"It was scary and exciting at the same time knowing that I was going to experience something that, there's no way you can predict how it's going to go down." (Ralph, Episode 42)
Thanks to his talent for crafting words and projecting his voice, I was aware of Ralph Paulk as the poetry guy at Michigan State who was also active with Black events on campus. Because of our time at State we were Facebook friends for years, but I didn't get the opportunity to have an actual conversation with him until I spoke to him recently about his time in Thailand. Ralph is currently an MBA student, and in March of this year he spent two weeks in Thailand working on a business consulting project for a small business there.
Originally from Inkster, Michigan, Ralph's development as a poet started with listening heavily to Tupac when he was younger. He wanted to impact people with his words the same way Tupac had impacted him, so he started writing raps to Tupac beats, and then made his own beats to rap to. After winning a speech contest during senior year of high school by reciting one of his poems, he started writing more without music. When he got to Michigan State University he joined the school's Black Poet Society and got more involved with slam poetry and spoken word, and things took off from there. A wordsmith at heart, he started college intending to study journalism, but changed his major to applied engineering instead. After graduating he worked in product management and sales engineering for a number of years in Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina before deciding he wanted to switch things up. He decided to go to business school.
Ralph wanted the potential to shift industries and also have a career that approaches business from a higher level. While not altogether required, he felt like pursuing an MBA would fill in the gaps of his business knowledge and acumen, so he enrolled in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. When I spoke to him in May, he had just finished his first year of business school (one down, one to go). When applying to business school, Ralph was already aware of a program that Kelley has that's called GLOBASE (The Global Business and Social Enterprise), which has MBA students work in groups of five on a consulting project helping small businesses and non-profits in Latin America, Africa, or Asia to meet more of their goals. Ralph had always wanted to go to Thailand, and 2019 would be the first year that GLOBASE would be going to that country. So once he got the opportunity to sign up, he put Thailand down as his first choice among the available options, and his group arrived in Chiang Mai in March 2019.
For a week Ralph and his fellows worked closely with the Thai and American co-owners of a strongman gym in Chiang Mai, helping them to improve their marketing strategy and track their finances in a more convenient and organized way. Drawing on his past experience in sales, Ralph made a point to build rapport and boost morale by starting amiable conversations with people before jumping straight into business every day. And though the team of MBA students was only there for a week, the co-owners of the gym seemed to greatly appreciate their efforts, lauding the changes and suggestions they made as "wizardry" for their business.
The second week of their time in Thailand coincided with spring break, so Ralph and his fellow students were free to explore Thailand at their own leisure. Ralph made a point to connect with other Black business students who also happened to be in Thailand, and they spent time sightseeing and clubbing together in Bangkok and Phuket. He recalls Chiang Mai as being more conservative and slower paced (and the cheapest to live in), Bangkok as being big and metropolitan, and Phuket as being "like Miami in Thailand". He enjoyed each city for what it was, but found Phuket to be the most appealing. Thanks to the party scene, tropical feel, proximity to beaches, nice hotels, and overall just plain fun atmosphere, he would especially like to visit Phuket again.
Opening the world of your mind
Ralph had been to Canada and the Dominican Republic previously, but Thailand was the farthest he'd ever traveled and felt the most foreign. The experience felt the most new. And though he undoubtedly stood out as a tall, dark-skinned Black man, he took the stares and varying reactions in stride (sometimes people immediately approached him for photo ops, other times people obviously took notice of him but didn't seem impressed). In addition to taking stock of the differences he noticed between Thai people and himself, he also learned how similar they were to each other, remarking that understanding how people live in other places can "open the world of your mind". After recalling an instance where he rode a motorbike while in Thailand and stubbed his toe (no serious damage was inflicted), he jokingly drove his point home by saying that when Thai people stub their toes, they feel the same pain as he did. He's come to believe that embracing commonalities and differences in this way makes not only for a more nuanced traveling experience, but also makes us a little bit more human.
Currently, Ralph is in Minnesota for the summer doing an internship at 3M. Looking ahead to his second year of business school, Ralph already has plans set to do a study abroad program in South Africa in January 2020, where he'll be taking business classes at Wits University in Johannesburg. In addition to relishing in being in the motherland for the first time, he wants to make a stronger effort of forming connections with local people in Joburg than he did when he was in Thailand. From there, he wants to go to as many other locales as he can over the coming years, noting that with his growing bucket list, "nothing falls off, stuff only gets added". Ralph can be found on Facebook (Ralph Paulk) or on Instagram (@prodigyp).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Tupac Flow, Stubbed Toe (THAILAND)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
FL Studio (music production software, formerly FruityLoops)