Building Bridges: Karen Li (Class of 2019) Expands Global Connections through Club Leadership and Darden Worldwide Courses
Tell us a little about yourself: Why did you choose Darden for your MBA experience? What did you do prior to attending Darden and what do you hope to do after you graduate?
I lived all of my life in Beijing, China before moving to Charlottesville to attend Darden. After joining KPMG as a consultant for a year doing digital transformation and financial advisory, I decided to become a full-time entrepreneur to build a language learning app with my friends. The venture later became untenable due to our lack of resources and experience with entrepreneurial ventures. At this point, I knew I wanted to go to business school since I had experience in both consulting and entrepreneurship and was open to continuing down either of those career paths in the future.
I chose Darden because of its new dual degree program in business and data science. My interests in business and analytics drew me to the MBA/MSDS dual degree program, of which I am now in the first cohort of students at Darden and UVA’s Data Science Institute. My summer internship at Electronic Arts (EA) as an analytics strategy intern combined both of these degrees perfectly with my interests in tech and gaming. Gaming is a growing field in China and worldwide, so understanding how data analytics pairs with business strategy will be instrumental in this industry and many others. Although I had a wonderful time at EA during the summer, I have accepted a position as an associate in Chicago, Illinois with McKinsey & Company after I graduate from Darden to continue my consulting career track. Eventually, I would like to delve into entrepreneurship again, if the right opportunity arises.
Did you come to Darden knowing you wanted to participate in a Darden Worldwide Course? Why did you choose to participate in the Germany and Dubai & Bahrain global immersion courses?
I came to Darden thinking, “As long as there is an opportunity for global academic experiences, I am doing them.” Not participating in a Darden Worldwide Course (DWC) was not an option for me – I just needed to choose which one I wanted to do. In my first year, I chose the Germany DWC because its topic, “Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Technological Unemployment,” piqued my technology interest. The course included several great company visits to Siemens, SAP, Porsche and others. In Hamburg, we visited a fully autonomous port – almost everything there was controlled by robotics. I also learned a lot about data protection in Europe, especially now with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law. Through talking with local residents, data protection seemed to matter very much in Germany as compared to the U.S., where we tend to be more willing to provide data to large companies for customization or convenience.
As a second year student, I will go on the new January DWC to Dubai and Bahrain, “Honoring the Traditions of the Past While Confronting the Challenges of the Future”. I am interested to see the comparison of culture and technology of these two countries, since they both seem culturally traditional yet the growth of fintech has turned them into global hubs for finance and technology. Also, I have never been to the Middle East but have heard great things from friends who have traveled there, so that was another reason I decided to participate in this DWC. Traveling with a Darden global immersion course is much different than visiting a country for vacation or as a tourist because of the business context of the trip. I wanted to travel and experience new countries through Darden Worldwide Courses because the connections, company visits and program discussions provide you with an understanding of each location in a way you simply could not get as a tourist.
Please tell us more about your involvement in the Asia Business Club at Darden:
I decided to join the leadership board of the Asia Business Club at Darden (ABCD) as vice president for communications and media because I wanted to be a bridge for first year Asian international students coming to Darden, as well as a liaison between Asia and the Darden community in Charlottesville. A lot of students who used to work in major cities in Asia have not experienced a small town learning environment before coming to Darden; in fact, when I moved to Charlottesville I was amazed by the peaceful surrounding nature. Charlottesville’s small town feel complements the immersive learning style of Darden well.
In ABCD we focus on career and cultural opportunities. On the career side, ABCD helps by posting and sharing job opportunities both in the U.S. and in Asia that are relevant to its members. While ABCD is a conglomeration of students of primarily East and Southeast Asian descent, we cooperate with the Darden South Asia Society and other international affinity clubs in our efforts to introduce the Darden community to our region of the world. Earlier this year, I had the chance to be on a student panel representing China to some of my classmates who were preparing to go on the global immersion course to China. This unique opportunity to share my culture and country with my classmates turned into a learning experience for me, as well, to realize how my peers and others view China and understand Chinese culture.
How have these global experiences broadened your perspective on business?
All of these experiences have given me a more dynamic, complete view of global business as compared my understanding before. Here at Darden, where there are students and faculty from all over the world, I am able to hear so many different perspectives on contemporary business issues and beyond. The first year MBA experience can be challenging for international students, especially if they are coming from an academic and professional culture that is entirely different from that of the U.S. In China, classes are lecture-based and networking is done completely differently. On top of those differences, the language barrier can be intimidating at first, but you will be surprised at how quickly you will improve. I always felt a lot of support from my American and English-speaking classmates when I, or other nonnative English speakers, would participate in class discussions.
What advice would you give to prospective international students?
To any prospective international students considering Darden, be sure to speak up in class! Participate in as many events as you can and don’t stay in your own cultural community at Darden. Even if you plan to return to your home country after graduating, utilize your two years at Darden for all that they are worth. I did not realize just how much I have grown in a year and a half at Darden until I looked back and remembered who I was when I started.