We spent the last part of our trip in Bongani Mountain Lodge, a private game reserve in Mpumalanga, close to the Kruger National Park. Bongani is located between several small mountain ranges where you can see all kinds of animals—lions, jaguars, elephants, snakes and even rhinos. The drive to Bongani is almost five hours from Johannesburg but it is so beautiful that the length doesn’t matter. As soon as you get used to driving on the left side of the road, the drive across the South African countryside is relaxing and enriching. Along the way, we drove through several gigantic rock formations and even ran into some slow moo-ving traffic (for some reason, cows in South Africa like to walk on the highways).
Once we finally arrived in Bongani, we still had a 30-minute drive through rough terrain in a big 4×4 jeep to arrive at the lodge. The guide told us to keep an eye out for animals but we were unlucky and did not see a single one on the short drive. We did, however, get some beautiful shots of the reserve.
Our hotel rooms were incredibly romantic – we had a mosquito net, a bathtub and each room had an exterior shower so we could bathe with the forest around us. We also had A/C, which was necessary because Bongani can get extremely hot, even during the winter.
We barely had time to take a break in our rooms; our first game drive started less than an hour after we arrived! Given that we didn’t see any animals on the drive to the lodge, I’d say our luck improved considerably; we ran into a group of elephants! We were able to get so close that, at one point, we became a little bit scared the male elephant would charge at us. We were also close enough to clearly see the baby elephants. The mothers like to tuck away their children from strangers but we were able to see them clearly! It was so cute!
Between safari game drives, we spent most of our time by the pools. There was a beautiful, large pool with a rock cascade and another smaller but even more beautiful infinity pool that had a view of the safari areas. We would watch animals from the infinity pool while we sunbathed and relaxed. On our second to last day, we spotted a family of elephants running out of the woods to take a shower in a small lagoon. It was by far one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. The adult elephants ran in pace with the baby elephants to make sure they kept up, and when they showered, they did so with their trunks, just like you’d see in Animal Planet!
Later, we did a game drive at dusk. We left the camp around 4 p.m. and headed down the valley in search of more animals. We were lucky enough to run into a giraffe and some kudus! The giraffe was nothing special; it just ate leaves and chilled near the trees but the kudus were really interesting. Kudus are deer-like creatures that can jump four meters into the air. They also have beautiful antlers and the male kudus grow blue-greyish fur with black stripes.
The next morning our guide, Simeon, took us up a mountain to see the dawn. We had to leave at 5 a.m. but the early wake-up call was worth it to be able to see the sun rise over the reserve. The view from the mountain was one for the ages but, sadly, our cameras could not do justice to the beauty that our eyes saw.
On our third day, we went out to find lions. It was a cold, grey day so we were all wearing ponchos, and we were given hot chocolate and biscuits. We were unsuccessful in our search for the lions but we were able to see a group of lions that the reserve had caged. These lions were recently brought to the reserve from elsewhere and thus can’t be immediately released. Jamaal was skilled enough to get a shot of the male lion through the iron cage though!
On our last night in Bongani, we went on a game drive with the goal of finding the last two animals we had failed to see – the rhino and the leopard. Luckily, we spotted a rhino couple walking close to our lodge. We failed to see the elusive leopard but we did see a small cat that the locals call the mini leopard! After the drive, the hotel staff prepared for us a lovely outdoor dinner by a fire, complete with candlelight. The food was a mix of South African dishes, all of which were incredible. It was a unique, memorable night.
On our last day in Bongani, we visited a rock site with ancient art made by the San people many thousands of years ago. We also visited the neighboring village of Mpumalanga. The village was beautiful – in many ways it reminded me of villages in Nicaragua. The houses are small and humble but people take good care of them. The people were extremely open to us and friendly. We visited them during a Sunday, so all the village’s children were playing at church. We hung out with them for a while and we even sang together.
As this is my last blog entry, I’d like to thank Jamaal Jones ’16, who took the majority of the photos I’ve shared in these posts.
Today we spent our day in the city of Pretoria. Pretoria is about an hour north of Johannesburg and is the executive capital of South Africa. Pretoria is special in that it is also the one city in South Africa where the majority of people speak Afrikaans. Afrikaans is an offshoot of the Dutch that the first colonists in South Africa spoke. Pretoria is also home to the beautiful University of Pretoria, where we were to spend our day presenting a workshop about uncertain tax positions to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and later to honors tax students from the University of Pretoria.
