Let me first give a short introduction on how I ended up where I am now. In February, I started to consider taking on a leadership role at Fuqua during the second year of my MBA to be able to give back to a community that had given me so much up to that point.

I thought about the Latin America Student Association or the Rugby Club since those were the clubs I was already part of and where I felt most comfortable becoming a student leader. But then I saw that my classmates Mike Treiser and Sarah Izzo got elected as co-presidents of the MBA Association, our student government, and this crazy idea came to my mind. Should I consider joining the MBAA cabinet as VP of International Affairs? Most importantly, was I the right person to take on such an important role?

I hadn’t had the chance to meet Sarah yet, but I knew Mike from my class section. And I knew they were the kind of people I would want to work with—humble, action-biased, and more focused on peers’ well-being and enjoyment than being in the spotlight. Not only that, but I would be able to reach and have an impact on more students than I initially envisioned with club leadership.

So I talked to both of them and decided to run for the role. Later that month, I was being announced as VP of International Affairs, along with a fantastic cabinet.

Then I went off to spring break! During this time, I couldn’t avoid thinking about all the things I wanted to do after returning to Fuqua. But we received an email: things with COVID-19 got a lot worse worldwide, and Duke was moving to virtual classes until further notice.

I went back to a completely different reality with lock-downs and social distancing—a reality where priorities were utterly different, especially for international students. It was less about having meetings and events anymore, and more about our chance to stay in the U.S. and move forward with our plans. I hadn’t even taken over the role officially, but I knew I had to start acting. So, I reached out to the rest of the MBAA cabinet and the staff at Fuqua and went right into the action. Now, after a few months of being in my role, I can reflect and share what I’ve learned during these crazy times.

It’s All About the People

Our way of living changed dramatically from one day to the other. We had a bunch of questions on what to do next as international students, and how these changes can affect our experience. But it was more than that. People were going through a tough emotional process.

It was not only answering the students’ questions but also letting everyone know that things were going to be alright and that we were there to support them. I confirmed the importance of treating everyone as a person, and not only as an email address or a number, and considering their concerns and fears when looking to do the best for them. If leaders can get something out of this pandemic, it should be to never forget the human part of everything that we do.

Being Out of Your Comfort Zone Is Scary, but Highly Rewarding

Some weeks ago, after watching myself dancing in a FuquaVision skit with the rest of the MBAA cabinet, I realized how far I was from my comfort zone. But at the same time, I realized how much I was enjoying it. I have had the chance to participate in roundtables with the international leaders of Duke and be a panelist in forums about mental health, racial allyship, and gender equality. Six months ago, I would have never thought about being part of things this big nor being able to reach so many of my classmates outside of my close group of friends. But I’m proving what I can achieve and what I am capable of to the person that needs to know it the most—myself. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can make you realize how valuable your opinions and actions can be, and how we can make a positive impact in our communities.

11 students' cameras show them dancing and smiling
Having fun on one of our MBAA Zoom calls

Learning Through a Transformational Experience

Through this role, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people. Not only do I feel honored and humbled to be part of such an incredible and diverse MBAA cabinet, but I have also been able to work with and learn from a fantastic International Affairs subcabinet and an admirable group of co-presidents of Fuqua’s international clubs. I am making leadership gains and developing project management and team-working skills in a way I couldn’t have expected.

On a personal level, I feel I am still able to move forward in a harsh context, and that I am growing as a professional and as a student, but mostly as a person. Even though my MBA experience has changed, I feel I am still achieving my goal of learning and growing. This context is hard, I am not going to lie. But when life gives you lemons, it is best to make lemonade out of them.

If you are reading this, I have something to say to you: we were probably not prepared for this pandemic, but we were ready to go through it. We can achieve more things than we can imagine, and we can grow, learn, and help others even in these hard times. The context of this pandemic is bringing the best out of people, and I promise we will make it through. I have to be honest—as an international student, going through this scenario so far from Peru and my family is definitely challenging, but being part of the Fuqua community and being able to play an active leadership role in it makes me feel that I am in the right place to be right now. It seems like being out of my comfort zone is not that uncomfortable after all.