Courses Cover Domestic and International Experiences in Global Economy

UMass Lowell student Gabriela Boscaja in China
Gabriela Boscaja studied marketing in China as part of her Asian Studies classes.

By Julia Gavin

As economies shift and more opportunities become available for internationally minded candidates, students are gaining valuable experience through the Asian Studies minor.

The program includes East, South and Southeast Asia and introduces students to working in a global community.

“The interdisciplinary minor explores the complex interaction between artistic, cultural, political, social, literary and religious spheres of life in Asia,” says Lecturer George Chigas, coordinator of the program.

Almost every department in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences offers courses that can apply to the minor. Asian American Literature in Translation and Buddhist and Zen Philosophy are popular courses along with Chinese, Japanese or Cambodian language, history, art, literature and political science options.

“The program allows students to gain a depth of knowledge in the field that supplements personal or career goals in their major,” says Chigas.

Dan Muise chose the minor for just that reason, approaching the field from his economics and political science majors. He spent a summer interning in Myanmar as a labor market researcher and analyst and became an international radio DJ, giving him an inside view on the local culture.

The region is experiencing economic expansion and development following the lifting of international business sanctions. However, booming high-tech companies are having trouble filling positions due to a lack of education in local communities. Muise worked with an executive search startup to train employees on international business etiquette. He also helped the company research the volatile local economy and the growing international-minded business class by designing and conducting surveys. Muise interviewed more than 100 people to determine the opinions, histories and skills of the company’s potential workforce and hiring managers. He tracked many factors impacting employment including ethnicity and education and even their mother’s past occupation.

Muise’s interest in the role of meritocracy and measuring wealth against personal background tied in with the company’s need for information on hiring practices and applicant pools. His research led to preliminary results that might be surprising in an American setting but were not necessarily surprising in Myanmar.

“The current preliminary results of data show that, as yet, wage is still largely determined by nationality, ethnicity and age, with education having little impact, all the way up to graduate degrees,” says Muise. “Myanmar citizens, for example, can be expected to make 171 percent less money than a foreigner with similar credentials. Likewise, Chinese ethnicity (regardless of nationality) is correlated with an 8 percent increase in salary in Yangon. Somewhat surprisingly, education had no significant effect on wage.”

Muise also volunteered at a Cambodian orphanage, taught English classes and parlayed an interest in ukulele music into a regular show on Myanmar’s largest radio station. He records his shows while living on campus and can be heard Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. local time online on ( Mandalay FM.

Finance with a Foreign Focus

Students may also choose the Asian Studies minor to explore cultural differences relevant to their majors.

“Emphasis is placed not only on the diversity and achievements of Asian civilizations, but also on the ways an understanding of Asia may shed new light on western cultural traditions,” says Chigas.

This global comparison perspective attracted Gabriela Boscaja to the minor.

“I’ve always been intrigued by different cultures and wanted to learn more about doing business internationally,” says Boscaja, a management major concentrating on finance. “China is one of the world’s growing economies, so I wanted to go see what they’re doing that we might be missing.”

During her summer studies in Beijing, Boscaja assisted the CEO of 360FashionNet with marketing projects and learned more about the role of culture in international business. She also studied Mandarin and the economic development of China during afternoon classes, and traveled to Shanghai and the Great Wall of China.

“I sat in on meetings and learned the importance of guanxi in Chinese business relationships,” Boscaja says, referring to the concept of reciprocal relationship building prevalent in the region. “Having an internship in China under my belt is great and helped me realize I really love to learn about cultures and finance.”

Boscaja plans to continue working in finance and helping people connect across different cultures.

“I’d like to be a financial analyst helping people manage their money. It will certainly be related to traveling and relationship-building."