When we arrived in Pretoria, we were all anxious about our presentation. Morgan Ballengee, Jamaal Jones, Anna Hargett and Paige Hogan were the group in charge of presenting to SARS. I was in the group presenting to the honors tax students, along with Kate Feeser, Paige Gay, Amanda Garcia and Kristina Seon. The SARS group presented first, and they were awesome. They did a great job at explaining the different aspects of the American way of treating uncertain tax positions. They answered all kinds of questions from the audience and completely nailed everything down. Plus Professor Alexander and Ms. Pamela Miller helped us answer more questions after the workshop. The people from SARS were definitely impressed by their presentation, and they were very thankful and interested in our work. After the SARS presentation, we were given a tour of the University of Pretoria campus. We visited their historic buildings, climbed into a tower that overlooks the city, played in their science center with many cool gadgets, including a really fun mirror maze, and even visited one of their gigantic, 200+ student lecture halls. It was interesting to walk around a campus with more than 50,000 students, and amusing to find so many similarities between our own campus and theirs, despite the fact we are continents away. We had lunch at a historic replica of the first building of the University of Pretoria. There, we were served the traditional dish of bobotie. It was so good that I went for seconds. I don’t know how to describe it better than a quiche on steroids and meat.
After lunch, it was game time. It was time for my group to present our workshop to a classroom full of honors tax students. We were all at least a little bit anxious on our way to the classroom, but we had the opportunity to meet and break the ice with the UP students before our workshop started, and that definitely helped everyone to relax. The honors students were in many ways very similar to us! At the very least, we were all tax nerds, and we were all looking forward to the presentation. Kate presented first, with Paige, Amanda and I following. Kristina closed the game for us. We were really pleased with the results. We were successful in making University of Pretoria students interact and work with us throughout our cases, and we managed to make the best out of our hour-and-a-half presentation.
The day ended with a dinner with the honors students of the University of Pretoria and a group of partners from the South African branch of Ernst & Young. We were at a nice Italian restaurant, and it was a delicious break from traditional South African food. The dinner went smoothly and I had a great time talking to everyone in my table. But by the end of the dinner, we were all tired after such a full day and ready to head back to Johannesburg.
On Sunday, we arrived in Johannesburg after two weeks in Lexington and 17 hours flying over the Atlantic. As soon as we got here, we went through customs, had a health inspection and drove to our hotel. We are staying in a beautiful hotel called Fire and Ice! in a safe and cool area called Melrose Arch. We have everything here — a pool, WiFi and even a milkshake bar.
The next morning, we took a tour around Johannesburg. The city has huge buildings and looks really busy all the time. You see all kinds of different people walking in the streets. Joburg, as the locals call it, is extremely diverse. You can hear English, Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa and many other languages in the city. Later, we drove to Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg, where the majority are Zulu and Xhosa and where Nelson Mandela lived before taking the presidency in Johannesburg. We were planning on visiting Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto, but instead we visited the Apartheid Museum. There we saw and learned about Nelson Mandela, apartheid and the struggle to end it. We also had the opportunity to choose our favorite Nelson Mandela quote in a wood stick. I chose his quote about poverty: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
Today we visited the Origins Museum, where we learned about early stone age technology (a.k.a. rocks). We looked at all the different tools used in Africa by ancient tribes people and their cave carvings. We went on to visit the Sterkfontein Caves, also known as the “Cradle of Humanity.” Hidden in these caves are thousands of human fossils that were preserved for more than 3000 years. We went through several tunnels and we had to climb, walk, squish and even crawl to find our way out of the caves. It was the best!
Now, the fun stuff: food. Yesterday, we had lunch at Wits University and ate some great wraps at their own version of our Dining Hall. I had a honey chicken avocado and cream cheese one that was everything that’s good in the world. In the evening, we had a lovely dinner with the Claibornes where we ate traditional South African food, including the amazing Biltong. Biltong is similar to beef jerky, but made out of game and ten times better. I am not sure how they make it, but we are planning on making them back in the States. To end the day, we had ice cream in cups made out of fruits that were pretty cool and felt very “South Africa” until Paige said that they sell them at Costco.
Tomorrow, we have workshops all day with the South African Revenue System (SARS) and a group of graduate students from the University of Pretoria. We are all really excited (and nervous!) to present, but I think we will do a great job.
The last leg of our trip was packed with even more wonderful alumni visits and meetings. After leaving Beijing on Thursday, May 14, we took the high-speed train southwest towards the nationalist capitol, Nanjing. There we met Mr. Hao and his associates who showed us around the government controlled and promoted Software Development Park. Mr. Hao rolled out the red carpet for us, giving us the grand tour of the park itself, but also of their promotion center, which helped us understand their goals for the future of the project.
The Software Development Park was fascinating because it got a very different start in China than how we might have imagined a comparable project would launch in the U.S. The government spearheaded the project, sized land, and developed the office space. We got to ask questions and try to understand the reasoning behind their approach.
