KWEST: A truly ‘amazing’ experience

KWEST_2014_KyleBurr

By Kyle Burr

Nearly 1,000 participants. Five continents. More than 40 countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to KWEST.

KWEST – Kellogg Worldwide Experience and Service Trip – is an institution among Kellogg MBA students. Each year more than 85% of the school’s incoming class and their significant others (referred to as “Joint Ventures” or “JVs”) embark on a weeklong adventure to countries all over the world. This year’s KWEST kicks off in less than a week, with students departing to a variety of destinations, from China and Portugal to Argentina and the Galapagos Islands, and many places in between.

Each trip consists of 20 incoming students and JVs, and is usually led by five rising second-year students. As per its namesake, KWEST participants not only spend the week building friendships with their new classmates, but also dedicate part of their time to community service activities in the countries they visit.

Designed to build camaraderie prior to the upcoming fall academic quarter, KWEST is often the first impression of Kellogg for incoming students, and frequently results in the formation of lasting friendships that persevere long beyond their time in Evanston.

By tradition, participants are asked not to share any personal information revealing:

  • Their hometown
  • Their undergraduate alma mater
  • Their work history prior to Kellogg
  • The city they most recently lived in

While this can make conversation a bit more challenging, the intent is to foster deeper, more meaningful dialogue. Toward the end of the trip, each person is asked to share this information during the “Big Reveal” – a highlight of the week that often leads to a number of surprises and shocking revelations!

In addition to providing a vast array of exotic locales, the portfolio of KWEST trips is intended to provide the style of travel and leisure (or lack thereof) that suits the needs and interests of everyone.

As an incoming student last year, I had the opportunity to participate in what is likely the most polarizing of all trips – KWEST Amazing Race! Simultaneously the most coveted and intentionally evaded of the options available, this trip attracts a certain kind of individual that is spontaneous, comfortable with an extreme amount of ambiguity and willing to place their full trust in the hands of a few similarly adventurous strangers.

Inspired by the eponymous hit TV series, “KWEST AR” participants are at the complete whim of their second-year student leaders. We had absolutely no idea where we were headed on a day-by-day basis – including our initial destination!

Once we arrived in a city, we were split into five teams of four students, each led by a second-year leader. Just like the television show, we were given a series of clues, with each leading to a different site in that particular city or we received a team challenge to be solved on the spot. Without the aid of Internet devices, teams relied on [hopefully] friendly locals that [with any luck] spoke English and could correctly point us in the right direction. Each “race” typically lasted three to four hours and could cover more than 10 miles on foot!

The next day, we got up, traveled to a new city – often in a new country – and did the whole thing all over again! Last year took us to Bucharest, Romania; Sofia, Bulgaria; Istanbul, Turkey; and Antalya, Turkey.

While it is surely an unorthodox way to see the world, it is unquestionably an unforgettable experience. Which is why I am leading it this year! Stay tuned in the coming weeks when I will reveal the details of this year’s trip after we return to the US.

Other “special trips” include:

  • KWEST Mystery – Similar to Amazing Race (but without the race part), participants are not told their destination country until they arrive. Typically more “off-the-beaten path” locales, last year’s destinations were Fiji and Samoa.
  • KWEST Top Chef – Introduced for the first time in 2015, participants will compete in a series of competitive cooking activities while immersing themselves in local cuisine. This year’s destination is Peru!
  • Tour de KWEST – A storied tradition, participants spend the week cycling across a country! Last year’s group went to the Netherlands, and this year’s group is headed to France.
  • Hiking Excursions – Some trips place a strong emphasis on outdoor activities, and this year two trips have incorporated some serious mountain terrain into their itineraries. One group is heading to the Bavarian Alps, while another will be trekking in Switzerland.
  • Short Trips – Intended for individuals with conflicts on either end of the normal KWEST schedule, these trips either leave on Monday or return on Friday to accommodate extenuating circumstances.
  • KWEST Chicago – For those unable or uninterested in traveling internationally and looking to fully immerse themselves in their new surroundings!
  • KWEST Family – Designed for incoming students with children, this trip usually heads to a nearby destination in Wisconsin or Michigan for family-friendly activities and vacationing.

As I mentioned above, community service is an important part of the KWEST experience. The students on KWEST Jordan, for example, will be volunteering in a Syrian refugee camp and school, while the Tour de KWEST participants will help restore a historic reservoir in the Loire Valley.

For thousands of current and former students and JVs, KWEST was a foundational part of their Kellogg experience – and an adventure most will never forget. More than just a “last hoorah” before hitting the books in September, it is often the beginning of a journey that will continue after they’ve left Evanston behind.

Trip leaders play an integral role in this process by cultivating the right group dynamic, dealing with unforeseen circumstances, and ensuring that all goes smoothly during the week. However, in most cases their influence extends far beyond the KWEST week itself. KWEST leaders often form the underlying fabric of Kellogg’s informal peer-to-peer mentoring network, serving as advisors and role models to first-year students long into the school year.

In that spirit, I look forward to meeting the next cadre of KWEST Amazing Racers and continuing the legacy of my own leaders and many before them.

Kyle Burr is a member of the 10-person, student-run KWEST Executive Committee. Prior to Kellogg, he was a management consultant working for governments, non-profits and social enterprises in Washington, D.C., Swaziland and Uganda. This summer he interned as an Associate Brand Manager with the Kraft Heinz Company outside Chicago.

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