In the Classroom by Ruth Yao

How did your study abroad experience enhance your knowledge, skills, and/or understanding of your intended career field?

People study abroad to see the world and to grow as individuals. The less talked-about component is the studying aspect. As my last semester abroad has ended, I would like to focus this blog post on what I’ve learned in the classroom.

While in Hong Kong this past fall, I focused on courses for my business degree. There are many things I could write about concerning my experience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. I took classes from world renowned and dynamic professors, studied with students from across the world, and learned lessons that left a permanent mark. It was in my entrepreneurship course that I first began to use my business background to work towards furthering social change. As an undergraduate, I have focused on my finance major as the basis of my future career, and I looked mostly to the traditional careers within the industry. However the entrepreneurship course widened my scope to include social enterprises as a realistic option and future career path.

Concerning my spring semester in Cambridge, where I focused on economics, I learned to question what is often told to us as fact. Having mainly taken the basic economics courses at Tulane, such as Intermediate Macroeconomics and Microeconomics, I mainly learned the foundation of the discipline. What I learned in class – specifically all of the models – I absorbed as fact or, at the very least, the agreed-upon model by economists. In Cambridge, I was fortunate enough to have neoclassical and Keynesian economists teach my supervisions (courses). They taught a comprehensive view of economics, from many of the main schools of economic theory. However each had distinct and contrasting economic theories. My first essay prompt was “What is the role of money in neoclassical and Keynesian economics?” This was a great first essay prompt. It forced me to realize how different economic theories are on the same issue. Through studying the contrasting schools of economic thought, I learned to read academic materials critically and that conclusions are often not conclusive. I find this dynamic aspect one of the most enticing characteristics of economics.


Don’t Bring the Tart to Class by Ruth Yao

How is higher education different in your host country from the US? Think about overall institutional structure as well as the pedagogy that is employed in the classroom. What strategies have you used to navigate these new rules and mores in these academic settings?

I ran up the steps, pear pastry tart in hand, and halted once I saw my two classmates at the top. One of my supervisions had been moved, so I had two supervisions back to back. From what I understand, supervisions are specific to Cambridge. They are lectures between the professor and one to three students, and they generally take place in the professor’s office. To paint a picture of a Cambridge professor’s office, there are cozy couches, a warm fireplace, some bottles of wine to the side, multiple rooms, and even possibly kitchen. These become areas for discussion.

With two minutes to go before the supervision takes place, I begin to eat my pastry for a late lunch. However halfway through, the students from the previous supervision exit the professor’s room, and we had to hurry in. Tart in hand, I apologize, set it on the table, and promise to not touch it. My professor, an elderly distinguished fellow at King’s College one of the most prestigious colleges of Cambridge University, was in shock. The idea that a student would bring food into a lecture, let alone a supervision was unheard of. The student that brought the tart into the supervision, then heard about it for the next ten minutes, and then multiple times again throughout the lecture. After multiple heartfelt apologies, I believe that this incident has been forgiven. However, I learned a few important lessons.

Not only was the structure of lecture in England different, but the rules that came with them. Once you learn the rules, you pay particular attention to follow them. Cambridge is a university rooted in tradition, and they have a right to be. As an individual there only for a semester, it is not my place to be indignant when I get told off for breaking a rule. Instead of focusing on where anything but myself is at fault or judging differences, I can make sure I am doing my best to be respectful and understanding. I like this story of the tart for multiple reasons. It showcases the intimacy allowed in academic discussion, through the supervisions at Cambridge. Yet reminds me to stay on my toes and not get too comfortable.

Returning from JYA by William Smith

Coming home was certainly weird, and I’ll never forget my flight from Brazil to New York for my final round investment banking interviews.  Some of the other interviewees had taken a train down from New Haven, while I had flown approximately 5000 miles from Brazil.  It was certainly a strange feeling seeing the architectural wonders of New York City when I had become used to the endless strange and eclectic buildings of São Paulo.

