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Re-learning Leadership

Re-Learning Leadership: How Study Abroad Prepared Me for My Career

Posted November 07, 2018 by Rachel Wilson - Financial Analyst - Amazon

"Your college experience isn't complete unless you study abroad." This is a phrase that I’ve heard over and over again throughout my time in school from many different people. Whether or not you agree with this statement, I can personally attest that studying abroad definitely enhanced my college experience and helped prepare me for my career post-graduation.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for traveling. Growing up in Hawaii, I have always been surrounded by people from different backgrounds and cultures. I love learning about what makes other people unique and how their experiences have shaped them. I believe that the best way to learn and appreciate culture is by immersing yourself in it through first-hand experiences. This was the beginning of my interest in international study. I also wanted to apply the concepts that we learned in our business classes to a real-world context. For these reasons, studying abroad was the perfect opportunity for me to get the academic and personal experience I wanted.

When I began to look into study abroad programs, I considered a variety of factors like whether and how the study abroad courses would fit into my degree plan and schedule. But the most significant factor was the cost. I was initially interested in studying abroad as a first-year student, but I put the thought aside when I saw the high costs associated since I was already taking out multiple student loans to cover the cost of my normal tuition alone. However, after more research, I learned that there were several opportunities and scholarships available specifically for students interested in studying abroad that would help offset the costs. I think this a big reason a lot of other students may not pursue studying abroad. It may seem financially infeasible at first, but through some research you might find scholarships available through your departmental study abroad office, the greater college or university, or even online through other organizations! Luckily, I was able to find that my school offered short-term study abroad opportunities that fit within my degree plan and budget.

Don’t let financial constraints discourage you from applying to a study abroad program; instead talk to an advisor about how to seek out scholarship opportunities to help offset the costs. There will always be someone who is willing to advocate for you.

I participated in a study abroad program that took place in India. The program focused on the role of women in society, on business, and on the global context of emerging economies, with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship. Over the course of four weeks, we traveled across the country and visited a total of five different states and nine cities. We met business leaders and learned from incredible organizations of all sizes that focus on creating positive social change within their communities.

This particular study abroad program was centered on the concept of leadership. An important lesson that I learned about leadership in general is that many strong and effective leaders are often selfless. This was a common trait among many of the great leaders we met. To paraphrase a memorable quote from the trip that best encompassed this quality of selflessness, “If the success of the company relies on one person, the business will never grow.” I learned that it is not always about holding the title of “leader,” but more so about putting yourself in a position to set the foundation for the next generation of leaders. This is a very selfless way to think about leadership and something I will keep in mind as I continue the early stages of my career.

After my trip to India, my concept of leadership had transformed from what I have been traditionally taught to believe, from being strictly managerial to a collaborative and developmental approach. The visits and conversations I had with individuals at organizations in India were an invaluable addition to my experience. It was such a unique opportunity to learn directly from the people who are actively involved in advancing India’s role in social causes and leading global industries. Consistent themes I noticed throughout our trip include perseverance, collaboration, and selflessness. I was also able to learn from my peers who were on the trip. Listening to their different perspectives and comparing each other’s experiences elevated the quality of what I took away from my program.

All of these experiences helped shape my outlook on leadership and have restructured how I envision myself as a leader. I have always been involved in leadership roles, but I never thought to use leadership as a platform for empowering others. In the business world, there can be a strong emphasis on one’s title or role within a company. It is easy to get caught up in this competitive environment, especially as a business student, so it was refreshing to see many different perspectives and leadership styles while studying in India. The selfless style of leadership, focusing on creating opportunities for others, embodied much of the attitudes of leaders that I encountered throughout the trip. As a female person of color working in the corporate world, ascending into leadership roles is especially difficult; but I believe the biggest impact I can personally make is to use my role as a leader as an opportunity to bring others up along with me. I hope to take these lessons and encourage my peers to serve others, strive for equal representation, and create a collaborative working environment.

Rachel Wilson graduated in June 2018 from the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business with a bachelor of arts in business administration with a focus in finance. She is currently working as a financial analyst in the Finance Rotation Program at Amazon in Seattle, Washington.