Monday, 2 February 2015

The Places Etched in My Memory

Doris Xu is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.  

In the beginning, it felt as though all the forces were preventing me from entering the United States.

Yes, I am serious.

My flight was booked for the 21st of December. Less than 24 hours before my departure, in the middle of my farewell party, I received a text telling me that my flight was cancelled. The link to reschedule showed no available flights in the next couple of days.

After a massive panic attack, I submitted a request for refund and booked my ticket with another airline. The next day when I arrived at the airport, I was told that because I bought my ticket at the last minute, I was put on standby and she wasn’t sure if I could board the flight.

I googled several breathing exercises while she connected me to the seating officer.

So there I was, waiting and wondering whether I should take this as Australia loving me too much that it doesn’t want me to leave, or America simply doesn’t want me in the country.

Having been here for more than a month now, I can safely say it’s probably not the latter.

I quickly forgot about my struggles when I landed. Since I had arrived in the US two weeks before my program started, I had the perfect opportunity to travel around and immerse myself in the culture I have only previously seen on a screen.

In Santa Monica I fell in love with the city with a beautiful name and an even more gorgeous sunset. In Los Angeles I found out my hand was the exact same size as Emma Watson’s, and was so disappointed when I didn’t spot Ryan Gosling at Hollywood.

Sunset at Santa Monica

In New York I watched my first ever Broadway show, and had the song Phantom of the Opera stuck in my head for the remainder of my trip. I traced the steps of Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams in Enchanted at the famous Central Park, and tried - without success - to find the hill where BBC shot my favourite episode of Doctor Who. I spent a day going through the massive collection at the Met, and braved the cold atop the Empire State Building just to catch a glimpse of the entirety of the famous city.

It was so cold I have developed my own face warm-up routine.

I saw snow for the first time in DC. It was the third day of my placement - and I almost wished I didn’t have work so I could go catch a snowflake or build a tiny snowman or whatever people do with snow. I say ‘almost’ because the place I am interning at - the East-West Centre in Washington - is a lot of fun too.

On the first weekend I went down to Orlando and had the chance to wear a t-shirt again. There I spent two days chatting to Stan, the Knight Bus driver, trying on my new Hogwarts ropes and sipping hot Butterbeer in Hogsmead. I came back from my trip refreshed and ready to start the second week of my internship.
Those are the places etched in my memory. So far.

Diagon Alley

Thursday, 29 January 2015

My Industry Placement Program Experience at IAG as a BI Analyst

I am currently working on an exciting project in the Marketing Analytics department at IAG through the Business School's Industry Placement Program (IPP). My job is diverse and involves coding, statistical modeling and analysing key indicators that can affect consumers’ decisions in relation to purchasing insurance products.

It is interesting and satisfying to be able to transform random data into a set of useful insights and make recommendations to act upon.

I am studying for my Master of Commerce with majors in Business Analytics and Quantitative Finance. As I have already completed 3 semesters, I have gained theoretical knowledge in computing and statistics; so the IPP allows me to apply those in a practical context and see the whole picture. As part of the program I am performing a research project to help IAG come up with a smart strategy to tailor future marketing campaigns to customers based on their attitudes towards purchasing insurance products. The project is quite challenging, because the entire process needs to be done from scratch, and the input dataset is significantly complex, forcing me to think “out of the box”. IAG is helping me to develop all the key skills that are needed to be a professional BI Analyst, such as problem solving, statistical modelling and familiarity with SAS and R program languages.

No two days are the same. I work on preparing planning documents and documentation, coding in R and SAS, applying statistical modelling, exploring the analytics industry, and at the end of the program, I will present in front of my department. The IPP is allowing me to further develop my professional skills, as well as personal skills. I also have an amazing view from the 27th floor of the harbor, which gives me the inspiration I need to develop creative ideas.

