International Student Perspectives with Marco Chen
Learning to “understand yourself” is part of being a student, but the process of learning about oneself is not easy, especially for international students. This post features Marco Chen, a recent UVA graduate majoring in Commerce and Psychology and his process of getting to know himself. He is now a Quantitative Psychology Research Assistant at the UVA Psychology Department. He will attend a graduate program in quantitative psychology this fall!
International students face many high stakes, including high expectations from parents to succeed and financial burdens that make one feel the need to work hard for success. For Marco, this meant as he expressed it, “I was in a bigger venture and I should achieve something”. He was an active UVA student with involvement in multiple student organizations including Student Ambassador, Virginia Case Club, and Virginia Venture Fund. He was a Career Peer Educator at the UVA Career Center and an undergrad research assistant in the Psychology department, where he helped professors prepare for their research papers. Although the works were valuable, there were few independent tasks that he could explore himself. He then applied to the McIntire School of Commerce expecting to get exposure to many different things and figure out what he liked. However, Marco quickly realized that the Commerce school was designed to train you for the corporate world. He explains, "I learned to interact with clients to earn their satisfaction. Many peers already had a rich exposure to the industry and were ready to focus on job training curriculum at the Comm School while I felt like I must catch up to present for myself”.
The best way to confirm your interest is to excel at what you do and be reflective on the process. Marco continued with the corporate world in his third-year internship, where he analyzed data to forecast the manufacturing cost of raw materials for a company in Richmond. Though the subject was more defined and less exploratory, he realized that he was always fascinated with the part about data and numbers. The journey continued in his fourth year when he chose to work on an independent thesis in the Comm school about quantitative methods of investment strategy and capital allocation, which confirmed his love for data and research. He says, "I came to realize that I did not have to follow somebody else’s footstep to work in the corporate world when I might not be with this in the future. Why not focus on what I’m really good at and interested in?"
Once Marco confirmed his interest in doing independent research in his last semester at UVA, he connected with multiple people. He asked his major advisor and got referrals to many other professors in the field. Then the skills that Marco learned in the Commerce school enabled him to confidently advocate for himself and be deliberate about his research interests. Marco landed a job that connected with a university, which enabled him to get an H1B visa without the cap. It worked out well at the end but it was certainly not easy to imagine this outcome in his first and second year. The process of "understanding yourself" usually takes years and less than linear, to say the least. Regardless of your stakes, you can always take opportunities that interest you and get you out of your comfort zone, whether taking a class, participating in a CIO or doing an internship. Just be reflective on your way!