Savor Every Little Moment: MBA Study Tour to Portugal

Guest Post by: Dominic Racelis, Full-time MBA 2023

Foster MBAs in Portugal

I felt weirdly nervous when boarding my plane to Porto, Portugal, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that something life-changing was about to happen. That ended up being a huge understatement – the Study Tour to Portugal was the highlight of my Foster MBA experience, and one of the best times of my life. The country boasts an incredibly rich history and culture, and you feel it in everything – the food, the wine, the architecture, the landscape, and the people. We had our fearless leader, Professor Andy Hafenbrack; our rockstar staff director, Courtney Omlin; our tour guide and “very nice Scorpio”, Fabio; and some of the most intelligent and compassionate MBA students I’ve ever met. This was a perfect storm of opportunity to enjoy the best that Portugal had to offer.

Lobby display at Vista Alegre

A guiding theme for our journey was exploring what it means to live well and with purpose. This translated to company visits across food & wine, sports & entertainment, hospitality, and related industries. Key trends emerged during those visits – first and foremost, Portugal’s deep appreciation for history and tradition. At Amorim Cork (the world’s biggest producer of wine corks), some production is still done by hand, because select customers value the unique quality and output over what automation can offer. Other companies, like Vista Alegre (porcelain & fine china) or Quinta Da Pacheca (wine & port), have built their entire brand and business on their deep roots, delivering high-quality products with no less than a century of knowledge and expertise. In most restaurants, the pace of mealtime is much, much slower than the U.S. – a lunch in Lisbon can (and often does) hit the 3-hour mark, as you are expected to enjoy the experience at your own pace. Customers are treated with immense kindness and care, but employee health and community are supported too – it’s naturally embedded in business rules and policy. As young business leaders, it was a reminder that you can embrace innovation, longevity, and success, without compromising on integrity or employee well-being.

Walking along the Douro River in Porto

By design or by accident, Andy had set the stage for countless iconic moments to take place along the way. It’s hard to note them all, but I’ll try. Pastries shoved into our hands out of nowhere; a bookstore with impossibly tiny books; tubs (plural) of gelato in the alleyway; one river cruise that was sublime, and another that nearly capsized; castles that took way, WAY too long to walk through; a ping pong tournament; so much pizza that it made us sick; grabbing a few tins of fish, then a few more, then even MORE until we were suddenly an hour behind schedule. You get the picture. For me, the whimsy and chaos of it all was simply a reminder, over and over, of Andy’s core idea – how can we be mindful of the present moment, live well, and live with purpose? Maybe a good answer is to find (or create) special moments, and take the time to pause and enjoy them while you can.

Sipping wine during a cooking class

A better answer, in my view, is to invite others to share those moments with you. It’s hard to stop gushing about delicious food, spectacular wine, and breath-taking views of the countryside – but it was absolutely the people that made this trip so, so special. While our cohort represented so many different countries, languages, and professions, we were united by a shared curiosity and adventurous spirit. Portugal presented infinite little opportunities for us to bond and know each other better, and this was a group that knew how to maximize the value in that. Some students were total strangers to me, and became friends overnight – others I knew before, but came to know so much better after sharing a meal, sitting on the bus, or exploring Lisbon together. I grew so close with some of the folks on this trip, and they made it truly unforgettable.

Mr. Pacheco and the vineyards at Quinta Da Pacheca

So I guess that’s the big takeaway from all this. A study tour is, of course, an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new country and a different way of living. But it’s also a tremendous opportunity for reflection. Are you willing to slow down your pace to recognize and enjoy those special moments? Are you making the effort to be a bit more patient, listen a little more closely, and be more open to what’s around you? Are you allowing yourself to build deep, meaningful connections with people? These are questions I’ve committed to holding close so I can move ahead with a bit more intention and purpose. When I boarded my plane back to Seattle, I was exhausted but content – something life-changing happened after all, I just never thought it would hit me at my core. If you’re on the fence about a study tour or similar program, please do everything in your power to make it happen. You’ll cherish it for the rest of your life.

Professor Hafenbrack and part of the Andy Fan Club

Dominic Racelis is a Washington native who got his pre-MBA start in real estate. As a hybrid Sales/Marketing Manager, he worked with a boutique real estate consulting firm to build brand experiences for student, multi-family, and commercial properties. Having received his BA in Business from UW in 2016, Dominic returned to the Foster School to earn his MBA, to transition to a Product Marketing/Management role in the tech space. Upon graduation, he plans to help build fresh, cutting-edge technology to enhance education/accessibility with some of Seattle’ most exciting and iconic tech companies. Dominic also enjoys Seattle sports, global travel, and live music, including regular travel to arts festivals and experiences around the world.