By Abigail Quinn

Juan Montiel (Class of 2022) is a first-year student at Darden and the incoming president of the Latin American Student Association (LASA). Juan, originally from Argentina, shared the most valuable parts of his Darden experience thus far, his hopes for LASA and the important lessons this year has taught him:

Global travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique obstacles for international students who planned to move to the U.S. to begin school in 2020. For Juan Montiel, a first year MBA student, lockdowns in Argentina were tough on his family and his mental health. “Visiting family for no reason was illegal under lockdown,” he said, “so I almost did not have a chance to say goodbye to my whole family in person, and I could only see my parents a couple of times before moving to Charlottesville with my wife in August.” His visa to the U.S. took months to obtain, but he arrived in Charlottesville in August and began his Darden journey. Though his journey started in a predominantly virtual environment, after spending months in strict lockdowns in Argentina, Juan was grateful to be in the U.S where he could safely meet a small number of his classmates in person with Darden’s COVID protocols in place.

Juan is a trained civil engineer and worked for major companies like McDonald’s and WeWork before deciding to come to Darden. “I want to transition into the tech sector, so I knew that pursuing an MBA would be the right path for me,” he said. Darden piqued his interest because of its case method style of teaching and the small cohort size that would allow him to make meaningful connections with his peers. “I wanted to find a close-knit community that would support and include both me and my wife, and that’s exactly what we’ve found at Darden,” he says.

Juan plays soccer and tennis with his classmates, but his most meaningful extracurricular experience at Darden is with the Latin American Student Association, a group for which he will serve as president in this upcoming year. “I look forward to bringing back our in-person events in the fall, and I have lots of ideas on how to connect Darden to the larger Latin American population of students who may be considering coming to the U.S. for an MBA,” he says. One idea he would like to pursue is implementing a ‘buddy system’ so that prospective students from Latin America have contacts with Latin American students in the U.S. after they accept offers at Darden. “Overall, I want to expand our events and grow our presence in the Darden community; Latin American students have so many valuable traditions to bring to the table, and I’m excited to share these experiences in person again,” he said. He also hopes to host more career and networking events through the club; “LASA helped me to secure an internship for this coming summer, so I want to make sure everyone has similar opportunities to grow their careers with the help of our organization.”

Juan experienced many obstacles over the past year, but with a positive attitude and the support of a strong community behind him, he always managed to look on the bright side. “This year taught me to appreciate the little things and never take anything for granted,” he says. “I learned to be resilient and patient. Now, I am excited to experience Darden in person next year!”