It is hard to imagine studying abroad during a global pandemic. In fact, it is hard to imagine “normal life” prior to COVID-19. On the eve of the anniversary of me truly living my best life in another continent, I want to literally return to the city I fell in love with at 18. I had the opportunity to study abroad in London for the Fall 2018 semester, my first semester of college.
Wait, what? First semester? Yes, let’s back up for a second.
I am lucky enough to be a part of the inaugural class of Haas Undergrad’s Global Management Program (GMP). This is a cohort program with around 30 students in each class who are directly admitted to U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business as freshmen. We are able to take advantage of all of the perks of being in Haas like $100 printing credit, booking study rooms in the Haas Library, and priority class enrollment for UGBA classes in junior year. Unlike other Haas students, we have different class requirements focused on international business and international regional studies along with two GMP specific classes, Global Leadership taken Spring semester of Freshman year and the Junior Year Capstone. However, the real kicker of this program is our mandatory freshman study abroad requirement in first semester.
Was it scary? Yes. Was it worth it? Even more so.
A CHANCE TO SEE THE WORLD
I was an 18 year-old girl living without my family for the first time in London, the city of dreams. Berkeley Global Edge, the program facilitating our study abroad, provided us with flats (read: apartment) and an oyster card (Read: unlimited bus and London Tube transportation pass). The rest was up to us. My friends and I truly took advantage of every opportunity travel-wise, professional development-wise, and food-wise.
For an American, based on sheer distance, traveling to another country is, at the very least, an ordeal. In Europe, world class cities in different countries are just so easy to get to — at a discount no less! I was able to fly to Iceland and experience the serene waters of the Blue Lagoon. There’s no experience like coordinating a 15+ person group trip 72 hours before the flight. It informed me about best practices for all of our future trips like respecting different budgets and planning activities before reaching the destination — not to mention leaving room for some unexpected magic of traveling to a new city.
I took this advice with me all over Europe for the next three months I was there. In Amsterdam, I explored the infamous tulip market for the first time and saw the city from a canal boat. Then in Paris, I tried confit duck for the first time and saw the Eiffel Tower Show at 1 AM. And, on my last trip to Barcelona, we hit the famous Mercado de La Boqueria for the best empanadas I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Still, the value of studying abroad does not stop at great cultural experiences and delicious food. For me, studying abroad in London expanded my professional horizons too.
A CHANCE TO LISTEN TO THE BEST
After finding an online application on Facebook (of all places) to the annual UCL Finance Conference, I was compelled to apply and learn more about banking and finance. What better way is there to learn about a new field than to listen to the leaders of that industry talk? This prestigious conference receives over 1,000 applications from all over the world and accepts 225 delegates to attend. These delegates come from 40 elite universities in-and-out of Europe. For a freshman studying abroad in London, I was excited to be selected to attend to meet other bright minds and learn about a field I thought I wanted to enter. It was the perfect networking opportunity.
The day of the conference, I put on my suit and heels and went to the conference with two of my good friends who were also selected to attend. When we got to the ballroom and received the schedule of events, my jaw dropped at the speakers:
Rachel Lord, Head of EMEA, BlackRock
Mark Aedy, Head of EMEA & Asia IB, Moelis & Co
Wenceslao Bunge, CEO Spain & Portugal, Credit Suisse
Cyrus Kapadia, Deputy Head of UK IB, Lazard
Mark Howden, Managing Director, Jefferies
Ina De, Co-Head of UK IB, J.P. Morgan
Kari Pitkin, EMEA Head of Real Estate, Gaming & Lodging IB, BofAML
I asked for exposure to the market and I got it!
WHAT YOU DON’T LEARN IN A TEXTBOOK
One-by-one, they gave 30 minute presentations with time for Q&As. I learned all about how technology and artificial intelligence is shaking up banking operations and listened to their insights about working in the industry and how to break in. For a business student looking at opportunities or desired tips to work in finance in the future, this was a treasure trove.
I learned that it doesn’t matter that you know how to do the calculations to complete a financial statement. If you don’t know how to turn those numbers into a story, how can you influence others to make decisions? For example, it is much more impressive to know how the debt-to-equity ratio relates to the chances your company can get another loan rather than the fact you know how to find the numerical value of the debt-to-equity ratio. In an interview, your ability to conduct this kind of analysis will separate you from the rest of the candidates.
Even two years later, looking back at this event, I remember how inspiring and empowering it was. In fact, I remember Rachel Lord starting off the conference by making a point. She said, “Look around the room,” she said. “75% of the room is male.” Then she paused before saying, “I want to commend the organizers of this conference because the list of speakers isn’t representative of the financial industry but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for women”.
She was referring to the fact that in the seven speaker line-up, two women on the panel weren’t even representative of the industry. Still she didn’t say it to be discouraging; she said it as a way to highlight the issue and urge all the women sitting in the conference to go for it because there is a seat at the table for us.
For many college students looking to choose their ideal industry and job, this isn’t an area where most people focus. For a couple minutes that day, all 225 delegates did. It was powerful and inspiring. In this moment, I realized the value of surrounding myself with people who were smarter and more experienced than I am. There is endless learning that can happen in that environment.
Speaking of learning, during the middle of the conference, we all went through AMT Training (Adkins Matchett Toy) to learn about financial modeling and valuations. From DCFs to LBOs to share price analysis, we had a teacher lead us through what was essentially a crash course in finance. Working with Excel sheets and Excel formulas two years ago has benefited me to this very day. I used those same skills I learned in all of my accounting classes at Haas and in a commercial banking program I enrolled in as well.
UCL Finance Conference was truly a fantastic introduction to finance and offered great exposure to global markets, especially for an American student who had never really even considered working in Europe. The biggest joy of being in Europe is seeing a different way of life and for a young professional looking to find her place in the world, I have found that more exposure is always better than less exposure.
AN INSIDE LOOK AT GOLDMAN SACHS
Speaking of exposure, Haas’ Global Management Program has a hand in networking as well. They tapped into their Haas Alumni Networks in London and helped to schedule a GMP tour of the Goldman Sachs Office. On a cloudy morning, all 30 of us showed up at the steps of their River Court Office bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to learn about investment banking.
Clif Marriott, a Managing Director in the Technology, Media, and Telecom Group within the Investment Banking division, sat down with us for 30 minutes and walked through his career path from Berkeley to London and explained the basics of investment banking. He gave us insight into what his job entails, Goldman’s hierarchy, and company divisions. And he very clearly explained to us the concept of a “Chinese Wall.” Essentially, there is a barrier of information between analysts and underwriters to facilitate an environment that doesn’t involve a conflict of interest for insider trading.
GMP offers opportunities like this in London to facilitate their students’ learning from the very beginning. When Cif asked everyone who was interested in investment banking to raise their hands, every single hand in the room went up. By the end of visit, I’m sure some hands remained solidly up while others lowered theirs. To me, that visit was successful, knowing what you want to do is just as important as knowing what you don’t want to do. And we would never know if we didn’t have opportunities like these in London to learn more.
Sometime during my wonderful four months studying abroad, I heard someone quote Samuel Johnson, who once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” From food to career possibilities to life-enriching travel opportunities, I know now that London has it all. Let me give out a piece advice for someone looking to travel abroad as a business major or senior in high school…
My name is Grace Huang, a rising senior studying Business Administration at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a member of the founding class of the Global Management Program. Passionate about traveling, writing, running, and finding the perfect scrambled egg recipe, I want to explore the world at the speed New Yorkers walk.