Upon moving back to Tulane, I moved into an apartment close to some of the older Altman Scholars, and it felt good to be living off-campus rather than in a dorm.  While in Brazil, I had learned to cook my own food (thanks to my flatmates for teaching me everything!) and to live on my own for the first time outside of college.  There’s something about moving into an apartment that makes the idea of living in a dorm again with strict hours and floor meetings that sounds unbearable- trust me, I’m a former Resident Advisor J. So luckily, I was able to keep a part of my lifestyle that I had become accustomed to in Brazil (see below for a picture of my humble abode).

All was well until I came back to campus for my first day of classes.  I was so used to walking my traditional route to FGV in São Paulo.  Instead, I was biking to school for the first time in ages, and it was strange and awkward.  When I finally got to campus, there were students everywhere, and I didn’t recognize a soul! I felt so old, and foreign, and it felt like I was studying abroad in my own home! When I walked into the LBC for the first time at lunchtime, the lines were chaotic, and I was overwhelmed by the ludicrous number of people in the food court.  Even after having studied in São Paulo, I was shocked at the number of students running around.  My first class was fixed income in the business school, which was refreshing, yet it was almost surreal being back on campus.

After my first day of class, I immediately called my European friends that I had met in Brazil.  They had become my new closest friends, and I confided in them about how overwhelming my classes were and what it was like to come home. They too had experienced similar feelings when coming home, and we all agreed that we missed our time at FGV.  There’s something that changes when you come back. You feel older and more mature.  Everything on campus looked newer and nicer than before, especially when compared with my apartment in Brazil, yet I still wanted to be back in Brazil during my first week of school.  Much like my arrival in Brazil, there was an adjustment period for me when I came back to Tulane.  Slowly, I’ve gotten used to the Tulane campus and normal routine, yet I definitely feel different after having lived in Brazil for five months and having secured an internship.  I feel ready to graduate.

The Advantages of Going Abroad by Jacob Magasanik

Even before going to Taipei and Beijing for roughly eight months, anyone I told about it said essentially, “wow, that’s a long time.” And they were right, but it also gave me the time to get truly adjusted to a completely different culture. My understanding is that most of Europe has a similar culture to the United States; there is a smaller adjustment period and there simply aren’t as many cultural barriers to overcome. Having the opportunity to live in a place with one of the most different cultures from my own was an eye opening and challenging experience.

I think that in terms of advantages towards my future employment, this time abroad was extremely beneficial in giving me the opportunity to understand a country that many Americans still do not understand. There almost always seems to be a business article on “How to Crack the Chinese Market,” but now that I have lived there, I don’t agree with everything I read. I think that many Americans’ understanding of Chinese society is wrong or flawed, mainly because they have never lived there. When you nearly only talk with Chinese people for eight months, you get a better understanding of a culture than reading a plethora of books could provide because much of your understanding is unspoken or intuitive.

My understanding of Chinese society was also greatly increased by my having a very open Chinese roommate. He was always ready to speak on Chinese society, politics, or economics, even if the topic was controversial and I gave him the save treatment. It made for fantastic opportunity to better understand China’s political or economic motivations; how the citizens see their government, what they condone, what they approve of, and what they don’t. Understanding Chinese culture is important in many businesses, but it also allowed for me to think about why I believe in things and reevaluate.

Comfort Zone by Brendan Mahoney

I am very happy to say the anticipation of separation was the worst part of leaving the country to study. It is generally discomforting to leave what feels safe and comfortable, and embark on something new. This separation is a difficult transition, however it slowly expands the comfort zone and truly reinforces my appreciation for all of my connections, friends, and family back home.

Leaving for Madrid, I was on a flight with many of my friends, and we experienced this initial separation from home with companions, making it an easy transition. Leaving for Buenos Aires, however, I have a distinct memory of the engine of the plane starting and pulling away from the gate, as I looked around me and didn’t know anyone on the flight. I heard a hectic mix of unfamiliar Spanish dialects and felt a panic, although I knew it was too late to change my mind. I reassured myself that over the course of the semester, I would expand my comfort zone just as I had in the past, and that the awful pit in my stomach on the flight would only result in personal development in the coming months, imagining a more confident, comfortable version of myself returning back to the United States from the adventure.

