Drew Soloski graduated from the University of Iowa in 2007 with a dual degree in Chinese language and literature and psychology. During his time at the UI, Drew studied abroad on the CIEE program in Nanjing and Beijing, China, which he credits as the “foundation of his major” and the reason for discovering his true passion: international business. He is currently an MBA/MA student at the Wharton School and the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Additionally, he works as a director for Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy and business advisory firm. His previous international experience also includes his work as an economic researcher for the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington DC and as a Fulbright Scholar for the Republic of South Korea. Read on for a Q-and-A with Drew to learn more about how his experiences at Iowa and abroad shaped who he is today.
"Living in a foreign country presents innumerable opportunities to learn about new attitudes, perspectives, and ways of ordering the world. There is no limit to what one can learn or gain from studying abroad."
What lessons did you learn from your study abroad experience at Iowa?
I learned that study abroad is a fantastic way of differentiating yourself and developing experience and knowledge that can serve you well in your career. Before I studied abroad, I was a Pre-Med/Psychology major. However, after studying abroad, I discovered that international business was my true passion. While living and studying in China, I was exposed to the crosscurrents of society, culture, and business in East Asia. I discovered burgeoning opportunities in the region for professional growth and was inspired to return after graduating from the University of Iowa in 2007. My time in East Asia also allowed me to specialize and develop a set of skills and capabilities that differentiated me from my peers. I was then able to take these lessons and apply them to a career in consulting and international business.
How did study abroad complement your major and education at the UI?
My study abroad was the foundation of my major at Iowa. I practically was able to fulfill my major requirements for Chinese Language & Literature in one year. I was not only able to study Chinese language while abroad, but also culture, literature, and society. In addition, my experience abroad complemented my studies in medicine and psychology, as I was able to learn about different healthcare techniques in China and research traditional Chinese medicines outside of the classroom.
Can you tell us a little about your path from graduation to your current job?
One of the biggest challenges associated with studying abroad is resisting the temptation to spend all of your time with Americans and other foreigners studying abroad. Learning a different language is challenging and the urge to speak English is natural. I realized this early on when I was in China and sought opportunities to practice Chinese outside of the “study abroad bubble.” However, when I initially arrived in China, my Chinese was not proficient enough to only hang out with native Chinese speakers, as they used vocabulary and grammatical constructions beyond my understanding. Thus, in an effort to improve my language, I ended up befriending a number of South Korea students at my host university, who like me were eager to study with other Chinese language learners. Our friendship was complementary in our language development, as none of my Korean friends spoke English, and I did not speak a word of Korean. Together, we were able to explore China while gaining critical experience speaking to each other in Mandarin.
This experience also inspired an interest in South Korea and learning more about East Asia outside of China. The following year, I returned to the region on a Fulbright Scholarship in South Korea, where I was able to live with a host family for one year and study Korean language and culture while interning for two months at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, where I gained exposure to the Embassy’s efforts at managing public relations following the negotiation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Following my experience in South Korea, I spent a year in Hong Kong examining trade processing zones in southern China and then moved back to the U.S. to work at the Embassy of South Korea in Washington, DC. At the Korean Embassy, I worked in support of securing Congressional approval of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, an experience that exposed me to the dynamics of Washington politics and ways public policy can impact business. Following this job, I joined the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consulting firm chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. While at Albright Stonebridge Group, I worked across public and private sectors, helping Fortune 500 companies navigate the highly complex China market by creating and implementing government relations strategies that mitigated risk and addressed commercial, political, and regulatory barriers. I am now an MBA and MA student at The Wharton School and Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
I can trace my entire career back to my decision to study abroad. My experience abroad allowed me to begin to develop specialized expertise and, most importantly, differentiated me among my peers. Prior to studying abroad, I was one of many Pre-Med/Psychology majors at Iowa. However, myMy experience abroad not only unearthed my true passion in international business and management, but also allowed me to stand out among the tens of thousands of college graduates entering the job market every year. For me, studying abroad was an invaluable professional experience and personally a formidable opportunity to explore my interests and passions.
How has your international experience benefited you in your current job?
My previous job required Mandarin language abilities, as I advised clients—often in Chinese—on business strategy in China. More explicitly, my job required extensive on-the-ground experience in China. Without studying abroad, I would not have been in a position to perform any of these job functions. In addition, when I studied abroad, I decided to study in two locations. This was a critical decision, as I was afforded the opportunity to learn about the unique culture and business environments of central and northern China. I was also able to leverage this experience often at Albright Stonebridge Group, as I tailored client recommendations based on business dynamics at local levels in China.
As a Lauder MBA student at Wharton, my experience abroad has been critical. The program I am in requires advanced proficiency in a foreign language and without studying abroad I would not have been able to fulfill this requirement. In addition, I often refer to my experience studying abroad in classroom discussions as well as in conversations with professors and business practitioners at Wharton. Like me, nearly all of the 65 students at the Lauder Institute have studied abroad.
Do you have any advice for future students regarding study abroad?
Follow your passion and push yourself out of your comfort zone. When I initially studied abroad I was looking for an adventure and a break from the USA before entering the critical academic years before medical school. I did not expect the experience to dramatically alter my career or personal life. However, when I was abroad, I followed my passions and consistently pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I discovered that my interests diverged from what I previously studied in school and I embraced these new passions. Furthermore, I took advantage of every opportunity to improve my language competence and understanding of East Asia. This included living with a host family, eating foods I previously thought were terrifying, or forcing myself to speak only in Chinese from sun-up to sundown. I discovered through these experiences that tremendous personal and professional growth could occur through studying abroad. However, I also discovered that this growth does not happen passively or organically. Living abroad is not enough. Students need to extract as much as they can from the resources available to them abroad. Living in a foreign country presents innumerable opportunities to learn about new attitudes, perspectives, and ways of ordering the world. There is no limit to what one can learn or gain from studying abroad. View your coursework as the bare minimum and initiate opportunities out of the classroom to specialize and differentiate yourself from your peers. This will allow you to leverage your experience abroad into something bigger and more consequential, potentially even changing the trajectory of your life and career.