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International Student Heads Onto Global Stage

It’s a competitive global economy out there for graduating students.

“The competition is no longer sitting across the aisle or down the road at Davidson. They are sitting in Moscow, Mumbai, Shanghai, Vienna, Sao Paolo and Katmandu,” says Laurent Boetsch, director of the Center for International Students at Washington and Lee University.

When Elizabeth (Eli) Polanco, from the Dominican Republic, graduates this year from W&L with a major in economics, she will be ready to take on that global competition.

Included in her arsenal are five languages. She is fluent in English and her native Spanish, grew up learning Italian and French and “I can speak enough Chinese to get by,” she says.

Polanco will be heading off onto the global stage of investment banking. After an internship in J.P. Morgan’s New York office, she was offered a job in its London office. She will be working with European clients, most notably from Spain. “I chose the firm because of its international offices and the chance of world travel,” she explains.

“I’m a little nervous about moving to London, but excited at the same time. One of my best friends from W&L is also moving to London, so at least I’ll have a familiar face. I know it will work out,” she says.

She’s a young lady open to new experiences. Just by being at W&L, Polanco has been “studying abroad” for the last four years. Despite that, she says that she wishes she had traveled abroad more.

Polanco spent six weeks in China during a 2008 spring term class organized by the department of East Asian languages. She studied the Chinese language and attended lectures on Chinese culture, literature, art, history, painting, tai chi, oriental gardening and food. She went on field trips to the landmarks of Shanghai, watched a famous Chinese acrobatics show, and took a cultural tour to the ancient cities of Xi’an and Beijing.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “Both my New York internship and the trip to China gave me the confidence that I can work anywhere and try anything, regardless of where I’m from and who I know.”

During her time at W&L, Polanco was chair of the service program English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which is very active in providing translating and tutoring services for the local community in Lexington, Va. She also helped organize an ESOL service trip to her native Dominican Republic during spring break 2009, which included teaching English to some of the school children.

One of the things Polanco says she’s enjoyed the most during the past four years has been working on Washington and Lee University Student Consulting (WLSC) at W&L’s Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. “We’ve been working for the past year with a small village in Brazil, trying to help them find ways to use this amazing fiber they have. I thought it was wonderful that because of work we do here at W&L, we can impact a small village in the Amazon.”

“Eli is a true international scholar,” says Amy Richwine, a student advisor at the W&L Center for International Education. “She has utilized her broad interest in international affairs, languages and cultures to make significant contributions not only on campus but in the Lexington/Rockbridge community and back in her home country of the Dominican Republic.”