Some Thoughts After This Fantastic Self-Reflection Trip to Portugal

Guest Post By: Ni Zhang, a 2024 Foster MBA Candidate. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Study Tour to Portugal, during Winter Quarter 2023.

Portugal is known for its beautiful landscapes, wine, and food, and its recent revival has made it an attractive destination for those seeking a relaxed and affordable lifestyle. On this trip, I not only found it a popular destination with a thriving social scene but also have a deeper understanding of Portuguese culture that how they value family and community. Their hospitality and friendliness toward visitors and their attitude towards this world all impact me a lot, and I believe it will continuously last its impact on me.

Slow Culture vs. Fast-Consumption Culture

Firstly, I would like to touch on the traditional industry of winemaking. Portugal has a long history of winemaking, with some of its wine regions dating back over 2000 years. In recent years, Portugal’s wine industry has undergone a revival, with a focus on producing high-quality wines using traditional methods and indigenous grape varieties. The Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s most famous wine regions, known for producing Port wine as well as dry red and white wines. Portugal was even named the European City of Wine in 2023, recognizing its contribution to the wine industry. Additionally, all wineries we visited (Calem Caves, Quinta do Tedo, and Quinta da Pacheca) mentioned that wine tourism has become increasingly popular in Portugal, with many wineries offering tours and tastings for visitors. Overall, the wine industry in Portugal is thriving, with a focus on quality and sustainability.

I was really moved by the insistence that local people treat the wine and food business. The focus on food and wine culture stands in contrast to the fast-consumption culture that prevails in many parts of the world. Fine food and wine can be considered forms of art, as they require creativity, skill, and precision to produce. Tasting and appreciating food and wine can be a sensory experience that engages our senses of taste, smell, and sight, and can offer a way to explore different cultures and regions.

Instead of focusing on convenience, speed, and mass production, Portugal’s traditional wine and food business often put emphasis on the expense of quality, tradition, and sustainability. The production of high-quality food and wine (as we can recall from our visit at Bairro do Avillez and Aneto & Table) often involves slow and careful processes that prioritize the quality and taste of the final product, rather than speed and convenience. Food and wine culture often places a strong emphasis on traditional and artisanal techniques, which are passed down from generation to generation.

Furthermore, food and wine culture (slow culture) often values sustainability and respect for the environment. Many food and wine producers prioritize organic and sustainable farming practices, as well as eco-friendly packaging and distribution methods. This contrasts with the fast-consumption culture, which often prioritizes mass production and disposable packaging that contributes to environmental problems.

To put it in a nutshell, I value slow culture because it places a high value on taking the time to appreciate and savor the simple pleasures of life, such as quality food, meaningful relationships, and leisure time. Slow culture often involves slowing down the pace of life, reducing stress, and focusing on personal well-being. 

As Andy gave us this chocolate-tasting practice in the end, I suddenly realize that my strength in leadership might come from this culture. Slow culture often requires attention to detail, creative problem-solving, and effective communication. These skills are also essential for effective leadership, whether in the food and wine industry or in other fields. Additionally, as I mentioned I am a foodie before, and I really think an appreciation for quality food and wine can contribute to personal growth and well-being. Taking the time to appreciate and savor high-quality food and wine can be a mindful practice that promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Additionally, developing knowledge and expertise in food and wine can be a source of personal fulfillment and a way to expand one’s horizons. As a future leader, take care of yourself and then you can take care of others.

Sustainability vs. Shortsighted

Secondly, I would like to mention some of the manufacturing industries such as the cork and textiles in Portugal, and how closely tied to sustainability. Companies like Amorim Cork, Lameirinho, and Zouri Shoes all have a strong focus on sustainability. By promoting renewable resources, protecting natural ecosystems, and embracing eco-friendly production methods, these industries are helping to promote a more sustainable future.

In the case of the cork industry, Portugal is a world leader in cork production, and the industry is known for its sustainable practices. Cork is a renewable resource, as the cork tree bark is harvested without damaging the tree, which can continue to produce cork for up to 200 years. Additionally, cork forests are important ecosystems, providing habitat for numerous species and helping to combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Portugal has implemented strict regulations to ensure the long-term sustainability of cork production, including requirements for reforestation and careful management of cork forests.

Similarly, the textile industry in Portugal has been embracing sustainability practices in recent years. Many Portuguese textile companies prioritize eco-friendly production methods, such as using recycled materials and reducing waste. The industry has also been investing in sustainable technologies, such as water recycling and energy-efficient production processes. Not to mention Zouri Shoes implemented several sustainability practices throughout their supply chain, from the materials they use to the shipping methods they choose. Zouri Shoes are made from recycled materials, such as discarded fishing nets, plastic bottles, and cork. The shoes are made in Portugal by skilled artisans who are paid fair wages and work under good conditions. They also use carbon-neutral shipping methods to reduce their carbon footprint and come in eco-friendly packaging made from recycled paper and cardboard.

This whole trip has been very educational to me because Leadership with sustainability requires a long-term vision, strategic thinking, and the ability to inspire and motivate others toward a common goal. I want to be a leader who is committed to sustainability, and I want to help drive change and create a positive impact on the environment and society. I understand leadership in sustainability involves taking a proactive approach toward environmental and social issues, by identifying risks and opportunities, setting goals, and developing strategies to achieve them. It requires future me to make tough decisions, take risks, and engage stakeholders to create a shared vision for a sustainable future. 

Internal Myself vs. External Myself

Lastly, I want to share some thoughts based on our visits to the Gulbenkian Museum of Modern Art, Montebelo Vista Alegre IIhavo Hotel, and Museu Colecao Berardo. They let me think a lot about the internal real you, how I want people to see me, and how people see you.

People often struggle with questions such as “Who are you?” and “How do people see you?” because identity, experience, and value are complex and multifaceted concepts that can be influenced by a range of internal and external factors. 

Art collections are often seen as a reflection of the collector’s taste, interest, and cultural identity. They can also contribute to the shaping of public opinion on art and culture and can have a significant impact on the art market and the art world in general. While Modern art is often seen as a reflection of the artist’s perspective on themselves and the world around them. It can be a way for the artist to explore their own identity and experiences, as well as to comment on social, political, and cultural issues of their time.  Not only in the world of art, but everyone can also break away from tradition, others’ perceptions, and any other constraints. Being real is sometimes difficult, but that is the value of the uniqueness of the art piece and you.

Being real in leadership might be even harder because it involves being authentic and genuine in your interactions with others. It means being honest about your strengths and weaknesses and being transparent about your decisions and thought processes. You need to balance.When leaders are real, they build trust with their team members and create a culture of openness and collaboration. This can lead to increased employee engagement and motivation, as well as better communication and problem-solving.

Overall, the study trip in Portugal covered a variety of topics, including the country’s history, culture, sustainability practices, and leadership. I really appreciate every single theme and I am really grateful that I learned about Portugal’s rich history and its contributions to art, wine, and business. Lots of thoughts still need to be digested, but the joyfulness and impact will last.