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Lifelong learning


Five adult men of varying ages and professions are transported to a remote area of Peru. Though it may sound like the basis for a reality television show, it’s actually local professionals furthering their education and learning about another part of the world.

Dr. Robert Brown, an otolaryngologist with the Iowa Head and Neck Clinic, saw an opportunity for adventure and to experience another culture in conjunction with a March trip to South America related to a course he’s taking in the University of Iowa’s Executive Master of Business Administration program. The class of 22 students planned to go to Brazil over spring break to learn more about that country’s emerging economy. Brown, 63, asked his study group if they would join him before Brazil for an excursion to Machu Picchu in Peru.

“Travel, like everything you do in life, you can’t take a wrong turn,” Brown said. “Everything you do is a new adventure, and some of those have been much more learning when you think you’re off course.”

Traveling to remote locations has been a passion for Brown, who has traveled with headhunters in New Guinea, searched for ancient relics in Africa and is planning to visit Bhutan, the last kingdom in the world. Brown typically travels with his son, and he found that traveling with his study group meant asking three men to take time away from their lives and families.

“That was a hard decision for at least two of the members who have families to make the financial and time commitment to go off and do something on their own,” Brown said. “I tried not to push it on them because I knew that it’s easier for me to rationalize it at my age than it would be for some of the others.”

But all three agreed, along with another classmate, and after taking a plane, train and bus, they arrived a short trek away from the Incan ruins known as Machu Picchu. Tom Fischer, assistant vice president of data systems for GuideOne Insurance, said he was impressed with how Brown planned the trip out so that they got exactly where they needed to go in a country where they didn’t speak the language.

“He (Brown) did all the legwork to get it ready for us so we could just enjoy the surroundings and each other’s company,” Fischer said.

“The trip to Peru was not only a bonding experience, and as many expressed, it was one of the most exciting trips that they had taken,” Brown said. “I think the remoteness of it and our chance to interact in a more intimate setting made it one of the highlights of the trip.”

For Brown, the trip was an ideal setting for two of his favorite things—learning and interacting with others.

“It added to the experience because they saw things differently than I might have, and seeing things through someone else’s eyes gives you a different feel for it,” he said.

One reason that Brown said he is so fascinated with working toward his M.B.A. and studying other cultures is because of his background. When he was in college, he was so focused on medicine that he did not have enough exposure to business issues or learning about different parts of the world, he said.

“I don’t think that there’s any business position where you’re as narrow in your perspective as (you are in) medicine,” Brown said. “We’re so focused in what we do that we do not have a chance to divert from the path to explore other interests. Medical school was extremely homogeneous, and this (M.B.A. class) is exceedingly diverse.”

Fellow classmates in the M.B.A program include people in marketing, stocks and bonds sales, finances and more. Brown said the students contribute to each other’s learning experiences.

“Probably the most exciting thing for me is to be associated with the class,” Brown said. “They’re all capable, proven, energetic and enthusiastic individuals, and just by association with them, they’ve stimulated me.”

Brown said that after his study group helped him get up to speed on some business and finance lingo and computer skills he lacked, he’s been able to pull valuable lessons from the course. He said he can now read balance sheets, analyze surveys and ask more meaningful questions at finance meetings.

“Life is a continual education experience, and I would hate to think that I’m through learning,” Brown said.   

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