From Nanjing we took another high-speed train back to Shanghai. On Saturday, we met Mr. and Ms. Owen, the parents of Andrea Owen, who discussed their time working for a fledgling coffee company in western China. Mr. Owen discussed the many difficulties he faced working in China, from reporting errors to tax issues to working with local government officials. It was a fascinating to have the opportunity to talk with someone who’s so close to W&L and who has also had experience working in the western part of the country.
We then met with Julie Harris, who discussed her career path and plans for the future. This meeting was actually the most helpful one for me because Ms. Harris was able to articulate the benefits of working abroad and how it has helped her build a more global career.
We had a fantastic visit at Estee Lauder on Tuesday. We discussed a range of challenges the company faces—from the accounting issues of big conglomerates to their future strategy in China. One issue that I found particularly absorbing was the Chinese government’s testing of products, which isn’t necessarily a move to protect consumer health but rather a non-tariff measure to block new products.
Finally, we got to attend what may very well have been W&L’s first big alumni reception in China. Don Childress, the Rector of the University’s Board of Trustees, attended the event and gave an update on the capital campaign and other issues of strategic importance to the W&L community. The evening was lovely for me because I was able to engage with different alumni from various backgrounds. I only hope that one day I have the opportunity, as an alumnus, to share the same kind of valuable information about my career with future W&L students.
Greetings from the North Capitol of Beijing! Since my last update, we have been very busy traveling around and talking to wonderful alumni. In the last week alone, we visited with six different alumni and have traveled to three different cities in China.
Our meetings began with Evelina Gospodinova ’06, whom we met for coffee in the lovely French Concession area of Shanghai. Evelina discussed her post-grad transition from philosophy major to freelance photographer and finally to boutique clothing store founder. It was fascinating for me to discuss potential career paths with someone other than my parents and to discover that people’s paths can be eclectic and not completely planned out.
On Monday we met with Daniel Swiggett, who’s a partner abroad with the accounting and consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers. He gave a fantastic presentation on how PWC is set up and operated in foreign counties. What really fascinated me was how PWC keeps corporate control through their subsidiaries. I never imagined that they organized new markets like franchises, allowing relatively independent firms to operate under their name and branding. We also had a good discussion about the American tax code, and found out the U.S. is one of only a few countries that charges income tax to citizens who live abroad. This led to a great discussion on the benefits and merits of this policy.
On Tuesday we visited two firms, the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai and General Motors. At AmCham Shanghai, we listened to a really interesting presentation on how China’s economics have changed over the past 30 years. The country has transformed from being an exporter to being a consumer. They used the analogy of “Ms. Wong’s Purse,” which today is a designer handbag filled to the brim with all the same amenities as “Ms. Smith’s Purse”—smart phone, car keys, cosmetics, etc. We’re beginning to realize that the Chinese are not as different as we had come to believe.
In the afternoon, we met with Richard Makov, General Counsel of GM’s China Group. Mr. Makov showed us around his office and discussed how China and shockingly, Buick cars, have become GM’s biggest market in terms of units sold. He also led a discussion on bribery laws in the U. S. and China and what he does to try to minimize GM’s risk.
There is much more I could say about this amazing week. We were thinking of everyone on campus this weekend and hope you all enjoyed Mock-Con Kickoff!
I will see you on the other side!
The class is finally in Shanghai, and it has been a crazy trip so far. I woke up in Atlanta on Friday morning at 3:00 a.m. full of excitement and doubt. This was my first time traveling outside of the Americas, so I was very excited to be challenged by a culture completely separate from my own.
After a quick, two-hour flight, I arrived in Chicago and met some of my fellow classmates and Professor Bai, which quickly calmed my nerves. There was no way I was going to last on a 14-hour flight without talking with some friends or getting some help through immigration. Surprisingly, the flight was pretty enjoyable, a consistent stream of movies and interesting scenery made it all the more fun.
We arrived exhausted in Shanghai at 2 p.m. on Saturday—12 hours ahead of Lexington. After catching a bus to Eastern China Normal University, we unpacked and received a lovely tour of the small campus, which is in the heart of Shanghai. After dinner, I finally went to sleep after being awake for 72 hours.
On Sunday, the class got organized and we received the basics required for China life—new Chinese SIM cards and paper money. For such a big city, it is amazing how few retailers will accept credit or debit cards. All transactions are completed with RMB. This requires constantly searching for ATMs that will accept American cards and give a preferable rate on the 6 to 1 conversion from Dollars to RMB.
After the basics were out of the way, my classmates and I were allowed some freedom to explore the city. We decided to go to a famous local market near People Square. After getting lost in the subway for a few hours, some helpful Australian expats guided us to the market. It was a fantastic experience, haggling and discussing items in a combination of broken Chinese and English. The experience gave me new hope that I will actually be able to communicate and travel around the city.
