Undergraduate Blog

Renewed Horizons: Comm Students Return to Studying Abroad

Immersive experiences expand the worldview of students studying abroad.

Carolin Fabian, Matthew Griff, Calayjia Hamlin, Steven Jiang, Roshni Puli

Carolin Fabian, Matthew Griff, Calayjia Hamlin, Steven Jiang, Roshni Puli

There’s a host of reasons why university students are interested in studying abroad. After all, there’s nothing quite like the unbeatable experience of learning in a faraway location, surrounded by new people, cultures, languages, and skylines. And considering the pandemic-driven stay-at-home orders and virtual connections that defined our lives for the past few years, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the possibility of being free to travel again is a welcome change for Commerce students.

When presented with the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in different corners of the world at McIntire’s partner institutions, there was only one question remaining: Where?

Carolin Fabian (McIntire ’23) said her decision wasn’t an easy one. Knowing that she wanted access to travel beyond her home base, she prioritized Europe. Ryan Hathaway, Assistant Director of Global Programs, helped her settle on Spain. And after he connected her with Brooke Meinhart (McIntire ’21), who excited her about the many positive aspects and possibilities that she would find in Madrid, Fabian was convinced that the IE program there would be a good fit.

Matthew Griff (McIntire ’23) was first attracted to London because of its popularity as a study-abroad location with overseas students and its promise of studying among a globally representative group. As he intends to work in financial services, the city’s role as a major financial hub is deepening his experience before he starts working this summer at Lazard in New York. “Given the nature of global business, I wanted to learn with people from around the world and think with a more international mindset. So much of learning is the experience of interacting with other students from diverse backgrounds,” he says.

For Calayjia Hamlin (McIntire ’23), the academics in Dublin very closely aligned with the studies she was already pursuing, but she soon saw the decision to learn in Ireland as something much bigger. “I hoped that while studying abroad I would gain an experience of understanding another culture and learn more about myself as a person and what I would like my future life and career to be like.”

Seeking a fully immersive experience where he could learn another language, Steven Jiang (McIntire ’23) chose Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, deciding that the location would complement both of his majors, Commerce and Archaeology. It would also provide access to locations that would allow him to get up close to historically and commercially significant areas while traveling to other important Italian cities such as Rome.

Roshni Puli (McIntire ’23) was drawn to Singapore for its “clean, colorful city life,” and swayed by the metropolitan island nation’s convenient transportation, with access to beaches, jungles, “and quality food at all hours of the day.” Puli, a self-proclaimed foodie, said she also hoped that she could truly explore all the city-state had to offer in a single semester, “and that a Singaporean would agree that I saw all of Singapore.”

As restrictions have been steadily diminishing since the students arrived at their various locations, their time away from Grounds has begun to more closely resemble what it has long meant to learn in another country and the freedoms that come with it. We spoke with the five Commerce students to discover what their experiences have brought to their education and how studying abroad has expanded their worldview.

What has been the most impactful part of your coursework abroad thus far?

Carolin Fabian: Without a doubt, the most valuable part of my classes has been the internationality and the diversity of perspective that comes with it; 70% of IE students hail from outside of Spain. In my classes, we are doing case studies for companies outside of standard American businesses. It is a new experience having to do an industry analysis for a company where you don’t know much about the market or the company. We are working with a company called Pescanova to create and market a new brand in Spain. I expect this to be a super interesting and hands-on project.

Matthew Griff: McIntire’s unique Integrated Core taught me about working in a team, which has been invaluable as a student here in London. Working with people from five different countries has taught me even more. Throughout my classes and group assignments, I have learned about cultural differences, different working norms, and different communication styles. When we were tasked with analyzing a company’s response to a crisis in one of its foreign markets, it was fascinating to me that we each had a different perspective in approaching the situation.

I am confident that these diverse perspectives will allow me to be a broader, more global thinker. We spoke a lot about business practices abroad during my coursework at McIntire, but having these unique conversations with people who do business in other countries is invaluable.

