By Jean Yoon

Julie Calderon-Benavente (Class of 2020, center in above photo), originally from Peru, is a Second Year student who will begin a full-time role with Google after graduation this May. She serves as the president of the Global Business and Culture Club (GBCC) and will participate in her second Darden Worldwide Course this March. Julie explains how her global academic experiences as an international student at Darden have shaped her perspectives on business and leadership.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to attend Darden?

I am originally from Peru, where I worked in administration and international business for over three years at a sportswear company. I dealt with international logistics and communicated with production companies from China, Europe, and the U.S. to make their products available in Latin America. Being a logistics manager was the next step from there, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that position yet. I decided to pursue an MBA to better prepare me for whatever would be my next steps, and I discovered Darden while researching highly ranked MBA programs. MBA programs can vary greatly in their teaching methods, and the case method style of teaching distinguishes Darden from most other MBA schools. I wanted to attend a school that would offer me the full MBA experience, not just the degree. Darden consistently ranks highly for the best MBA education experience. I knew Darden would be the best fit for me because of its engaging, multi-faceted teaching style and its numerous student clubs and activities that would give me the holistic educational experience I desired.

What have you learned from living and studying in a different country?

My first experience studying abroad was in high school when I did an exchange program in Germany for three months. During my undergraduate degree, I studied in Rochester, New York for six months. These two experiences abroad taught me the value of being open-minded, as almost every person I met was different from the generalizations I learned to expect of people from these countries. I really started to appreciate international experiences and cultural immersion during my undergraduate exchange program, finding a love for travel all the while preparing myself to live abroad for two years in the U.S. (little did I know then). Being open-minded serves me well at Darden, as a student and an affinity club leader, enabling me to make so many friends and connections with people from all over the world. Even when not actively traveling, I take advantage of the many opportunities to cultivate a global experience here at Darden.

Julie with classmates in Kyoto during the Japan DWC in May 2019

What are some global academic opportunities have you taken advantage of while at Darden?

I joined many clubs when I started my first year at Darden. Besides career clubs, I specifically joined many international affinity clubs because I believe it is important to learn about different cultures and countries, especially from people from those places. I love traveling to experience different cultures as well, so I thought participating in a Darden Worldwide Course (DWC) would be a great opportunity for cultural immersion in another part of the world I have not been to before. As a Peruvian, I would normally only be able to go to Japan with an invitation, so I signed up for the Japan DWC to take advantage of that opportunity while I am a student here!

Seeing how different countries can be fascinates me. During the Japan DWC, we toured a Toyota factory, which was fun to see since one of the very first cases we read at Darden was on Toyota. Understanding how companies conduct business in different countries is eye opening, especially from my experience of working with global companies but being based in Peru. Beyond the business aspects of the DWC, being immersed in Japan allowed me to experience its cultural differences from both Peru and the U.S. I remember walking with my friend for an hour back to the hotel one night in the city and never feeling unsafe, and it struck me how experiencing a different culture’s norms made me reevaluate my own. I loved my experience in Japan so much that I signed up for another DWC this year. Like Japan, Israel is another place that I did not expect I would ever travel to, so I am eager to take part in the DWC to Israel and to experience an entirely different part of the world. Israel has a deep history of many religions and cultures, and I am excited to see how these influences all interact together. As with any experience abroad, I plan to keep an open mind without any expectations as I go there so that I experience it fully.

How did you get involved with the Global Business and Culture Club?

I became friends with the previous president of GBCC during my first year, who was also from Peru, so that was how she introduced me to the club. I first got involved with GBCC through participating in the Global Food Festival in my first year. I made and served Peruvian food, and while I can’t say it was the best Peruvian food people will ever try, I was proud to explain and share a part of Peruvian culture with my fellow classmates. Being passionate about cultural representation, I wanted to be more involved with international engagements at Darden and to make GBCC more widely known, so I decided to run for president of GBCC.

What events does GBCC have planned for the rest of the semester?

Globetrotters events are presentations by students from different countries and cultural backgrounds open to the Darden community to come to eat lunch, listen and learn. They are a fun and easy way to get students involved in global events and to spread cultural awareness.  As GBCC president, I knew I wanted GBCC to continue supporting these events, which began as a student initiative but now officially run through GBCC. For the rest of this semester, GBCC will host three more Globetrotters events and several cultural cooking classes, which we initiated in Quarter 3. The cooking classes give students a platform to teach others how to cook their cultural cuisine, and we manage the sign up process and reimbursements for meal preparation expenses. Spots fill up quickly, which makes us hopeful that there is good demand for this program to continue into next year.

What are your hopes for GBCC in the future?

Ideally, I would want everyone at Darden to be part of GBCC. It is important for leaders to be globally engaged, and joining GBCC would show their initiative to be so. Darden is about building global leaders, and being part of GBCC would be a great way for students to learn more about different cultures from people from all around the world and to see how we are all similar yet can be from culturally different places. Business is about building relationships, so it is important for students to learn how to interact with people from different cultures, and GBCC offers an effective way for students to learn about different cultures to supplement their educational experience. Plus, membership for GBCC is free!

Julie on a hike with classmates on one of central Virginia’s many hiking trails

What are your plans for the rest of the semester and after graduation?

I will move to Mountain View, California to work for Google in its hardware fulfillment team. I have had an amazing experience at Darden, so it is hard to accept the fact that I will be leaving here soon. Before I graduate, I plan to make the most of the time I have left here by going to events like UVA basketball games. I was not greatly aware of basketball before I came to Darden, but UVA has an overall impressive sports scene, especially after last year’s team winning the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament. I have really enjoyed becoming a part of the bigger university community here in Charlottesville.

Do you have any advice for future international students considering studying at Darden?

I would advise international students to visit  Charlottesville before they enroll at Darden, if they have the means to do that, so that they can make sure Darden is a good fit for them. There are many different MBA programs and not every program is the best fit for every applicant. Darden’s collaborative environment and case study method may not suit everyone, so prospective students should look into whether this will be the right educational experience for them. I hope even more international students will come to Darden so that its global identity will truly shine.