The Asia Business Club at Darden (ABCD) hosted Asia Week at Darden 8-12 February, 2021. Asia Week included many virtual events and COVID-safe in-person opportunities to connect and celebrate cultures from across Asia. ABCD’s VPs of Events, Heeyeong Jeong (Class of 2021) and Danyang Shen (Class of 2021), shared more about planning this year’s Asia Week as well as the importance of ABCD during their time at Darden:

Tell us more about Asia Week – what were your hopes for the event this year?

Heeyeong Jeong: Our primary goal was to promote awareness and understanding about Asian cultures, particularly related to doing business with people from or in those communities. We hosted social and cultural events for both members and non-members to learn about this increasingly important region, with many cultures and religions. If one person learned at least one new thing about Asia during Asia Week, I think we accomplished our mission. 

Danyang Shen: We wanted to share more about different business and cultural customs in Asia from different perspectives, including people originally from Asia or Asian Americans who spent most of their lives in the U.S. In addition, Lunar New Year is the most important time for many Asians to get together with their families, and due to COVID-19 this year, most of our Asian students had to spend their Lunar New Year here in their Charlottesville home at Darden. We wanted everyone in the Darden community to feel supported and loved during this special time. We are glad that through the cold call, cooking workshops and game night, we were able to provide not only the food but also the feelings of getting together with close friends.

What were the highlights of Asia Week for you?

Heeyeong: The virtual tour of Asia during the cold call on Thursday was one of the highlights of the week for me. We understood how disappointed everyone was when all of our Darden Worldwide Courses (DWCs) were canceled last spring due to the pandemic. So, we wanted everyone to experience different parts of Asia (at least virtually) while enjoying local Asian food. I want to thank everyone for showing up at the food pick-up (some with their dogs or in their sandals in the snow!) and joining the events even when the weather wasn’t ideal to be outside (re: heavy snow!).

Darden students participated in small group dumpling cooking workshops

Another highlight for me was the diversity panel discussion facilitated by our beloved Darden professors, Ming-Jer Chen and Dennie Kim, which offered timely dialogues on cultural conflicts in the 21st global economy and perspectives on growing up as an Asian American in the U.S.  Additionally, as Asia was the region first struck by the outbreak, we hosted sessions on how countries in Asia responded to COVID-19 and what impact the pandemic has had on healthcare systems. Last but not least, we were excited to talk about Asian pop culture, including how K-pop bands BTS and Blackpink became global sensations, and to introduce traditional festival food and wine/liquor on Lunar New Year to our Darden peers.

Danyang: I personally enjoyed all the events during Asia Week and I am so thankful to have such a supportive ABCD board in planning all the events. Three events were highlights for me. First, I really enjoyed planning and organizing the virtual tour around Asia during cold call. Given that we could not travel on DWCs in our first year, we wanted to bring a virtual tour of Asia to our community, and especially let our classmates share their insider views about their hometown or the cities in which they lived or worked before. I am so thankful to all of the presenters. When I reached out to them, they were all so willing to share and the content they shared was far beyond what I expected. They not only introduced the cities, but also shared their love for and understanding of local life. I am also thankful to the record-breaking number of participants who made it to the virtual cold call!

Second, I really appreciate our First Year student Nancy Huai sharing her powerful story about her arrival at Darden after a four-month long journey in Cambodia and Ecuador given visa complications. I appreciate her courage and willingness to share her personal experience, as well as her determination to overcome all the obstacles to pursue her studies here at Darden. I believe she taught us a new lesson in determination.

Last, I would like to highlight the game night we hosted in which we asked trivia questions related to Asia. It was a fun way to not only team up with friends and hopefully win the prize, but also to help participants to get a better understanding of Asia in a joyful way. Our hosts explained the answers to every question after participants submitted the answers, so even if they didn’t know much about Asia before the game night, they learned a lot through it!

As VP of Events, what planning efforts did you have to make to account for COVID-19 gathering restrictions?

ABCD provided special treats for Darden students, including milk tea, a popular tea across Asia, and “lucky” red envelopes, a cultural tradition around Lunar New Year

Heeyeong: With a new restriction of a 6-person gathering at the beginning of the semester, we had to completely change our events planning to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our community and classmates. While we were concerned about a low turnout that we had witnessed in other virtual events last fall, it also made us more creative about all the event ideas. The nice part about virtual events was that they literally opened the door to whole new ideas for us. We were able to invite guests who we couldn’t have invited in a normal setting. For example, we had a healthcare expert based in Chicago help us better understand opportunities in Chinese healthcare, as well as a sake expert from a local brewery for the Asian wine tasting, which wouldn’t have been possible beforehand, especially on a Friday evening. Also, had it not been for all the support we had for organizing and marketing Asia Week, including other student clubs, OSA, CGI, DSA, faculty members and Darden Media team, the week would not have been as successful. I want to thank them all for that.  

Danyang: I would add that in a virtual situation, students may forget there are events for Asia Week because they are at home and may not know what their peers are doing. Therefore, marketing was important for us: we not only emailed newsletters through our club newsletter, our co-sponsors’ newsletters, and the Business Casual, but also shared physical flyers for the event through Darden lunch boxes and posted physical posters on classroom and Learning Team Room doors. We also posted reminders on our social media account. We are glad the marketing worked well and everyone could find the Zoom links when they wanted to join the events. In addition, we found great hosts and moderators who helped us to make the events a more engaging experience for participants.

What impact do you hope this year’s Asia Week would have in the Darden community?

Heeyeong: Since the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. early last spring, we have seen a massive rise in the number of hate crimes against Asians across the country, a phenomenon that is not getting as much media attention as it deserves. With an increase in familiarity with Asian culture and people, I hope everyone becomes an active ally to their fellow Asians and is equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to be supportive of each other and to learn how to act in the face of discrimination.  

Danyang: I believe the best thing in the world is understanding each other and respecting the differences in one another. We would like to be the bridge that enables our Darden friends to know more about Asia and understand the differences we may have in terms of business and culture. Through these events, I hope participants learned ways to become more understanding of cultural differences, which will be helpful in the future as global business leaders.

Why did you decide to run for a leadership position in ABCD? What has the ABCD club community meant to you during your Darden experience?

Heeyeong: Since moving to Charlottesville from Korea, I’ve been fascinated by hundreds of people from all around the world and their diverse cultures and perspectives. Through an ABCD leadership position, I wanted to bridge Asian cultures with all different cultures that I saw in the Darden community and to help better understand one another. I also wanted to facilitate a global mindset and cultural immersion by organizing various Asian-inspired events open to the entire Darden community. Lastly, I wanted to make ABCD a place for my fellow Asian classmates to feel supported and helpful for soft-landing in a new environment when they first arrive in Charlottesville.

Danyang: I have two main reasons running for ABCD leadership. The first reason is I want to be a bridge to share more about Asian cultures with the Darden community. Since first coming to Darden, I have tried to introduce Asian and Chinese cultures to my fellow Darden friends. From teaming up with my friends in the Global Food Festival to share Chinese food with the Darden community, to sharing with my learning teammates and Section A friends about our local festivals and cultures, to running for ABCD board, I am so glad to have many opportunities to let more people know about my Asian culture and heritage. Therefore, it felt natural for me to run for a leadership role in ABCD and to organize the Asia Week events.

The other reason is I would like to provide a close community to my fellow Asian friends at Darden. In Charlottesville, we all call Darden our home, but for Asian students who traveled thousands of miles away from home to come to Darden, ABCD becomes that close, familiar community for us. Beyond being a bridge-builder between cultures, being on the ABCD board gave me the chance to serve and support the Asian community at Darden.