The son of two Wharton alumni, J.J. grew up in New Jersey, developing a love of language, culture, and tradition early on through his education in Jewish day schools. He studied Hebrew since kindergarten, even learning the Hebrew alphabet through children’s books before his native English alphabet. J.J. was first introduced to what he thought of as “foreign language” in high school when he started learning Spanish, since there weren’t enough students for there to be a class for his first choice, French. At the time, however, J.J. was more interested in music and participated in his high school’s a cappella group and choir.
J.J.’s life was changed forever when he was selected to participate in a high school exchange program in Santiago, Chile. The group was fortunate to secure a meeting with the American ambassador to Chile, who told them about life as a diplomat: meeting with high-level officials, learning new languages, changing countries every three years, and more. Alone among the visiting students, J.J. was enraptured by the ambassador’s description of the life that he had and knew immediately that he wanted one like it, filled with language, travel, and interesting adventures. During his college search, at a regular Penn information session, J.J. heard about the Huntsman Program and its dual focus on international studies and business through the lens of cultural understanding and language. “As soon as the admissions officer started talking about it,” he said, “I knew the program was exactly what I was looking for—a way to learn practical, real-world skills, while still engaging in the pursuits that I was most passionate about.”
The Huntsman Experience
J.J. came from a small high school, so he appreciated the closely-knit community of students he found in Huntsman. Though he had friends from all over the University, he says, “At the end of the day, my core group of friends was always Huntsman.” J.J. feels that being surrounded by such an internationally focused group of students made a huge difference in his college experience. “If you walked into any conversation, you were guaranteed to hear at least two languages, and most people in the Program knew at least three,” he recalls. J.J. was also impressed by the talent and diversity among his peers. He remarked, “These are people who will go on to do amazing things like be presidents of countries, and I lived with them freshman year.” In King’s Court, J.J. was assigned a room with an Egyptian Saudi fellow Huntsman freshman, which he feels was a unique experience for him as an American Jew. He used this opportunity from time to time to practice the year’s worth of Arabic he studied in his last year of high school. Of course, J.J. continued formally learning languages while in Huntsman, fulfilling the requirements of his Spanish target, but also taking French at Penn and Catalan during his semester abroad.
In addition to College minors in Mathematics, Hispanic Studies, and Linguistics, J.J. concentrated in Operations and Information Management (OPIM) in Wharton, where he was able to explore his interests in decision sciences, operational efficiency, and computers. In fact, despite not having any formal engineering background, J.J. was able to develop his programming skills much farther than most OPIM students do, taking some graduate-level Computer Science courses and winning a prize one year for a project in PennApps, the engineering school’s biannual hackathon. J.J. still returns annually to Penn to deliver Tech Talks, educational lectures about various technologies, to students planning to participate in the hackathon. During his senior year, he also used these skills to begin working with other students he met in college on a start-up called The Campus Rep that connects businesses with would-be student representatives on campus.
Even though his concentration was OPIM, one course that held particular importance for him was LGST227: The Literature of Success. The goal of the course was to examine various ideas and theories of success through literature dating as far back as Benjamin Franklin, Penn’s founder, to more present day authors. The class culminated in a final paper that asks students to define what success means to them. J.J. observed, “In college, it can be easy to lose your values to the popular conceptions of success of the day, like a specific career field, money, or fame. This course pushed me to figure out what being successful means and clearly define it in a paper. I know that this paper will always be something that I can refer back to when I feel confused about what I want out of life and overwhelmed by external pressures.”
J.J. participated in a number of extra-curricular activities during his time at Penn. He belonged to a fraternity, was an active member of the Jewish community, and gave tours and information sessions for both Penn and Wharton. He also was the only Huntsman student to serve as an EMT on Penn’s Medical Emergency Response Team, a skill which (much to his surprise) came in handy during his semester abroad in Barcelona. He remembers, “I was walking back from a café when I saw a man having a seizure on the ground. Literally dropping my books on the ground to run to help the man, I ended up using both Spanish and Catalan to communicate with bystanders and the Catalan medical services until they loaded him into the ambulance.”
One of the main reasons J.J. chose to study abroad in Barcelona was his interest in places where language is a major political issue. One memorable class he took while abroad was about social movements, taught by a very liberal professor. Not only was he the only foreigner in the class, but he was also the only person not from Catalonia, so he was able to hear and compare his own experiences with his Catalan peers. “I was grateful that Huntsman was flexible enough to allow me to pursue my interests in Catalan while still targeting Spanish,” he says. “Knowing both is an important part of living in Barcelona, and it opened up a whole new world to me that wasn’t available to many of my peers in the program not learning Catalan.” J.J. even found the time for extra-curriculars while abroad, joining a team of castellers, a popular Catalan tradition in which local teams build tall human towers.
Having earned both a business and a liberal arts degree, J.J. feels that Huntsman left him well-prepared to take the next step in his career. After graduation, J.J. spent six months backpacking through Europe and Asia, exploring places he’d never been, visiting Jewish communities around the world, eating lots of new types of food, and taking a German class in Berlin. He then moved to New York City to live with fellow Huntsman alumni and began working as a consultant for McKinsey and Company’s New York office as a Business Analyst in the Business Technology practice. He hopes to work and travel abroad as much as possible, living in places with cultures vastly different from his own, and learning new languages along the way. He says that one day, he might want to become an ambassador like the Ambassador to Chile who first inspired him to start this path towards a global career.