Although Cristina Lara was attracted to Georgia Tech by the opportunity to participate in the International Plan for undergraduates, she already had more experience living overseas than in the United States.
In fact, Lara had never made more than short visits to America before enrolling at Tech in fall 2009, even though she is an U.S. citizen. Growing up on military bases, Lara had lived in Panama, Portugal, Cuba and Italy (spending all of her high school years in the latter).
However, as a student in the International Plan, she chose China for her work and study experiences. The International Plan is a four-year program that integrates international studies and experiences into participating majors at Tech. Receiving a special designation on their degrees, International Plan participants gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly interconnected world.
"I didn't find another program like it at any of the other universities I considered," says Lara, who knew she wanted to major in business administration from the start. "When I graduate, I'll receive a certificate that essentially says I'm qualified to work in China. I picked China because it's a very important country now, and I thought it would be easier to find a job if I learned the Chinese language and culture."
To fulfill requirements of the International Plan, participants must gain proficiency in another language and spend at least 26 weeks in another country, engaging in work, study, or research. Lara has far exceeded the time abroad category, spending 15 months in China.
Her activities there have included studying Chinese for two months in Shanghai and Qingdao in summer 2011 and serving as a training operation/project team intern for BMW Brilliance Automotive in Beijing from July 2011 to January 2012. She also was an exchange student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology from February 2012 to June 2012 and a sales representative for AIESEC from June 2012 to August 2012.
Lara, who was already proficient in Italian and Spanish when she enrolled at Tech, says she's learned Chinese well enough to participate in business meetings conducted entirely in that language. She has also gained insight into how Chinese form business relationships.
"Guanxi, or reciprocal relationships, are very common in China," Lara explains. "You have to build relationships that are more like friendships before you can start doing business. For example, I had to network on LinkedIn and go to business dinners and networking events before setting a business meeting."
Lara would eventually like to return to China to pursue career opportunities, but first she'd like to gain three to five years of consulting experience in the United States.