by Sebastian Coronel
After a 3-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emerging Markets Course started up in-person this summer! During this intensive, 3-week course, we were given the privilege of attending classes at the University of Pretoria in Hatfield, South Africa. The majority of the coursework revolved around highly relevant topics, such as macroeconomic performance, foreign exchange rate stability, emerging stock markets and financial decision making. But it was more than just concepts that we were able to learn about and experience firsthand. For example, while studying foreign exchange rate stability, we witnessed firsthand how currency devaluation affected the costs of everyday goods (i.e., the highly coveted IPED favorite – chutney chips) even during our three weeks in the country. Especially as the world is reeling from the aftermath of a global pandemic and the war in Ukraine (in addition to other noteworthy, contemporary conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), these topics will be extensively discussed and reflected upon in the years to come.
More than just the coursework, we were given the privilege of attending various sites in South Africa that reinforced our learning. For example, we visited the South African Reserve Bank, where we discussed topics such as how to properly provide for public service workers’ salaries (i.e., teachers and firefighters) while also ensuring that the public sector is fiscally solvent and accountable to taxpayers. And, we were presented highly differing views on these topics in our site visits. For instance, we visited the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in the morning, where we were presented with a more capitalist perspective on how markets and the economy should be run. Later that day, we visited the South African Miner’s Union, which offered us a far more socialist perspective that advocated more extensively for workers’ rights and protections. These site visits not only provided us with a more insightful perspective on domestic and international matters, but also enriched our academic coursework in a manner that could not be duplicated solely via class discussions or reading textbooks.
Additionally, this summer course provided us with unparalleled opportunities to explore South Africa. For instance, on our first day visiting the nature preserve near Kruger National Park, we were able to spot four of the coveted “Big 5” animals! While this certainly cannot be guaranteed for every student who may take this course in the future, the opportunity to go on a safari and experience firsthand the serenity and tranquility that spending overnight staring at starry skies in a game reserve was one that was surely memorable for many of us. Additionally, for those who appreciate wines, we were exposed to some of Stellenbosch’s most premier wine labels vis-à-vis a few wine tours. We also had various class bonding exercises (literally!), where we would do boot camp together after class and were able to focus on other items outside of coursework.
While this brief blog cannot capture each and every one of our collective and individual experiences, there were certainly many memories made while being a part of this program. And, this was done all while learning more about the beauty and complexity of South Africa, as well as the topic of emerging markets.