Four Hikes: My Journey to CEIBS and Beyond

First, a disclaimer: I’m neither an experienced nor a particularly talented hiker. In fact, I have mild vertigo and I’m rather inflexible, which makes manoeuvring around mountainous regions a physical and mental challenge (to say the least). But that, I suppose, is the whole idea of an alpine hike and also of this written reflection on how I got here and where I might go next.


#1: The Alps

My first alpine hike was organised by my high school Latin teacher (yes, I have studied Latin, for what it’s worth). Me and a few of my best friends decided to join him and his hiking group to complete a challenging path through a beautiful part of the Austrian Alps with the even more beautiful name Schladminger Tauern. We were 16 at that time and because we were 16, we were, let’s say, not the most disciplined bunch. I remember several instances in which eyes were rolled at our antics (for example, we loved throwing big rocks into cow poop, which makes a satisfying, squishing sound). But, the rough powers of the mighty Alps will force even the naughtiest teenage boys into submission in the end. Being surrounded by the most astonishing shapes of nature while maintaining an even trot across uneven terrain made me – probably for the first time in my life – enter into a deep state of self-reflection. While my feet were wandering across sticks and stones, my mind wandered into unchartered territory. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember anymore what I was reflecting on. My best guess is that I was evaluating my prospects of becoming a professional goalkeeper (those aspirations ended when I stopped growing at 1.74m) and/or my prospects of becoming the boyfriend of the girl I had a crush on. Regardless, the experience did give me my first taste of the cathartic effects of a challenging hike.

The mighty Schladminger Tauern, trampled upon by pubescent boys; Simon Liang (right), aspiring goalkeeper


#2: Mount Fuji

Twelve years later, I entered into my next hike-induced meditation. This time, I was on the other side of the world and the self-reflection was much more profound than the teenage version of it. Instead of the Austrian Alps, I found myself climbing up Mount Fuji, Japan’s most sacred mountain. Following the Japanese ethos, the hike was more like a well-organised walk along a well-constructed gravel road behind a long line of well-behaved pilgrims (there were even public toilets along the way!). The climb took about 24 hours to complete. Besides a brief acclimatisation rest period, the hikers are pretty much in constant motion, slowly approaching the pinnacle in regular, quiet steps. Here, once again, my mind began to wander. I reflected on the fact that I – my Beijing friends may forgive me – never really felt home after almost three years living in the city. I reflected on the work I was doing – although highly interesting, it was not very fulfilling. And I reflected on my future: What would be the right move to take the next step both in my personal and professional life? Slowly, after crossing the cloud-line, my mind cleared and the idea of going to business school started to manifest within me. The first thing I did after reaching base camp was to order the GMAT guide on Taobao.

Simon Liang, aspiring MBA student; Mt. Fuji throws a Star-Destroyer-like shadow on underneath clouds


#3: The Carpathian Mountains

Another year later, I found myself in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania (the home of the European Brown Bear – and Dracula). And what a year it had been. While my eyes wandered across the astonishing landscape, I reflected on the remarkable, life-changing past twelve months since I stood on top of Mount Fuji. I had decided to apply to business school in Shanghai to fulfil my dream to live in my parents’ hometown. I was always drawn to this unique city with its Sino-European cultural backdrop, its flourishing economy, its great food and dynamic people. Since my elementary school days, my parents would regularly take me to Shanghai to visit friends and relatives, which made Shanghai my second home in spirit. To be perfectly honest, I was not planning to apply to CEIBS initially. For some reason, I thought that my academic (German literature) and professional (non-profit) background was not strong enough to have a shot at joining the prestigious CEIBS MBA programme. However, countless hours of GMAT-studying and equally countless versions of application essays later, I received an offer letter from CEIBS – and an invitation into the next chapter of my life. So here I was, standing in a tiny Romanian village called Simon (to make things more confusing, the friend I was travelling with is also named Simon), just a few weeks away from the beginning of the MBA programme. I felt a weird mix of excitement and anxiety when thinking about the weeks ahead; excitement, because of the unchartered territories I was about to embark to; anxiety, because I was still not so sure if I really belonged to the business world and if I would get along with my future classmates, who would have completely different experiences and backgrounds than me (I don’t think I had ever talked to an investment banker before joining CEIBS).

Simon Liang, aspiring friend of investment bankers

Can you spot the dracula? Me neither, was probably eaten by a bear...; Two German Simons visiting a Romanian Simon


# 4: The Volta Region

Fast forward another five months. I was in my hiking boots once again (following a teenage guide in flip flops), suffering from physical exhaustion under the blistering Ghanaian sun. I was on an unofficial hiking trip in the context of the CEIBS overseas module in Ghana (in case the MBA office is reading this: this amazing six-hour hike through the Volta Region should be part of the official programme!). For the first time since the start of the MBA programme, I achieved the clarity of mind to reflect upon what had happened in the past three months, which were by all means the most intense and exciting months of my life. Not only did I learn that investment bankers can be in fact very nice and fun to hang out with, I also learned about many, many business-related topics I didn’t even knew existed (debit left, credit right). My brilliant professors and even more brilliant classmates made the learning experience incredibly interesting and enjoyable and I truly appreciate the opportunities given to us by the school to widen our horizons (I had to look up Ghana on Google Maps when I heard about the Ghana module for the first time).

Simon Liang, comparing his hiking boots to his tour guide‘s flip flops

This is where the Ghana module 2019 took place…

…and is where the Ghana module 2021 will take place


Because, in the end, this is what hiking – and life in general – is truly about: finding and overcoming new challenges to reach unchartered territories, to widen one’s horizons. I will be hiking soon, once again. Where will I be hiking to? What will I be reflecting upon? Who knows? All I know is that this lifelong hike will take me to places I didn’t even know existed, to people with fresh, inspiring minds and to experiences that are the fabric of my life.