Guest post by Jennifer Louie, Junior, Majoring in Marketing and Information Systems. Jen studied abroad twice through the UW including a semester on the Foster Exchange to Chulalongkorn University’s business school in 2016. Following Jen’s exchange, she received an offer at Russell Investments as their Global Diversity and Inclusion Intern.
I had the privilege of spending five months studying, living, and discovering Thailand while on exchange at Chulalongkorn University, located in the center of Bangkok. I attended classes at the university and enjoyed long weekends traveling and exploring areas of Thailand outside Bangkok or other countries in South East Asia. I lived in an apartment complex with roughly 90 exchange students from around the world. I was one of the lucky three UW Foster School students chosen to embark on the inaugural year for this exchange program, which enabled me to learn and grow with all of the uncertainties that would inevitably exist throughout my time abroad.
I signed up for four classes –and there were several cultural and academic differences that were immediately noticeable. The campus itself is quite large, similar to UW, with a mix of old and new buildings. However, it is located at the center of Bangkok, and therefore surrounded by shopping malls and apartment buildings. All students are required to wear a uniform, and exchange students are treated no differently. Every day I would put on a long flowing dark navy skirt, a white collard button down short sleeve blouse, along with the symbolic ‘Chula’ pins, buttons, and belt. The uniforms carry meaning beyond the gates of campus to all of Bangkok, as a symbol representative of the reputation of prestige the school carries.
Abroad, teaching styles varied: one course reigned as my favorite while another proved to be memorable for all the wrong reasons. In my Consumer Behavior class, I was faced with the challenge of disagreeing with my professor often. In a class that focused predominantly on multi-media advertisements, commercials, and the overall relation between brands businesses and consumers, we were often met with visual media examples and class discussions describing the pros and cons. One day we were shown a controversial commercial advertisement that had been taken down after its release due to its racial insensitivity. During the class discussion, I became extremely frustrated with my professor’s argument against the claims of racism and his defense of the commercial. To me, the commercial was undoubtedly racist – it showed a black man entering a washing machine as “dirty” and a white man coming out of it as “clean.” But to others, the argument that skin color preferences as beauty standards was acceptable. Immediately, I challenged my professor. I called out his duty as an educator that by not criticizing the commercial in class, he was perpetuating racism. Though exceptionally frustrating, I learned how to navigate difficult discussions like this – on issues such as race, gender, and diversity – in an international context. I had to take into account the academic and social differences and engage in constructive conversations. It made me realize how unique UW and Seattle are, they can be a bit of a liberal bubble at times. These experiences allowed me to appreciate the people back home that are committed to tackling the social issues I’ve grown to care so much about.
Thankfully, not all learning experiences in the classroom arose from arguments with my professor on racism and social responsibility. In my International Marketing class, I had the opportunity to engage in numerous group projects, where I was the only American student among Thai and European students. Though the cultural differences and variants in academic expectations proved challenging at times, it was incredibly rewarding to grow and learn from working with them. To incorporate a multitude of perspectives from around the world into a single solution to address a business problem allowed me to construct a global mindset. I learned to remain open minded to all ideas. Additionally, my professor for International Marketing always kept me captivated with insightful lectures and complex and relevant international cases.
Beyond my experience in the classroom and at Chulalongkorn University, there were countless lessons learned while studying abroad. After reflecting upon my time in Thailand, there are three main takeaways. One, knowing yourself makes all the difference. Whether it’s knowing how you thrive and enjoy yourself while traveling (spontaneous adventurer? Type-A planner?) or what social situations are best suited to building relationships, it’s important to be thoughtful about which experiences you engage in and invest in that will give you the most fulfilling outcome. Two, always be humble and hungry. I believe it is imperative to take the time to listen and learn from others whose backgrounds and experiences are completely different from your own in order to grow as a human being. Being humble about your life and your experiences creates room to learn, listen, appreciate, and grow more. Similarly, staying hungry – for knowledge, experiences, memories, friends, food, everything and anything – is the key to taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Three, stay connected. Staying connected with the various people you meet throughout your life who have impacted you will not only remind you of the person you were and the experiences you had when you met them, but may prove beneficial to advancing your life once more – professionally or personally.
I am incredibly thankful for the experiences, opportunities, and people who heavily impacted my time abroad, who challenged me to take risks and live outside my comfort zone and provided me with endless reasons to smile. While studying abroad, I was constantly challenged and provoked to think critically. I learned from the beautiful environments of several South East Asian nations and from the numerous exchange students who were adventuring and studying alongside me. Through the global experiences I’ve had abroad or in events, classes, or workplaces that valued or focused on the power of thinking and acting globally, I have cultivated a passion for global diversity and international interactions. This passion is what led me to apply, successfully convey my ideas and thoughts while interviewing, and ultimately secure an internship at Russell Investments as their Global Diversity and Inclusion Intern this summer. To be working in the financial industry, a historically homogeneous, white, upper-class, male-dominated field, on further prioritizing diversity is incredibly rewarding and humbling. Studying abroad and making an active effort to be globally engaged has developed my passions and sparked motivation to pursue new opportunities that have filled my life with countless new adventures and life lessons.