 Spectacular view from our floor

From the first moment that I met both my mentor and supervisor, I felt really comfortable, and the rest of the team members are very friendly as well. My mentor guides and support my learning, so we can get the most out of the IPP. I know that my contribution to the project will help IAG to improve its marketing strategy.

Me and my team at Yum Cha on a casual Friday

Assaf Dekel
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Exploring the Big Apple and getting lost in Capitol Hill

Jenny Chen is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre

Ah, New York. The city that never sleeps. An appropriate nickname seeing as that's exactly what we did. We didn't sleep. Our 12 days in New York were jam packed with tourist destinations, shopping, food, shopping, food, and did I mention shopping?

For a city known for its hustle and bustle, lines never seemed to move fast in New York. 70% of the trip comprised of waiting around, whether for an attraction, restroom, traffic light or food. It was a test of my patience to say the very least. However, for all waiting, it was worth it. We experienced several breathtaking moments, including:

New York Sunset
View from the Empire State Building
The pond in Central Park
Frozen pond in Central Park
The Statue of Liberty
Times Square





The buzz of the Big Apple prepared me for the crazy work and study schedule that awaited in DC.

On our first day interning at Capitol Hill, my roommate, Ari, and I were thrown into the deep end. We got swamped by phone calls from passionate constituents who were eager to give their views and grilled us about who the Congressman was going to vote for in the Speaker Election, which was being held the following day. The rest of the week was just as intense but still a lot of fun.

Everyone in our office has been incredibly friendly and helpful. They love asking us questions about Australia and I have taken it upon myself to educate them on all things Australian. I will not stop until Australian phrases have slipped into their vocabulary. When I first met Congressman Peter Roskam, his wife and two sons, Mrs Roskam even attempted the Australian accent.

In order to make us feel more at home, the legislative correspondent printed out a picture of the Australian flag and taped it onto our wall. Much to our delight, he is also a fan of the Australian comedic genius himself, Chris Lilley. Now I'm not one to play favourites, but I think I found a strong contender for the coolest staffer.

I’ve also had heaps of fun getting to know the American interns in our office. It's extremely interesting discussing different aspects of life with them and comparing how growing up here is different from growing up in Australia. Despite cultural differences (we constantly bicker because supposedly I say funny phrases and pronounce words weirdly), it's nice to know we can still engage in some classic office banter!

You may remember that in my last blog I mentioned my struggles with geography. Well just my luck, Capitol Hill is a gigantic labyrinth. Every corridor looks the same; the buildings were designed to be symmetrical.
To help us find our way, we were sent on a scavenger hunt around Capitol Hill, where we wandered the underground tunnels and rode the Capitol subway back and forth between the office buildings and the House and Senate. The subway rides always remind me of a mini rollercoaster ride.


Since we have class after work, it is an absolute struggle when we have 9am - 9:30pm days. I'm a huge fan of coffee and I'm all for downing cups and cups of it to ward off sleep. However, the coffee here just isn't as good as it is back home. The search for good coffee in DC is on. At least the classes that I take, 'The History of the Central Intelligence Agency' and 'Energy – Powering the Economy in an Era of Climate Change/Political Instability', are interesting, making the eternal fatigue worth it.

I'm sure you're all wondering how we're dealing domestically. I'm happy to report that we are all alive and there has not been a case of food poisoning or scurvy. Yet.

After my first day of work, my friend offered to order me pizza so I had food when I got back. In my state of extreme hunger, I decided that I should have an entire pizza to myself. He failed to mention that each slice was bigger than my face. Many dinners later, a lonely slice of pizza still lies in our fridge.

As I document my culinary struggles on Snapchat, several friends have criticised me for not eating properly. Our American flatmates however, have got this down. Their stocks of spices, fresh produce and meat make my microwave meals, instant noodles and Reese's Peanut Buttercups look absolutely pathetic.

One week in and we’ve already witnessed our first culinary disaster. A friend forgot to fill up his instant noodles with water and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Their flat smelt like burnt food for the rest of the week. His excuse? "I was hungry."

