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Huang: My reflection on the 2019 McGill-Israel FinTech study trip

Huaide “Iris” Huang

From Aug. 8 to 30, I visited the startup ecosystems in Canada and Israel for a McGill University Desautels faculty of management program called Entrepreneurship from the Lens of FinTech, which takes the form of a study trip specialized in disciplines of finance and organizational behaviour.

The study trip was designed for students to experience the dynamic histories, cultures and business environments in both countries. The destinations this year took place in Montreal and Ottawa during the first week, followed by a two -week immersive tour around multiple locations in Israel. While many of my colleagues were excited to discover the Middle Eastern culture for the first time, my five years’ experience in the Middle East prior to university left me with a chance for compensating my nostalgia and creating new memories.

Currently pursuing a double concentration in finance and business analytics with a previous entrepreneurial experience of building a startup in 2018, I was highly enthusiastic when I was chosen to participate in this study trip. I’ve always known that Israeli young talents go through a different process of education with the spirit of chutzpah embedded in everyone’s minds and souls. When every Israeli youth is required to serve in the military, things like exposure to team-building, shared purpose, mission-planning and execution produces focused leaders at an early age, also meaning that they have a longer period of time to gain practical skills and plan their life.

Whereas in Canada, it was rare to have university programs like this that truly allow students to get their feet wet by putting them directly into a foreign environment, a rising industry and a vibrant ecosystem.

My study trip was full of insightful and informative global experiences. Almost every morning, I had a teaching session in finance, organizational behaviour, venture capital or entrepreneurship delivered by local faculty members. The afternoons were then spent visiting companies or government departments in the startup ecosystem such as Clearbanc and ISED in Canada, and Refundit and Fundbox in Israel. At night, social or cultural events were held with company employees, McGill alumni, faculty members and students of IDC Herzliya College and diplomats of the Canadian Israeli consulate. I also participated in a Hackathon competition designed to identify and resolve problems in the Canadian startup ecosystem. In the end, I was honoured to win the Most-Innovative-Solution Award with my teammates and to receive a heartwarming certificate from the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Since I am entering my last year of universityeducation and facing an upcoming transition phase in life, I appreciate how this study trip gave me a moment for self-reflection and to ask some important questions. Has getting a bachelor’s degree in BCom changed my thinking? Have my views changed, and my business and cultural mindfulness improved throughout the years in university? My answers to these questions that were previously ambiguous suddenly became very certain when I was asked to write about this incredible journey, feeling a sense of completion and gratitude as it came to an end.

Throughout my two weeks in Israel, I had abundant opportunities to hear many different voices and perspectives, to work, discover and develop a lifelong friendship with some of the most inspiring Israeli young leaders, to experience the local culture, and – of course – taste various local dishes. After walking on the ancient roads in Jerusalem, seeing the sunrise at Masada, overlooking Haifa city from Baha’i Gardens, learning about traditional values at the Druze Community and the Bedouin Community, enjoying the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea, and visiting many bold and talented individuals from VCs and startups at Tel Aviv, I was truly inspired by the history, diversity and innovation of this Start-Up Nation.

Though this trip had been a physical and intellectual demanding journey, it encouraged me to look back on myself in positive ways. When I left Israel, I was convinced that I had changed to be a more open-minded human being. I hope to always go visit this amazing country again and extend my memories. I want to express my sincere appreciation to The Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation for making this trip a reality.

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