After four years of high school, and a lifetime on Long Island, I was much less anxious to move south and start a new life at Tulane. Leaving Tulane, however, as my recently-made acquaintances at college stayed and enjoyed their junior year in a familiar environment, moving into off-campus houses and gaining even more comfort in the city, I felt extremely disoriented relocating yet again. Not only confused by the frequent relocations, I have been shocked that my time in Europe and South America led me to miss New Orleans, my recent home, much more than my hometown and everything I had known prior to college.

Each excursion and vacation outside of my places of study, from New York to New Orleans, Madrid, and Buenos Aires has made each of the prior locations feel more and more like home. Even after a weekend trip to Uruguay in the beginning of my semester, I returned to Buenos Aires feeling like home because it was comfortable and familiar. This is because our comfort zones are relative, and the more frequently we get out of the comfort zone, the more comfortable the familiar places become.  I am now appreciative of all of the times that I feel scared, out of place, or uncomfortable, in knowing the fact that each trip outside of my comfort zone only expands my confidence in myself and comfort in my environment.

Crossing Cultures: How Race and Gender May Affect Your Abroad Experience by Grant Lewis

Having the privilege of already going to Spain (where I am currently studying abroad) for two weeks when I was Junior in high school, I already had a good idea of what to expect when I arrived in Madrid. The same cannot be said for my time abroad in Argentina. Having spent almost two semesters in two different countries, I have made a few missteps, whether it was awkwardly greeting someone (handshake or cheek kiss? I DON’T KNOW!), or saying the wrong word for something or saying it in the wrong accent. I have also encountered a number of cultural differences that have really made me reflect on how my life compares to the lives of others. Growing up in Iowa City and going to school at Tulane, both fairly liberal, politically correct, and socially conscious places (with obvious counter examples: e.g. the recent KA Trump Wall), I assumed that Argentina (as well as a few of the various countries I have travelled to while abroad in Spain) would also share similar values. While in almost every country the expectations and reality do not match up perfectly, I think the most surprising example of crossing cultures for me was encountering, learning about, and comparing the political incorrectness and racism present in Argentina with that of the United States.

Before I elaborate, it is important to note the difference between intent and effect when discussing the political incorrectness of Argentina. Furthermore, it is important to note the difference between political incorrectness and racism. Merriam Webster defines political correctness as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people” and racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Racism is a universal problem that exists in almost every country in some way, shape, or form, and I believe that both racism and political incorrectness, just like in the United States, are present in Argentina, however in a more obvious and overt fashion. It’s also important to note that obviously not all Argentines are political incorrect and are certainly not all racist. From personal experience, the host mother I lived with was one of the nicest and most accepting people I have met. However, it is clear that both of these things, just like in the US, are very present.

To give an example of political incorrectness, while in the US it is offensive to greet an overweight person as “hey fat!” or an African American as “hello black!” in Argentina it is the complete opposite. In Argentina, one would address an overweight person as “gordo,” and anyone with darker skin as “negro,” “negrita,” etc. From personal experience, when walking somewhere from school with my Asian-American female friend, random groups of people (almost always young males) would yell various phrases such as “Konichiwa” or “Ni hao” at her. They would also pull their eyelids back to resemble the stereotype to get her attention and signal their interest in her, making her very uncomfortable. While people are more upfront in Argentina, and in this instance, likely do not have the intention to harm anyone, the effects of their political incorrectness are felt by their targets, especially when they come from more politically correct backgrounds.

In addition to having an overweight body type and being part of a minority race, being a female draws you generally unwanted attention via catcalls, whistles, etc (also present in the US), deriving from the Machismo culture of Argentina. So while there is often not an intent to offend or make someone feel uncomfortable, it is often the effect. That being said, while being politically incorrect doesn’t always involve bad intentions, being racist does.

