How I Grew Personally & Professionally in SE Asia

Students studying abroad in Thailand

Before I ventured off and took my first steps towards becoming a college student, I read a journal on how to survive my college years. Referenced inside, was a quote by Albert Einstein that read “the only source of knowledge is experience.” Ever since that day in late August of 2014, I have made it my primary goal to indulge in as many diverse, learning experiences as I could find within reach. Although this commitment has molded my college career into a journey I can most certainly look back on and say I am proud of, I felt I needed something more. Something out of the ordinary. Something that would test my limit. Something that would entirely transform the person I am. Luckily, the opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia presented itself, and I impulsively took that leap of faith!

On December 30, 2018, I set out to explore the remarkable cultures of Southeast Asia. Our journey began in Bangkok, Thailand and concluded with a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Through all the business visits and sightseeing opportunities, I have learned a lot about myself and the world that surrounds me. The seminar has allowed me to conquer a whole new set of personal and career goals that will continue to pay out for years to come.

Through this experience I have realized how large of an impact foreign markets and subsidiaries have on business in the U.S. Essentially, all large corporate firms nowadays have a function or component of business articulated overseas. Some companies leverage operations on Asia’s low labor costs, and others take advantage of the foreign import and export channels. It was eye-opening to visit factory sites and witness operations first hand. Some of the facility workers I saw were crammed in a warehouse building executing the same one-step process all day long. It was this walking tour that made me thankful for the education system and opportunities I have been given back in the U.S. I could not imagine having to work 5-6 days a week plus overtime at minimum wage, just to provide for a family. When I think “busy seasons” are hard, I will always remember that there are people that have it worse and being compensated far less. Seeing this work environment first-hand has given me more of a positive outlook on the life I am living.

Reflecting further on this experience, I have truly flourished my career goals. Hearing from Heidi G. and Sarah W., two successful businesswomen at the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, I have decided I want a career that involves international business. They spoke a lot about the variety of work an international career offers. Their presentation convinced me that emerging yourself in diverse markets is the most effective way to obtain a full-circle understanding of business processes worldwide. I hope that someday, I can use this experience to fulfill a role that requires me to work directly with international business leaders. Already having this international experience will set me apart from other candidates and give me a unique advantage when it comes to crafting my ideal career.

Ronald McDonald in BangkokOn a more personal note, I have gained a great deal of confidence in myself. I strongly believe my situational and critical thinking skills have improved. When you are thrown in an unfamiliar setting, it challenges you to think with a more open mind. I had to learn to be accepting of the unique, interesting customs the Thais and Vietnamese hold. For example, upon entering the hotel the staff bowed to me, I was slightly confused. But as time progressed, I learned that the action is called a “wai” and is the traditional greeting given in Thailand to show appreciation. By the end of the trip, I entirely adapted and found myself reciprocating the greeting.

This trip has challenged me to reach wide outside my comfort zone and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have learned to refrain from initial judgment and take tradition as it is. I have always been inclusive and accepting of diversity but interacting with Asian natives and seeing the differences in culture before my eyes, has elevated my appreciation to new levels.

Rush hour traffic in VietnamAfter taking this trip, I strongly believe that Americans tend to live in somewhat of a “satisfaction bubble”. If we want warm temperatures, we travel to Florida. Cool views? Fly to Denver. Great seafood? Boston it is. We are somewhat satisfied with the diversity the U.S. already has. I am proud that I finally found the courage to pop that satisfaction bubble and explore what lied outside the U.S. border. IBS has brought me a whole new outlook on life, memories that will last indefinitely, and an opportunity to reach some of my hardest goals.

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Ms. Kitchell
Clare Kitchell

School: Northern Illinois University

I attended the Winter Southeast Asia 2019 Seminar!

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