Monday, December 06, 2004

Diarios de Motocicleta

There are the movies that take you to a world of fantasy, others that make you regret the money you spent on a ticket, and then there are the rare ones that make you think. I finally got around to watching this movie thanksgiving weekend and I still can't get it out of my mind.

The Motorcycle Diaries chronicles the travels of Ernesto Guevarra and his friend Alberto as they set off from Buenos Aires on a beat-up motorcycle to see the continent of South America - a land, as they put it, they have only read about. I found it to be very funny, beautifully shot, and somewhat lacking. The movie attempts to be more than a travelogue, with Ernesto turning into Che towards the end of the movie with a speech on the unity of the peoples of America etcetera. I thought that the effect of the travels on the young man should have been explored in more depth rather than giving us a conclusion, but i loved it nonetheless.

The visual imagery is breathtaking, with the natural beauty of the continent in full display throughout. It is refreshingly ironic then that the soul of this movie should be found in a scene shot in the dark. While hitchiking though the Atacama the protagonists meet a poor Chilean couple. That night, the woman explains that they are travelling to find work at a mine to feed their family, and asks why these guys are. Ernesto, seemingly aptly named for the moment, replies : we are travelling just to travel. The expression of incomprehension on the couple's faces to this reply is haunting. And it's gotten me thinking.

Why do I travel?

For the longest time, I associated travel with getting someplace - my ancestral village, grandma's house, some new city. That's not to say that the journey itself was inconsequential, but there would be no compromise with regard to getting where we were going. But, slowly, I have changed. Can't say when or how exactly this happened, but it has a lot to do with my travels with people who had that certain attitude. I knew the conversion was complete during a solo trip last year to accomplish one of my things-to-do-before-I-die: bike the Slickrock Trail in Moab. Everything was planned in advance - car, maps, bike rental, hostel. I set out from Las Vegas on schedule, but I never got there ! I was so impressed by my surroundings as I drove through Utah that I stopped where I could, ending up searching for places to stay in strange cities and visiting national parks hundreds of miles off my original route. The Slickrock Trail still remains un-checked on my to-do list, but I got to experience places and people I'd never considered exploring. I can't claim to 'travel just to travel', but I am not oblivious anymore to the journey itself and its potential to take me places I didn't intend to go. The destination, though important, isn't sacrosanct.

I think to a journey of another sort I hope to undertake next fall and I find myself troubled. I see the two years of an MBA program as a chance to explore the unexplored, find new interests, do things I have not had the opportunity to before. I may end up where I intend to go, but then again - I might go someplace much more fascinating. However, one is not ALLOWED to undertake this journey unless they know where EXACTLY they intend to go.

I find it interesting that AdComs talk about the transformational etcetera nature of the MBA program, but in the same breath advise that I don't, in my essays, leave any room for the two years of the MBA to dictate what choices I want to make career-wise. And yet, they acknowledge that MANY people write about wanting to be X in their essays but end up doing Y. Am I justified in reading that the message the schools are sending is: the ends justify the means?

I understand that they want to know if, as of TODAY, I know what I want to do with my life. But again, these goals are based on opportunities I have had until now. What should really matter is what I have made of those, and my potential once the interesting opportunities that an MBA program offers are placed before me. NOT just to go through the program as a step in a non-negotiable pre-determined path.

Last night I was talking with a friend about this, why I really want an MBA, about happiness, and I realized that what actually troubles me is how OTHERS view their MBA experience. Journeys, unless made alone, are also about who you travel with. I guess what this rant boils down to is : Would I be happy being among a set of people for whom the destination matters above all else? Of course, this question assumes that there are indeed many such people at business school, which may not be entirely true.

My friend I talked with also found the Chicago essay questions quite fascinating, and had an interesting question for me. If I could choose one essay to ask of potential classmates, what would it be. Right now, there is only one I can think of:

Why do you travel?
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