Having survived the first week, I’m surprised that so much has happened already. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks have in store. Check this space again to follow my journey!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Return to Los Angeles

Patrick Ward is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. He is currently in the United States as part of the Los Angeles Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.

It’s only been 4 months since I was last in the United States, but this trip couldn’t have come sooner. Ever since being accepted into the program, I’ve been counting down the days until I can return to the self-professed “land of the free, home of the brave”. America has a certain dynamism that makes it one of the most exciting countries for business. Earlier this year, I experienced the academic facets of America and now I relish the opportunity to focus on the business aspects of America.

LA/DC Industry Placement Program Predeparture Session

Although travel is one of the perks of this program, for me, living your life in a different city can be just as interesting. Everything that seemed mundane in Sydney like catching public transport, going to work, or even eating out, is now a new and vibrant experience.

That’s not to say the tourist side of the program won’t be fun. These two weeks before the program will add to my current LA tourist activities, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Runyon Canyon and the hike to the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood Walk of Fame. Just watch you don’t bump into the throngs of tourists covering the streets of Hollywood. 
The view from Runyon canyon. If you go for jogs enough here, you may just spy a celebrity.
The hike to the Hollywood sign. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s a long trek in the intense LA heat.

Also, like any 90s kid, I had to visit the OC and the iconic Newport Pier. Like many friends who’ve made the trip before me, I was crushed to realise most of the TV show wasn’t even filmed in the OC.

Newport Pier. No sign of Ryan or Marissa

I’ve now been in Los Angeles for a couple of days and getting into the swing of LA life. I know the program is going to present a hefty challenge in terms of managing work, study and social life over this summer, but this opportunity, all clichés aside, really is once-in-a-lifetime.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Pre-Departure Musings, Domestic Struggles & Exciting Times Ahead

Jenny Chen is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.

I'm the type of person who likes being prepared and planning ahead. I constantly make lists and jot down reminders for myself. A few of us going on the Washington D.C. Program have already gotten together and planned out where we want to travel on our weekends. I've even packed my suitcases in my mind.

(Note to self – make sure to pack my passport and I-20 forms in my carry on baggage and leave plenty of room in my suitcase for the ridiculous amount of shopping that I will inevitably indulge in.)

However, no amount of reminders, lists or mental planning can prepare us for the excitement that is bound to ensue within the next few months.

While in DC, I'll be interning for Congressman Roskam. I am extremely excited to work in a proper, professional environment and get a taste of what can be expected in the future. Wow. Capitol Hill, the political powerhouse of the USA, and arguably the world. Just being at the frontline, seeing where law is being made and how it impacts society will be an unparalleled and eye-opening experience.

Despite all the glitz and the glamour, I'm not going to lie, the thought of interning for a Congressman is quite intimidating. However, I am going to harness these nerves and use them to motivate me to achieve my greatest potential. I will no doubt acquire plenty of knowledge during the 9 weeks of studies and internship. This is going to be an extraordinary learning experience that will allow me to develop my understanding of American politics and hone my skills in working in a professional environment.

Issues arise when you're in a foreign country, especially if you're geographically challenged like myself. Usually, I would either follow my friends to our destination or spend a solid hour on Google Maps planning out and memorising my journey. Something tells me the GPS on my phone will soon become my best friend. Issues also arise when you're no longer living in the oblivious comfort of your family home. I will not even try to pretend to be a culinary expert. I can probably count the number of dishes in my cooking repertoire on one hand. Also, my roommate, despite living in college, has never done her own laundry (her dad takes her laundry back home every weekend). Together, we make quite the dismal pair. How we are to survive 9 weeks, even I'm not too sure.

However, this aspect of the program is one of the many reasons why I find it so exciting. We're left to fend for ourselves and despite the several mishaps that are bound to happen, I know that this shared experience of suffering will only bring us closer. We shall brave the laundromats together. We shall scrape burnt food off pots and pans together. Or if that doesn't work out, we shall cut our losses, go to the nearest restaurant and eat together.

