By Iqra Razzaq
Paloma Bengoechea is a rising second year at Darden from North Bethesda, Maryland. For her undergraduate degree, Paloma earned her B.A. in Art History and minored in both psychology and Italian at Georgetown University. She additionally worked as the Operations Manager at Atlantic Media Strategies before enrolling at Darden. Paloma fully involves herself in both academics and extra-curricular activities, serving as the Vice President for Technology for the Darden Student Association, Vice President of Finance for the Hispanic American Network at Darden, and plays soccer through a student club at Darden. Currently, Paloma is interning with Hewlett Packard Enterprise as a Strategy & Planning intern in Houston, Texas.
Paloma traveled to China in May, participating in a Darden Global Immersion Course alongside classmates and professors. She studied both the culture and business practices of China through meetings, company visits, and interactions with alumni. Paloma, who traveled often growing up due to her dad’s employment at The World Bank, knew she always wanted to travel globally as part of her MBA and had been considering a trip to China for some time. Paloma found global interactions very transformative at Georgetown, so finding global opportunities at Darden played a huge factor in her enrollment at the school. The course to China appealed strongly to Paloma.
“I wasn’t expecting to feel the culture shock as much as I did,” Paloma said. Paloma comes from a Spanish and Puerto-Rican background and lived in South America for a few years in her childhood. She previously visited many countries where she couldn’t speak the language, however her time in China felt different from her prior experiences, where she found even ordering food to be a complicated task due to communication barriers. Paloma reflected that Darden alums, who were involved throughout the program, helped to bridge the divide as they became like cultural translators in conversations and meetings. She stressed “strength in numbers” also helped and stated, “I was always with at least one other classmate exploring Shanghai.”
When comparing her experience learning inside the classrooms at Darden and learning in an experiential setting abroad, Paloma found her trip an enlightening complement to her time at Darden especially in regard to the case-method curriculum. “I thought [the teaching methodology] would be different going into the field, but it’s funny how it just felt like a natural extension of the case experience.” Paloma shared that classmates often assumed the role of case protagonists as they determined what they gained from conversations at the companies they visited.
Due to her previous experiences working in the media industry, Paloma found the company visit to Shanghai Daily, an English language newspaper in Shanghai founded in 1999, to be personally valuable and interesting. She also noted how even a social excursion, such as the one on her last day to the markets, ended up being a great opportunity for learning as well. Along with course staff coordinator, Angie Simonetti, and some of her classmates, Paloma said the trip to the markets was an excellent crash course in negotiation as they haggled with sellers for better prices, which she said involved heavy group work and visits to multiple stores. Paloma also recently found parallels from the course in China to her current internship at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, as the manufacturing floor at her office reminds her of the visit to TE Connectivity in China.
“I learned a lot of different facts and figures in China, but the main lesson I took away on a personal level is the incredible caliber of the people I go to school with,” Paloma said. Paloma witnessed her classmates in action in a global setting and she found it enlightening to view their dynamics outside of the classroom. She developed a new appreciation for her classmates and enjoyed the ability to really know them outside of the classroom.
Paloma stated the entire course, running for its fourth consecutive year, went smoothly, like a “tight-ship”. Paloma found the trip unlike any other as it truly showed her how businesses run in China, takeaways she determined would have been difficult to grasp so completely without this trip. She urges present and future classmates, regardless of their decision to partake in a Darden Worldwide Course or not, to look to their international Darden friends and professors as resources for gaining insight into global business.
The course to China served as a jumping off point for Paloma to Asia and she can’t wait to continue exploring. She stated, “While I hope to continue visiting different parts of the world, I feel lucky to have gone while at Darden and with a program that has been tried and tested…I hope it’s the first of many such applied business experiences.”
(Photos below provided by Angie Simonetti; photos above provided by Paloma)