The following quote is from an African American student’s entry in the IFSA-Butler abroad blog from the fall semester:

“As a black woman I did not go one single day without having at least 2 or more men cat call me, or someone stare at me. I was warned before embarking on this trip that I might face these things as a woman of color because “there are no blacks in Argentina”. However, through investigation I found out that this was false. Although many in the city do not believe and may not have ever seen blacks or indigenous peoples, they do exist. I saw them, met them, and engaged with them. And I even wrote my research paper on the history of blacks or afro-argentines in the country and the explicit and implicit tactics in which the Argentine society attempted to silence and erase their presence. And even after writing and presenting this paper, I was still questioned about the validity of my findings, even by professors. It was only until I showed photos of this silenced and hidden community that I was believed, and with great shock.”

This quote not only mentions the problems with being a woman in a culture dominated by machismo, it also exemplifies a racism problem that still exists in Argentina, evidenced by an educated professor’s denial of black oppression, as well as numerous examples I found online citing racial slurs and discrimination (e.g. refusal into restaurants, clubs, buses, etc.). This problem stems from a number of factors, including stereotyping, misunderstandings, and lack of awareness, and is not just present in Argentina. The United States also has a problem with marginalizing minorities, via aspects such as access to job opportunities and the criminal justice system, as we learned about through our freshmen required reading, The New Jim Crow.

Tying these experiences into my own, it is very important to recognize that I personally, as a white male, have faced zero harassment or discrimination. So while I thoroughly enjoyed my time abroad in Argentina and love it here in Spain, I am now also very aware that unfortunately ones race and gender, due to the views of others about/against each aspect, can detract from his/her experience abroad. Sadly, people in a less privileged position than myself, especially when visiting a country unfamiliar with their race, often have to overcome struggles that I will never have to face just because I am part of a different demographic.

Job Security and Study Abroad by William Smith

Based on your experiences, what assets might international study yield as opposed to someone who only studied domestically? Think about potential advantages on resumes, during interviews and in the workforce.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already back home from Brazil.  Four and a half months after arriving in a foreign country in which I did not know a soul, I can now call Brazil one of my many homes.  My semester in São Paulo left me with many new friends and colleagues, cherished lessons and professors, flatmates and housemates, and yes, even favorite restaurants.  I will miss all of these people and places dearly.

During my time in Brazil, I learned how to survive on my own, to cook meals and to concoct caipirinhas, to enhance my working knowledge of Portuguese, my third language, and to embrace a new cultural understanding and lens through which I view my own life and life experiences.  Through my trials and tribulations, I grew as a student and as a person, and I have São Paulo and my friends to thank for this.  In fact, I’ve already seen my changed thought processes yield dividends and interesting conversations back in the United States.

As a student that recently secured a summer opportunity in investment banking in New York, I competed with some of the brightest and best-prepared students in the world for spots at top international investment banks.  Despite my rather nondescript appearance and ordinary Southern upbringing, I have found Tulane’s Altman Program and study abroad stints in Costa Rica, Argentina, and Brazil to be incredible differentiators.  Rather than ask about valuation methodologies and Janet Yellen’s latest press releases regarding future Federal Interest Rate hikes, my interviewers preferred to ask me about my time living, working and studying in Latin America.

In my wide variety of conversations with finance professionals across the United States, it seems that Brazil remains an exotic locale with a certain mystique surrounding its people and its culture.  “Is Brazil scary?” one man asked. Another wished to know about Dilma Rousseff’s possible impeachment, to which I promptly replied with my skeptical analysis of the constitutionality of the impeachment proceedings.  One female analyst asked me about Brazil’s currency devaluations, and even about the steak and churrascarias.  Finally, one man, perhaps in confidence, inevitably asked me if I had found a new “namorada,” the Portuguese word for girlfriend.  I had no choice but to laugh.

I now know that studying in Brazil was a wise decision in making my personal story and the scope of my comprehension of Latin American markets a selling point during the interview process.  In an ocean of eager college juniors with too many hair products, crooked ties, and wrinkled suits, Altman Scholars stand out as prepared, determined, and indeed unique.