Today, we attended two interesting lectures and had dinner with our teachers. The morning class was a basic “crash course” in Chinese. We reviewed Pin Yin, the basic pronunciation of Chinese characters, and learned helpful phrases that should make it easier for us to communicate. Dr. Do taught an afternoon class on modern China’s economy; the discussion touched on Confucian principals, and I particularly enjoyed a discussion about Chinese and American auction markets.
Although I have only been in China for two days, so much has already happened. I look forward to the adventure ahead and will report back in the upcoming weeks. If you want updates on the group in real time, you can follow me on Facebook or on Instagram at Shipphappens12. Thanks for reading!
ACCT 372 Course Description
On the last day of our trip to the accounting “motherland,” we visited the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) near Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.
We were graciously welcomed to the PCAOB—when we arrived, there were legal pads, pens and bottles of water at each of our seats. Note-taking had never been made so easy, and it’s a good thing because we had a lot to learn. A panel of three PCAOB inspection team members showed us a video that detailed the formation of the PCAOB. The PCAOB was established in reaction to accounting scandals in the early 2000s and the subsequent passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The panelists told us about their day-to-day work—inspecting the auditing practices of accounting firms. I was surprised to learn that the PCAOB covers such a large range of firms. One day, inspectors could be in the boardroom of a downtown office building, meeting with firm partners and industry specialists. On the next day, they could be perched on a sofa in the basement of a house in Brooklyn, reviewing the audits done by a small firm.
Our session with the PCAOB was the most interactive of the trip. The presentation quickly turned into an open discussion with the panelists, as each of our questions sparked another. As W&L students, this type of environment was most natural to us. It seemed like the PCAOB members were pleasantly surprised by the interest we took in their work.
One interesting question fielded by the panel was, “Why leave a job at a large accounting firm to join the PCAOB?” The responding panelist talked about the advantages of being away from the client service side of things. He liked how this allowed him to focus solely on accounting issues, without having to worry about selling business or satisfying clients. Additionally, all of the panelists talked about the better work/life balance they had found at the PCAOB. One member jokingly chimed in, “We’re not in it for the loot.”
We left the office with an understanding and appreciation of the important role the PCAOB plays in ensuring the integrity of auditing practices and protecting investors.
After grabbing a quick bite at the nearest Chipotle (an establishment revered by most W&L students), we hopped on the bus and headed south for Lexington. As I close this entry, I would like to formally thank Professor Irani for organizing this trip, and for putting up with our endless shenanigans.
Most of my spring term class, Contemporary Cases in Financial Accounting, takes place on campus, but we are enjoying a brief trip to Connecticut and New York, where we’re visiting with various professionals involved in the accounting standard-setting process.
After a good night’s rest in the posh Hotel Zero Degrees in Norwalk, Connecticut, we were eager to begin our visits. All of us dressed up for the visits, and I think we turned a few heads as we filed onto the bus.
The day began with a visit to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) headquarters. Upon arrival, Professor Irani remarked, “The Motherland.” This was a funny yet appropriate comment, as most of our accounting education thus far has been rooted in the standards set by the FASB.
At headquarters, we sat in on a board meeting in which the board and staff were discussing proposed changes to the presentation of certain items on the income statement. We were simultaneously reassured and overwhelmed by the fact that so much attention is applied to the minutest details. For the entire time we were in the room, the board was engaged in intense deliberation over the definition of “infrequent” and its implications for financial statement users.
After the board meeting, FASB staff members shared more information about the standard-setting process. They talked about their recent work to change the revenue recognition standard, and walked us through some of the grey areas of “collectability.” Collectability is part of the requirement to recognize revenue, and the staff used this example to illustrate how FASB and its constituents go back and forth to iron out issues in the standard-setting process.
Next, two gentlemen from the FASB Post-Grad Technical Assistant (PTA) Program came in to talk to us about their experiences at the FASB. They went over the process for becoming a PTA, which was extremely helpful. It was interesting to learn that college graduates can become part of the FASB team right out of school.
Soon thereafter, we hopped on the bus and made the quick drive to Stamford, Connecticut, where we grabbed lunch and headed to Deloitte’s national office. We met with a W&L alum, Rob Moynihan ’02, and one of his colleagues. They discussed Deloitte’s stake in the standard-setting process, and highlighted the importance of weighing input from the Big Four accounting firms. They are the ones who implement the standards everyday in practice.
We were all relieved when Rob told us about the “Technical Practice Aids” provided by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). The aids help to fill in some of the blanks in the standard, and supplement the sometimes-vague guidance in the FASB codification. We would have loved to have the aids last week in class when we were combing through the codification, searching for solutions to real-life accounting brain-busters with Professor Irani.