Exploring Diverse Interests
Jamil's parents were both in the air force, so the family moved around a lot until they found a permanent home in southern California. His mother comes from Colombia and his father from Cleveland, Ohio. Jamil knew it was important to get a handle on what's going on around the world, and he felt that no matter what he ends up doing, business skills would be useful to have. So, the Huntsman Program seemed like a practical choice.
Practicalities aside, Jamil's heart had always been in music, so Philadelphia was very appealing to him. He's been able to take advantage of the city's thriving music scene and immerse himself in the arts. Jamil is also passionate about education. He often teaches at his mom's school when he goes home, and works with troubled kids who are trying to go to college. As a student in the Huntsman Program, Jamil has had the opportunity to pursue these as well as a myriad of other interests.
The class Jamil's had the most fun with here at Penn has been an independent study with Professor Perlmutter about tackling global problems. Jamil found that during his first years at the university, he struggled to really keep up with international affairs. "When I came here and people would talk about world issues, I felt so out of the loop." After his freshman summer in Spain, where "they pride themselves on knowing what's going on everywhere," Jamil's feelings intensified. "I came back really feeling inadequate….I really felt like I wasn't doing my job as a global citizen."
Jamil felt that Professor Perlmutter's independent study finally helped him to get a handle on world issues. "He really made the world seem so accessible and so small," says Jamil. Each student was asked to pick a topic of interest to them. Jamil had recently returned from his semester abroad in Cuba, so he chose to study US-Cuban relations. "It was really good to address a lot of the things I had seen and put them out on paper," says Jamil. But he learned just as much from his own research as from hearing about the projects undertaken by his fellow students.
Another great learning opportunity came through Penn's Urban Studies department. Jamil realized that "a lot of our cultural problems," including educational ones, "are concentrated in urban areas." He had heard that Penn had a really great Urban Studies program, especially given its location in Philadelphia, so he signed up for an "Urban Journalism" class. "It let me go into Philly and find out what the issues are," says Jamil. "I think that was really valuable." As part of his assignments for the class, Jamil spoke to representatives from the governor's and mayor's office, and a variety of local organizations. Apart from getting to know Philly really well, Jamil says he gained valuable insight into the operations and politics of running a metropolitan city.
Within the Wharton school, Jamil's found his niche in the OPIM department, and he's chosen the department's Decision Processes track as his concentration. His course of study includes negotiations and the psychology of consumer behavior. He says that he enjoys understanding how people make decisions and feels that what he's learning can be applied to any system, not just the capitalist one.
While college has exposed him to many new fields, Jamil has kept his passion for art and music alive. During his freshman year, he took a writing seminar about music, and he's taken advantage of Penn's Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts to attend numerous concerts and shows. Even if he hadn't been able to integrate music into his coursework, Jamil was determined to give himself a lot of exposure. Since coming to Philadelphia, he's learned a lot about classical music, seen great conductors perform and even gotten to talk to them about what they do. In his senior year, Jamil hopes to find room for a class on "Music Theory."
Jamil is marketing chair of the Black Student League and serves on the board of the African American Arts Alliance, which performs plays by black playwrights. Their most recent play, "Diva Daughters Dupree," was written by a local Philadelphia writer and dealt with interracial dating and how it affects the home. This past year, Jamil was the organization's webmaster.
Jamil writes his own music, which he says he owes to the Program. He says he didn't really start writing songs until he went to India (through a Huntsman internship) and visited the Himalayas. During his study abroad in Cuba, he gained a lot of exposure to new musical styles and recorded two songs while he was there. Jamil's interested in a career connected to the arts. During his junior summer, he's lined up an internship with a subsidiary of Time Inc. He hopes this will be an opportunity to open doors in other parts of the entertainment industry.
"Penn has really let me find myself and find out what I do and don't like," says Jamil. "And I think the Huntsman Program, by letting me go around the world, has definitely opened up my creative juices."
A World of Opportunities
Jamil's mother is a Spanish teacher and native speaker, but Jamil himself had little formal training in the language before coming to college. So, with some help from a Huntsman summer study grant, he headed to Madrid for the summer to take Spanish classes. After arriving, he found that the basic grammar courses he was enrolled in were not helping him much, so he asked to be placed in more advanced classes. The program administrators told him the only advanced classes they could offer him were graduate-level university classes. They told him that they didn't expect him to do well, but they'd allow him to give it a shot.
The challenge appealed to Jamil, so there he was: the youngest person in the room, discussing "Art in the Middle Ages" with a class made up mostly of Spanish professors from around the world. He took a course on Don Quijote alongside experts on the work. "I called my mom," said Jamil, "and said ‘I know you've taught this. Please break this down for me so I can catch up!'" Jamil remembers his coursework in Madrid as "very much the most challenging classes I've taken but they were so interesting." In the end, Jamil got As in all of his classes (well, except for one B).
After tackling graduate level Spanish courses, Jamil decided to use the rest of his time in Spain to explore the culture and countryside. He visited Madrid's surrounding areas and then checked out Barcelona. Heading south to Granada, Jamil passed by the windmill-spotted countryside that he had imagined while reading Don Quijote. In Granada, he stayed in a hostel built out of caves in the old gypsy quarter and enjoyed a perfect view of La Alhambra. On his last night, Jamil went to a small tavern where he'd heard there was occasionally flamenco dancing performed by the locals. When he'd almost given up and gone home to pack, the whole place filled up and a spontaneous flamenco "show" began at around 4am!
Jamil's very grateful to the Huntsman Program for providing him with so many ways to see the world. Even though his Spanish needed some work when he arrived, Jamil says "the Huntsman Program worked with me and gave me a life-changing experience that I will never forget!" The summer after his trip to Spain, Jamil found an internship in India, again with the help of the Huntsman Program. He worked for a one-stop consulting firm that assisted grassroots innovators all over India. The experience helped him decide that he wanted to go into marketing, which allowed him to tap into his creative side. Though he can't see himself working in graphic design at a professional level, he enjoys dabbling in those skills as necessary for work in marketing.
Study Abroad in Cuba
Jamil's experience at the Universidad de la Habana was an unusual one for an American student because he already knew several people in Cuba. His uncle had been to Cuba several years earlier and given Jamil a list of contacts to visit all around the city. So on day one, Jamil walked everywhere (since he didn't know how to use the public transportation yet) and got to know the city quite well that way.
It didn't take long for Jamil to get to know his way around the Cuban art world either. "I delved into the music scene quite heavily while I was there," he says. During one of his classes at the University, a fellow student invited Jamil out to a rap show, where he met a lot of musicians, including those he'd later end up collaborating with. As it turned out, one of his uncle's contacts ended up knowing a lot of the bands around town as well, so Jamil just got some contact information and asked if they'd be willing to play with him. "It was really that simple," he says. He met a lot of people who were really excited to work with Americans and ended up recording two original songs during his semester abroad. Jamil is even thinking about writing his Huntsman senior thesis on Cuban music.
Aside from the incredible opportunity to record original music and form some lasting friendships, Jamil's musical explorations also exposed him to parts of Cuba that most visitors don't get to see. One of the studios where he recorded was in "the roughest neighborhood in Cuba." It was a forty-minute bus ride from the student housing, followed by a half-mile walk and a river crossing. In general, Jamil was curious to get understanding of a different system and just see how people live.
"We talk about it in class," he explains, "- the theory behind leftist regimes. But at the end of the day, they are more like us than people would want us to believe." Jamil thinks he's much better for going, and he hopes to return to Cuba after graduation. "In four months, I only scratched the surface and didn't go as deep as I would have liked."