Calayjia Hamlin

Calayjia Hamlin

Calayjia Hamlin: The most impactful learning part of my coursework so far has been a Digital Innovation class I have been taking that is more like a seminar or roundtable discussion. It has enlightened me to many new ways of thinking about and understanding the world of technology, human influences on such technologies, and many other implications.

Steven Jiang: Being able to work on projects for various Italian companies. For example, I am working with Vibram, an Italian shoe sole manufacturer, as part of my Fashion Collections and Sustainability course and with Accenture Italy for my Product Management course. Most of the courses are designed to give students the chance to work with large companies to solve real-life problems—similar to McIntire’s Integrated Core with a corporate sponsor. It also provides a great opportunity to work with a combination of Italian and other exchange students. Many of my courses also include company visits to study their business models and operations.

In what ways has your study-abroad experience enhanced or supported your McIntire education?

Roshni Puli

Roshni Puli

Roshni Puli: Studying business at NUS has given me my own personal and tangible grasp on what the “global perspective” is. I remember naively asking Professor Peter Maillet for advice on “what to look for while studying abroad.” He urged me to be intentional with noting and respecting cultural differences and also shared a story of how valuable cross-cultural exchanges are in multinational business dealings, where subtle social cues can flare into expensive misunderstandings, especially exacerbated by virtual limitations. I always think about that story when it comes to what I brought from McIntire to Singapore.

Though McIntire’s opportunities for socialization and learning are vast, I realized that I was a bit insular in my approach to them. I haven’t yet interacted with an international student during my time at McIntire, or at least the way I have in Singapore. Being able to learn so much over simple coffee with Vietnamese international students, I’ve realized how many more conversations like this exist within my circles already, and I am excited to find them at McIntire.

Carolin Fabian: My study-abroad experience has paired well with the Integrated Core curriculum, and I look forward to bringing my newly acquired international perspectives to the classroom for my fourth year at McIntire. My classes here have allowed me to dive deeper into specific concepts. I am currently taking classes like Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, and Digital Transformation, and I look forward to continuing learning about these topics next semester at McIntire.

Matthew Griff: In addition to the invaluable network of individuals I have met at McIntire, studying abroad has also introduced me to other business students from other parts of the United States—and from around the world—who I have become close with. These relationships will be helpful to me as I move throughout my career.

Calayjia Hamlin: As the world becomes increasingly more interconnected, it is important to gain a global perspective. This study-abroad experience has enhanced my learning at McIntire by allowing me to gain just that. More importantly, I believe being able to communicate with others abroad who come from various different backgrounds has led to insightful discussions that could have only been held in this particular setting.

Steven Jiang: McIntire has definitely prepared me well for the curriculum at Bocconi. Many of my classes use a base knowledge of the things that I learned in the Integrated Core, which gives me a head start when looking at new material. For example, my Product Management course relies heavily on content that was covered in Professor Natasha Foutz’s Marketing course. The international aspect of McIntire and the ability to study abroad have really put into perspective how global commerce is always evolving.

Outside of the classroom, what has been the most memorable experience you’ve had?

Calayjia Hamlin: My most memorable experience outside of the classroom has to be when another UVA student and I went to explore Cork, Ireland. Although it was a very rainy day, trekking through the storm on a scenic adventure made for amazing memories.

Carolin Fabian

Carolin Fabian

Carolin Fabian: One of my favorite memories is a spontaneous daytrip to a city called Alcalá de Henares. My roommates and I went to the train station and just got on one of the regional trains—a sort of “train roulette.” After riding for about 30 minutes, we arrived in a beautiful, small town northeast of Madrid with cafes and a nice plaza. Additionally, the university there is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the five UNESCO World Heritage universities—along with UVA.

Matthew Griff: Some of my most memorable experiences have included traveling around London with other UVA McIntire students. I have been fortunate to experience London’s rich culture in my first two months here. Even a morning run along the River Thames—when it starts to pour—has been memorable! In addition to seeing London, I have had the opportunity to travel to six different countries during weekends and school breaks, and I plan to visit at least 10 other countries before the summer starts!

