Global treks provide students with new perspective on their careers

Immersive spring break trips range from Asia to Switzerland to Mexico City

Editor’s note: This story is part of Dispatches from Abroad, a series highlighting UChicago community members who are researching, studying and working around the world.

Members of the University of Chicago community spent their recent spring breaks traveling abroad, exploring a wealth of opportunities while experiencing rich, intellectual discussions and career insights. These graduate and undergraduate students spent their days engaging with institutions, experts and UChicago alumni, and their evenings enjoying the diversity of local culture.

The graduate trips were organized through the Law School and the Committee on International Relations. The undergraduate career treks were organized through UChicago’s Office of Career Advancement, with support from UChicago Global. Erwin Paderanga, who oversees the trek program at Career Advancement, said: “Treks offer a one-of-a-kind experience. Students travel to cities across the U.S. and around the world to meet UChicago’s global network of alumni and employers. It’s a wonderful way to experience a ‘day in the life’ of their dream job and get an inside view on how they can find jobs and internships."

Learn more about their recent journeys below:

‘A different view of the world’ in Geneva

Second-year College student Alyssa Manthi’s trip to Geneva, Switzerland was her first internationally.

As part of their three-day trek focused on public policy and organized through UChicago’s Office of Career Advancement, Manthi and her fellow students visited a number of UN agencies and nonprofits —meeting with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as other UN entities.

As a student double majoring in English and human rights, Manthi enjoyed the variety of opportunities the career trek unearthed. She also said the trip sparked a new interest in international opportunities.

Coming from a high school in the Chicago suburbs, Manthi said: “I just never had opportunities like this before. It was nice to get a different view of the world. Maybe I’ll go work abroad when I graduate. That’s an option that I hadn’t really considered before.”

Though her trip to Geneva was her first outside of the U.S., Manthi is not waiting long to travel again. This quarter she is at the UChicago Center in Paris, continuing her studies in human rights as well as adding to her international experiences.

Reflecting on her time in Geneva, Manthi’s big takeaway was the potential of exploring an international career. “There are so many options out there that I just never really considered before,” she said.

Finding new perspectives in Taiwan

For several years, Matthias Staisch has led graduate students on trips to Asia, through his role as associate director of the Committee on International Relations (CIR). This year, he and his colleague Pinar Alakoç, Associate Instructional Professor in CIR, took a group of 14 students to Taiwan to visit with universities, media outlets, government offices and other entities to engage in conversations about issues in Taiwan and the region.

“A typical day involves two to three site visits,” said Staisch, an associate senior instructional professor in CIR. “It can be a visit at a university. It can be a visit at a think-tank. It can be a panel with journalists. Sometimes it’s an all-day event. We did one day trip and did high-speed rail to the southern city of Kaohsiung.”

The committee relies on UChicago Global as well as the UChicago centers in Delhi and Hong Kong to help facilitate these trips. It’s a lot of work, Staisch said, but it’s well worth it for the benefit CIR students receive.

For master’s student Diego Rivera-Irizarry, the trip was an opportunity to gather insights for his thesis, which examines how Latin American countries balance their relationships with China and Taiwan.

“I really enjoyed getting the chance to not just see Taiwan but to meet Taiwanese people. To really get to humanize a people and a country that you read so much about in the U.S. in an academic setting,” he said.

Both he and fellow master’s student Musa Ali received insights into the perspectives of Taiwanese people and students. They also reveled in being able to experience local culture, such as visiting the mountain town of Jiufen—known for its resemblance to the town in Studio Ghibli’s movie Spirited Away.

Several participants hiked to Taiwan’s famous Elephant Mountain, which is renowned for being easily accessible from Taipei. Ali hiked along the trail on his final day in Taiwan. “It was sunset, and you could see the whole city. It was really beautiful,” he said.

The Taiwan trip was not just about the place and the people, but also its insights to new ideas and perspectives. “You get to see a different conceptualization of the world itself, something that you weren’t really familiar with before,” said Rivera-Irizarry.

Conducting immersive research in Mexico City

As an undergraduate student, Keyana Banisadre wanted to have the classic study abroad experience, but COVID prevented that from happening. Now as a first-year law student, she jumped at the chance to travel internationally for spring break as part of international immersion trips organized by the Law School.

Banisadre traveled to Mexico City, where she and other law students spent their days visiting a variety of places and meeting diverse groups of people, including UChicago alumni. One highlight was visiting the Mexican Supreme Court and meeting with Justice Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena.

One distinguishing piece of the Law School trip was that each student used the trip as the basis for a research paper. Banisadre’s is on the enforcement and protection of U.S.-based intellectual property in Mexico.

“My family’s from Iran, and every time you go to Iran, there are Gucci T-shirts on every corner,” said Banisadre. “What can you do about that? And I was surprised, actually, how much you could do in Mexico in that regard.”

Banisadre enjoyed her evenings out in Mexico City, when she and her fellow law students investigated the rich variety of restaurants and neighborhoods. But she said what she’ll remember most is the perspective that international travel provides.

“You talk to these [Mexican] legal professionals. They don’t like the President. They don’t like how things are going, but there’s a lot of hope still. A lot of people are still fighting to make it better. We come back to the U.S. saying: ‘OK, we are in a position where we really have an opportunity here, and it's not so bad, and it's not something that's inevitable and is irreversible,’” Banisadre said. “And so I think that was the biggest takeaway. If these people can see a way to improve and change and ultimately make a system where people have more rights, we easily can too. There’s no reason we should become pessimistic with the state of affairs.”

Seeing innovation first-hand in China

First-year College student Doris Hado is no stranger to international travel. She is Albanian and has traveled throughout Europe and the United States, but her recent spring break trek to China was her first time in Asia.

Hado’s trek began as more of a sprint. She finished Winter Quarter exams in the evening of March 7, and less than 24 hours later, she was at O’Hare Airport boarding a flight to Taiwan—the first leg of the journey—before traveling on to Guangzhou in China.

Hado’s trip was organized and facilitated through UChicago’s Office of Career Advancement, the UChicago Center in Beijing, and UChicago Global. Organized around the theme of business and innovation, it featured visits to a variety of companies in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. One visit that made a big impression on Hado was the Guangzhou headquarters of BYD, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electric vehicles.

“We were able to see future production models for electric vehicle buses and different kinds of batteries that were in production,” Hado said. “They wanted to show the durability of their batteries, so they lit it on fire in this screening room in front of us. We could see that nothing happened to it.”

After the day’s visits, Hado said her group would walk for hours, discovering interesting things along the way, including street food and incredible breakfast buffets. “I think the entire world has gotten breakfast wrong in comparison to China,” Hado said. “I’m so longing for that buffet style.”

Although the trek was focused on business and innovation, the companies that Hado and her colleagues visited demonstrated the many ways to approach this theme. “I really admire the diversity of different employers and companies and firms that we met,” Hado said. “It's just a whole other world of understanding when you actually see everything from big banks to startups.”