February 14 2014
Soojin Lee, MILR '14
I had a fantastic break in winter 2013, as I was awarded a travel grant from the ILR School to travel to South America. The five weeks I spent in the southern part of the hemisphere consisted of two main activities. I took a Spanish language immersion course at Elebaires Language School in Buenos Aires, Argentina and visited a Paraguayan entrepreneur for a mini consulting project for his business in Ciudad del Este, a city in a tri-border area at the junction of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Apart from the above, there were also short trips during the period. I have to say, all of these experiences were just like one nicely put-together gift package for me to enjoy, feel, learn and most of all, make every component of the travel all the more life-enriching.
I had taken a Spanish course at Cornell prior to my trip, in order to maximize my learning experience. Cornell’s intensive academic language program helped me get a high score in Elebaires’ language placement test. Surprisingly, I was placed in a class with six Brazilians and a Swiss student that had been mastering the language for over a year. Spending every morning with these students for two weeks took my understanding of both spoken and written Spanish to a whole new level. In addition to the classroom learning, trips to neighboring countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay enabled me to familiarize myself with even the subtle pronunciation variances that occur in the very same language. Also, in everyday settings, I was constantly exposed to situations where I encountered diverse colloquial terms and cultural norms. Such real-life learning would not have been possible had it not been for my trip to South America. I am more than excited to apply my skills in the future as I graduate and embark on my career as an HR professional in Texas, the state with the second highest number of Spanish speakers in the U.S.
The latter part of my journey took place with Simon, a Paraguayan immigrant from Korea, who offered an attractive opportunity to take part in a mini consulting project with his firm. He owns a business specializing in trade, import and sales of sports energy drinks. By visiting him I attempted to help solve some of the issues his business was facing. I had exchanged emails and phone calls with him prior to my visit and his initial concerns included, ‘What are the effective ways of retaining talented sales representatives?’ and ‘How can we lure more customers in a competitive niche market?’
On my arrival, I navigated through the office, store, and the warehouse and made a keen observation of the products, systems, policies, and the behaviors of employees. I was also able to shadow Simon on visits to the vendors and interviews with candidates applying for sales representative positions. I quickly gained a basic yet broad understanding of the status quo of his business and made two recommendations that he was very satisfied to implement immediately. He adjusted the base salary along with an increase in sales incentive percentage and decided to adopt the sales log I created. The sales force will be using the log to report details about the meetings with the clients, record any sales orders achieved and plan for the next short-term objectives. This will help keep track of the employees’ performances in a consistent, standardized manner.
Another surprise that came my way from interacting with Simon was that I had the opportunity to shadow the Korea National Football team. The team was training in preparation for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil and Simon was in charge of supplying the team with food provisions and drinks. Getting to see the players’ training up-close was really exciting. In addition, I also leveraged this extra opportunity by advising Simon to utilize local newspaper articles about this affiliated work with the Korea National Football team, which will surely help in sales promotion and publicizing his store.
My five weeks were filled with numerous eye-opening lessons and experiences both professionally and personally. The satisfaction I obtained through this travel is beyond description and I am sincerely thankful to the ILR School as its support made this fantastic experience in South America possible.