Katherine Z. Chen
Topics of Interest: Finance, Impact Investing, Entrepreneurship, International Development, Non-governmental Organizations
Studied Abroad: In Spain, 2020 Spring Semester
One of the best ways to make society better as a whole is by giving back. Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Therefore, it makes sense that finance and community service would find synergy in non-governmental organizations like ‘Caritas Madrid,’ where fellow Canfield BHPeer Katherine Chen volunteered her time to help refugees in need during her time studying abroad in Spain.
We caught up with Katherine recently and heard about her interests in finance and impact investing, working with NGOs around the world, and how that has shaped her worldview.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what major I wanted to pursue coming into college. I decided to choose finance because it seemed like a major that would be difficult to learn on my own. Over time, I’ve found an interest in impact investing and using finance as a means to help traditionally underserved communities.
The field that I’m most passionate about right now is international development. This is where I see the greatest intersection between business and social impact but on a global scale. The summer before junior year, I interned at an international development organization called the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, which is a program of the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. As an intern, I worked with various NGOs, institutions, and foundations to figure out how to support local entrepreneurs in developing countries. Much of my time was spent researching how financial inclusion can help spur economic growth, and I felt like this was an area where I could continue to utilize my skills and channel my passion.
I also spent my first year of college volunteering at a nonprofit called Manos de Cristo, where I taught fifteen low-income, Spanish-speaking adults fundamental computer skills. Many of these students were able to use these skills to build resumes and find jobs online, and three of them ended up securing jobs in Austin. It was very rewarding and by far one of the most memorable aspects of the job. Working directly with communities is something I want to continue to do in the future.
This spring semester, I studied abroad in Madrid at Universidad Pontificia Comillas. I took three business classes and one Spanish class at the local university. One of my favorite classes was my international finance class because it was interesting to learn about the global economy from the perspective of the Eurozone, rather than the U.S. We had a lot of interesting discussions about current events, such as Brexit, the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, and towards the end of the semester, the impact of coronavirus on the global economy. Through these classes, I learned how interconnected and interdependent the world really is. On a personal level, my business courses were very impactful because I want to work internationally in the future, and it was helpful to learn from professors who have had careers all over the world.
During my time in Madrid, I volunteered at a local NGO called ‘Caritas Madrid’ that supports refugees coming into Spain. I also volunteered with a group of students at my local university to teach Spanish to refugees through a program called ‘Proyecto Hospitalidad’. It was such a cool experience, especially since there has been a major influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa into Spain in recent years. Although my time was cut short there, I’ve thankfully been able to continue the research project that I had started in Madrid, which focuses on the ethics and transparency of refugee-related NGOs. It’s been great being able to continue that work back at home.
The best part of studying abroad is by far the people. I had five roommates — three from the United States, one from Switzerland, and one from Spain — who quickly became my family. I also made friends with other U.S. and international students, for instance, one from Morocco who I still keep in touch with today. We’ve all promised to visit each other and return one day, especially since things ended so soon.
I think I’m privileged to have the type of education that Canfield BHP offers. A lot of people around the world don’t have access to the same quality of education, experiences, or opportunities to make an impact in their own way. On a personal level, I want to extend my resources to people who need it. And on a cultural level, I want to learn from people who come from backgrounds that are vastly different than mine, yet still play a unique role in our global community. It’s challenged my assumptions, for sure.
What is your advice to students interested in a similar path?
My path has been a bit more non-traditional, which comes to show that one of the greatest things about Canfield BHP is that it’s so flexible. There are so many ways to broaden your education outside of the business school, especially through minors or certificates in other colleges at UT. There are also so many unique opportunities outside of the classroom to explore other interests, such as doing a more non-traditional internship or volunteering in the community. I think by pursuing your individual passions alongside business, you’re able to find fulfillment in your own way. Plus, we can all benefit from a more diverse community.
I would also encourage everyone to study abroad, if possible. Studying abroad has definitely been the most fulfilling experience of my college career.