The Transformational Leadership Journey to Nepal takes second-year students a very long way out of their comfort zones. It challenges them to trek to Everest Base Camp in the dizzying heights of the Himalayas and experience life on “the roof of the world.” For our young future leaders, it’s a journey of discovery—of themselves, of their leadership capabilities and of a very different culture to their own.

Having returned to Spain changed forever by the experience, we sat down with some of those who made the trip this year to hear about it in their own words. Guillermo Mobayed is studying our Dual Degree in Economics & International Relations; Lucy Ball, Clara Navarro, Laura Villanueva and Chiara Cassina are all students from the Dual Degree in Business Administration + International Relations, and Emanuel Mayagoitia is studying the Bachelor in International Relations. Chatting with them, it’s clear they’ve all been on a journey in more than one sense.

The realities and possibilities of international relations

This once-in-a-lifetime trip is designed to open students’ eyes. And not just to different cultures and ways of life, but to the positive societal change in which they can play a major part—whether through a career in international relations or their future entrepreneurial endeavors. 

Challenges and opportunities they may encounter in their future careers were front and center of the trip, “It made me more conscious of how international organizations and aid can help significantly improve the conditions for some at a fairly low cost per person,” Guillermo told us.

Emanuel’s view of Western-led intervention in less-developed regions like Nepal shifted due to what he had seen on the trip. “I realized that everything depends on how a project is led and handled,” he said. “International agencies should be careful about how their agenda is designed to create effective impact in local communities.”

Direct social impact

Our students saw direct evidence of positive change. “Before the trip, I didn’t understand the impact these organizations had on a local level, especially in Kathmandu,” admitted Chiara. “I learned that donations from NGOs not only keep monasteries running, but provide schooling and housing for young children from rural areas in Nepal.”

Lucy saw the economic benefits that tourism brings to the region, too. “Seeing how tourism in the Himalayas, specifically the Khumbu region, has transformed the area in the past decades was truly eye-opening. Many small, isolated towns that previously relied on trade and agriculture are now fueled by tourism, which provides new opportunities in the area.”

Seeking balance

Those opportunities have to be carefully balanced with environmental respect and sustainability. In that respect, the students also saw the challenges the region faces; the sheer volume of waste left behind by mountaineering in the area, for example.

“While there wasn’t a lot of pollution in the Himalayas, there was a lack of efficient systems to treat waste, recycle, or bring it down to the valley. Trash is still taken down to lower valleys through physical labor; porters bring it down every day, some carrying more than 220 pounds,” said Emanuel.

That said, Laura spoke about initiatives to make Himalayan tourism more sustainable. “We visited a company that I thought had found a great innovative method to tackle the problem,” she recalled. “They used waste found along the trek to create art and souvenirs. Not only did it reduce the negative environmental impact of waste, it also developed creativity while being profitable.”

Creating tomorrow’s leaders

For Clara, a highlight of the journey was an outstanding lesson in leadership from world-renowned mountaineer Edurne Pasaban, who guided some of our students to heights they never thought possible.

“Some of us climbed to Kala Patthar, a tough peak of 18,517 feet,” she remembers. “It was extremely challenging, and many of us were about to quit. Nonetheless, Edurne gave us a lesson on leadership and team support: she stayed behind and accompanied those of us who were struggling. She kept showing us the right pace and cheering us up: without her help, many of us wouldn’t have made it. In the end, it’s not about being the first one getting to the top, but about helping those behind and achieving the goal as a team.”

Our students’ takeaways from the trip—and the lasting impression made on them by what they saw and achieved—will continue to influence them for the rest of their studies and their future careers.