M&Ts are notorious for taking the non-traditional path, and that includes their Spring Break experiences! Sophia Moses (’20) is no exception. Hear about Sophia’s one-of-a-kind Spring Break with the Wharton International Program (WIP) this past March.
It can be difficult for dual degree students, especially M&Ts, to study abroad given our heavy course load. I’ve always sought such opportunities – going on spontaneous trips or traveling abroad really appeal to me. So, when I heard about the WIP program from an upperclassmen during Quaker Days, I knew it was something that I wanted to do at Penn. I immediately applied in mid-October and was thrilled to get in! I, along with 23 other students, was lucky enough to explore the economic and cultural environment of Spain. We went on business site visits, lectures at foreign universities, and multiple cultural excursion – all for class credit.
Starting Our Journey
When we arrived, we were greeted in Madrid by our local tour guide. Traveling with a local guide, it was great to learn about the places we visited and pick up subtle cultural queues. That first day, we rode a bus throughout the city and got out to take pictures of important landmarks. In the evening, we had dinner and watched an amazing flamenco show.
Getting Down to Business
The next day, we kicked off the academic focus of our trip by visiting three companies: Banco Santander, Loom House, and El Corte Ingles. It was fascinating to visit a variety of companies – banks, incubators, and retailers. Everyone was welcoming and eager to answer all of our many questions.
Throughout the trip, we noticed common threads and differences among the business culture in Spain and the United States. For example, over 80% of Spanish companies are family-owned. And Santander, the bank we visited, occupied an entire campus. It looked more like Google more than any U.S. bank. We had to take a bus just to navigate it.
Another highlight of the trip included visiting local universities. We attended lectures on the European economic environment, focusing on Spain’s role. We also ate lunch and interacted with local students and professors. It was interesting comparing the Penn experience to universities abroad.
Learning About the Culture – and Each Other
The meals on the trip introduced us to the local cuisine. One night, we went on a tapas tour and walked to three different restaurants to taste their signature dishes. At every meal, we were encouraged to sit with new people and get to know our classmates. As one of two freshmen surrounded by many upperclassmen, I was intimidated at first. However, everyone was very welcoming and eager to answer my many questions about classes and navigating through Wharton. I got to be close with my classmates and plan on keeping in touch with them in the future.
Finally, we were fortunate to experience the unique cultural aspects of Spain. In Barcelona, we got a private tour of a famous architectural landmark, La Pedrera. We happened to be in Barcelona the day of the “miracle game” in which FC Barcelona won 6-1 to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals. It seemed like the entire city danced in the streets in joyous celebration. The next day, we attended a lecture about sports business and talked about the importance of FC Barcelona to the local people and toured the legendary stadium.
Coming Back Home
This class completely changed my perspective on Europe and the Spanish economy. I now view both through a different lens. I’m following European politics and am intrigued by international business, and want to spend a summer working in Europe or taking more classes to continue learning about the European economy.
My WIP trip was one of the most worthwhile academic and cultural experience I have ever had. I met a unique group of interesting and motivated Penn students that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. I highly recommend WIP for any student interested in international business or study abroad.
Sophia is an electrical engineering major concentrating in finance and management. She is a member of the Class of 2020, and loves being a part of a community of so many motivated students: “Whether it’s meeting for lunch, hanging out with friends in the lounge, or asking upperclassmen for advice, the M&T program is my home at Penn,” she says.