Steven Jiang

Steven Jiang

Steven Jiang: The most memorable experience has been being able to travel on the weekends with friends. Being in Italy opens up a lot of opportunity to travel within and outside of the country at a very low cost. Since it is my first time in Europe, I want to be able to travel to as many places as possible to experience the culture and local identities. Going on these trips with friends has really created strong bonds because we are experiencing it together in a new place. One trip in particular that was memorable was traveling to Turin, which is an hour and half from Milan, with a friend from the Netherlands. We bonded the entire trip over cultural differences between the U.S. and the Netherlands and got to know each other on a more personal level.

Roshni Puli: Nature reserves mandate the highest government regulation out of all land areas. On an eco-restoration tour through Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, my group and I reached the beautiful summit overlooking the Singaporean skyline through the frames of undisturbed trees and wayward greenery. Less than 10 seconds after I had taken a picture, a torrential downpour and a flood-adjacent experience commenced on Bukit Timah Hill, the highest point in Singapore. It was my first time getting caught by the rain and so unexpectedly so. It was epic, surreal, life changing…and decidedly ephemeral as the clouds cleared within 10 minutes, and all that was left were the petrichor, wet shoes, and muddy trails. I’m trying to plan my next rainy summit, but I am having trouble finding company. Also, the mouthwatering sight and smell of the Clementi Hawker Center at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday.

How has studying abroad changed your perspective?

Matthew Griff

Matthew Griff

Matthew Griff: Given my double major of Commerce and Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law, studying abroad has allowed me to make many advancements in my interdisciplinary study. Almost every aspect of daily life involves interdisciplinary perspectives in these areas. In today’s polarized world, it is more important than ever for active participants in our free market capitalist system to be aware of significant systemic issues. This became apparent to me as a result of my varied coursework here in London (and at UVA). I am especially interested in analyzing how business, law, and governmental policies intersect to influence the economy and growth in the United States and throughout the world. Many of my academic interests have been analyzed in classes at McIntire and UVA. However, learning more about this from a global point of view and how this is different around the world has been easier through my time in Europe. For example, I have learned about different political systems around the world and the different approaches that governments take to regulate the private sector.

Roshni Puli: Being in a country as infinitely safe as Singapore has also illuminated what I take for granted as an American: expecting English to be spoken and understood everywhere…and the uninhibited freedom to protest and publicly engage the government. On a hike through Bukit Timah reserve, as our guide talked about the disparity between Singapore’s rainforest being a potentially great carbon sequester and the nation’s infinitesimal ratio of land allocated for wildlife versus housing and development board development, I asked why citizens didn’t protest. The simple question elicited a tacit shrug of the shoulders.

Calayjia Hamlin: Studying abroad has changed my perspective on taking care of the environment in a meaningful way, but it has also made me appreciate some luxuries of living in the U.S. Ireland is very environmentally conscious and has put in place many systems that uphold this principle. The notion of the environment being threatened is not up for debate in Dublin nor in Europe, whereas in the U.S., we are still having discussions about this topic. And while I agree about how important it is that more substantial changes are made in the U.S., I also appreciate that my shower is always immediately hot at UVA whether I turn it on at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. This is not the luxury of the European lifestyle.

Carolin Fabian: Studying abroad has completely changed my perspective on my post-graduation plans. Being born in Germany and then growing up in Virginia allowed me to have the uncommon experience of being raised biculturally. While this creates more post-graduation options for me, it does not make choosing what to do or where to go any easier. Therefore, studying abroad was a bit of a trial run for me to see whether I could see myself living in Europe long term, and it definitely confirmed that I could see myself here. I love the variety of cultures and languages that Europe offers. I love the conversations that people are willing to engage in and the new ways of thinking that I get out of it.

Steven Jiang: Being able to study abroad is an extremely humbling experience and provides a new perspective that I would not have gotten in the U.S. When I arrived in Italy, I did not know the language well enough to communicate with people, and it felt isolating at times. It puts the immigrant experience in my mind, thinking about how immigrants to the United States feel not knowing English or not being able to communicate with others. I think we take it for granted in the U.S. because everything we know is “normal” and comes firsthand. This experience has shown me how we shouldn’t take everything for granted, such as being able to speak English everywhere, and that we have to think about things from others’ points of views.

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