access the Lauder Culture Quest blog to see other pictures from Culture Quest, as well as all of the information, rules and background about this unique business-school event.

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