Ultimately, however, while I am grateful to have had an aid in my interview process, I know that my friends, professors, and memories will forever be more important.  To Brazil, FGV, and those that I hope to see someday soon: Eu sempre vou ficar com saudades de vocês. 

Making Moves to Leave China by Jacob Magasanik

On my flight home, I sat next to a native Beijinger who lived in a small house in the Hutongs, which are parts of the old city. He taught himself passable English in his retirement and had decided to move to Cincinnati for his remaining years. I spoke with him for much of the flight. I would speak in Chinese and he would speak in English. We would correct each other when needed, but the focus was on sharing things of interest from our respective worlds.

In China, there’s an unspoken understanding that anyone you see who looks elderly has probably seem some terrible things, especially a native Beijinger. Between the Great Famine, the Civil War, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the events leading up to Tiananmen Square, the elderly in China have had more than their fair share of hardships. It was amazing hearing his stories and his take on the world. He was unbelievably optimistic, given all that he had seen.

It dawned on me halfway through my flight that this is what I would miss the most about living in Beijing. You could go anywhere and meet someone with a fascinating story, who was more than willing to share it with you. You could go around the city and collect amazing stories, make friends that would blow you away, and be in awe of the resourcefulness, intelligence, kindness, and creativity in who you spoke to. This is not to say that people in the United States are boring, but they are reserved. You can’t meet someone that night and hear his or her take on their life story. Life stories are reserved for closer friends and I think that’s a shame because plenty of people—most actually—really blew me away.

I’ve Always Wondered What Soviet Russia Felt Like by Brad Tyson

How is higher education different in your host country from the US? Think about overall institutional structure as well as the pedagogy that is employed in the classroom. What strategies have you used to navigate these new rules and mores in these academic settings

In Argentina, public and private universities have stark differences, with many more social implications than in the United States. Most college students either choose to attend the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), an entirely free university, or one of the many private schools in the city. Approximately 200,000 students attend UBA, many young students (22-30) trying to obtain a bachelors, and older retirees (60-80), who enjoy learning new material. Although entirely open to the public, UBA is known as the hardest university in terms of content. Most Argentines say studying at UBA prepares students not for their careers, but for life in general.

Private schools here in Buenos Aires are for students that want a more structured experience, and can afford to do so. However, except for one or two universities known for certain majors, the private school system is a much more tranqui school environment compared to the intensity of UBA. I switched to the University of Belgrano for second semester, and can attest to this personally.

First semester I studied at UBA, an entirely different animal than Tulane. Within UBA, I took classes at the college of Filosofia y letras (FILO), which could easily be mistaken for a blend of a hippie commune and 1950s Soviet Union. In the sixties, the building used to be a cigarette factory, receiving zero investment into the infrastructure since then.

I remember my first day walking into FILO, with excessive political graffiti and posters plastered to the walls; advocates trying to persuade students to vote for the Marxist political candidate, calling Mauricio Macri, the capitalistic presidential candidate, Satan. Every day student groups would interrupt classes to give political speeches, trying to deter a political win for Macri (who later ended up winning the election). Students would sit in the courtyard of the building, and drink liter beers without any regard for being in a school. In the corner, there even is a converted bed frame for asados [think massive Argentine BBQ]. My classes lasted six hours, students entering and leaving whenever it was convenient to their schedule, sometimes in classes overfilled by 50-60 students.

In my second week of class, a homeless woman came into my class, asking for money. When the professor asked her to leave, she continued to stare at every student in the class for 30 seconds, refusing to break eye contact. I was the only one wildly confused by the entire situation.

After an entire semester at FILO, I was forced to slow down and break away from my Tulane mentality. I embraced the motto, Asi es la vida, as professors arrived two hours late, and power outages would force classes to close. The UBA experience forced me to realize the vast differences in ideologies, and the importance to slow down and enjoy life, taking advantage of the present. Returning to Tulane, I hope to bring back the same thinking, succeeding under the pressure, yet thoroughly enjoying the present day.