Mustafa's Musings: Missed Connections
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Mustafa's Musings: Missed Connections

Mustafa Shaikh
4 min read

The primary reason I love to travel is the ability to meet new people from different backgrounds and to understand their perspectives. I’ve even taken it as far as staying in hostels while traveling for work—or in one case, a couch at an anarchist collective (shout out Boing! House & James)—to be able to connect with fresh faces.

In the last two years, I haven’t done much in the way of traveling—a couple of domestic excursions, but there was no real meeting of new people. You can only get to know someone so much when a piece of fabric is muffling the entire conversation.

When I decided to take a brand strategy course a couple of months ago, I was looking at online courses from your run of the mill MBA schools when my brother suggested I take a look at Hyper Island, an institution I had never heard of. I learned that while it doesn’t have much awareness on this side of the Atlantic, Hyper Island’s brand is quite strong in Europe.

Based out of Sweden, the school has come to prominence over the last decade; it has been able to build its courses in a way that traditional business schools—that are burdened by the legacy of classic classroom instruction—cannot. (For that matter, they also don’t charge an extra couple of grand because the name of a premier school is on your fairly useless digital certificate.)

The part of the brand strategy course that sold me, especially compared to what I was looking at from Northwestern’s B-School, was that in addition to the weekly class sessions, you would be placed in a virtual pod group. That pod group met once a week to go over assignments in greater detail. I thought to myself, “Great, I can learn brand strategy and meet a bunch of people from Europe? I’m all in.”

I was placed in a pod with five working professionals from Spain, Netherlands, Estonia, Switzerland, and Denmark. I found our discussions to be insightful, as even the ones that were solely focused on work were colored by the local cultures each person was individually part of.

During one of our pod calls I was relaying an interview process I was in the middle of, and how long it was taking. They were collectively surprised at how many rounds it was.

I was letting them know that it’s quite common for someone in the U.S. to go through [read the following in LeBron’s voice], not four, not five, not six, but seven interviews. I reasoned that this is partly on account of additional expenses that go beyond salary in making a hire. The more expensive it is to hire someone, the more checks are going to be made to ensure that the right fit is found.

For instance, healthcare is a big added cost for U.S. employers, especially if a company is going to be taking you on plus your dependents (which to my knowledge, I don’t have any, but hey I enjoy the occasional surprise).

My peer from the Netherlands remarked, “It’s so strange that you wouldn’t get your healthcare from the government.”

To me, what was most interesting about her reaction was her facial expression. You could tell that it was truly inconceivable to her that healthcare was not a simple matter between you and your government; she was having trouble processing what that even means.

Those are the types of exchanges that I love. In one fell swoop, I was able to understand a different perspective that I’d say went a step further than my Bernie/AOC-inspired views.

I share this all not to make some larger point on the absurdity of the U.S. healthcare system (I’d love me some universal healthcare), or sell you on Hyper Island courses through an affiliate link (worth the price of admission), or tell you about the 15 minutes I spent Googling Estonia (they love their saunas, and one town even has a “Sauna Marathon”), but to convey how valuable understanding new perspectives is for all of us. It’s something that most of us have taken for granted.

Yes, of course we miss our friends and family, but we should also miss those random strangers that we would be intersecting with in a world without COVID. Particularly with us headed towards another lockdown (when “Saturday Night Live” is kinda, sorta, not really live, that’s when you know things are getting real) those interactions are once again going to be few and far in between.

Outside of particularly lengthy text discussions with matches on Tinder, I’m not sure where I’ll be able to find those connections. Heck, maybe I’ll start reaching out to the subscribers whose email addresses I don’t recognize.

What I do know is that those interactions are something I am unwilling to go another year without—there's far too much learning to be done.

Don’t forget, come January 10th, the first series “712 Hayes” will be released. Until then it’ll be musings on various topics.

This piece was edited by Matt Goodgal. Please blame all grammar errors on him.