With just a few weeks until the program starts, I can't contain my excitement. I have never been to America before and, despite sounding incredibly cliché, it's honestly a dream come true. I will be spending 2 weeks before the program commences in New York with three good friends who are fellow DCers. We will also be traveling to Boston, Chicago and Orlando on the weekends.

I'm ready. Ready for my small bubble to be burst by the glitz and glamour of Christmas and New Years in New York and the political prowess of Capitol Hill. Ready for the internship and exchange experience of a lifetime.

Watch out Washington D.C. We're coming.

This blog was originally published on the United States Studies Centre blog

Monday, 12 January 2015

The city of big shoulders and the deep dish pizza

Eric Xu is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. He is currently in the United States as part of the Los Angeles Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.

The last few days before my departure were hectic, but sitting here at 4am in a hotel room in Chicago, listening to the city starting to sputter to life makes it all worth it - in a weird jetlagged way.

Here’s the first of Eric’s not so wise words: Get started early. I literally booked my flights a week before I left and it was a frantic scrabble right up to the flight. In the week before I left, there were three days of training which went over the essentials that we needed to know. First, we were shown some excel wizardry, and then we went over the more manageable stuff, like setting goals and getting motivated to give a killer presentation.

I’m travelling for a bit before the program starts, so my first stop was Shanghai. It was actually the first time travelling by myself - normally I go with friends or family, but I feel like I took a big step of independence this time. Actually, I took a lot of them at a run because I almost missed my flight and I did that half run/half jog thing that you do when you have to go places fast but you want to look cool at the same time. I eventually started running in earnest because they were asking for an “Eric Zooo” to hurry up and get on the plane. That was the first time that happened to me too - a day for firsts it seems. Remember that first piece of advice? Yeah.

I don’t have all too much to say about Shanghai, but it was mainly eating and being sick. I’ve got this great ability to get a cold, start to get over it, then get a fever instead. So I had to change my Chicago flight to a day after my intended one, but I got to the airport early this time. Remember advice numero uno.

As soon as I got out of Chicago’s airport, I headed out to get a deep dish pizza with one of my roommates in LA, Dan. It was so good, oh so cheesy, but so very filling. The best way to describe it is like a big pizza pie, and then more. We’re still trying to get used to the tipping and tax being separate things to the price, and I’m pretty sure we’ve offended a couple of waiters already.

Dan and I getting overly excited by the deep dish pizza goodness

Chicago has this cold and serene beauty that is occasionally hard to remember whilst you’re being buffeted down the street, but look up once in a while and take in the amazing architecture that dominates the skyline. A girl told us it was so cloudy because vampires lived here, but then again we convinced that same girl that drop bears existed, so…

The John Hancock building

Starting to work and study here this month is a really exciting and unnerving prospect. I guess it hasn’t really sunk in properly yet, as there’s so much to see and do before we even get to LA. At the moment all I can think of is where to get a Pizookie and Chicago hotdog. You can see we have our priorities sorted.

This blog was originally published on the United States Studies Centre blog.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Cornell International Real Estate Competition

November 2014:  University of Sydney students Jenny Huang, Andrew Peters, Max Rigby, Khosrow Kyanian, Angus Gibbs and Annie Feng travelled to New York City to compete in the Cornell International Real Estate Competition (CIREC) 2014. “Anything is possible” would become the perfect summary for what proved to be a whirlwind experience.


In the STUVAC week of semester two 2014, my team, Abercrombie Advisory, travelled to New York City to compete in the globally renowned real estate finance competition. The competition invited top finance and real estate undergraduates from leading universities across the globe, including Cornell University, New York University and the University of Cambridge.

Before diving into the highlights, readers may be wondering ‘what is real estate finance?’ Just like buying a share from the stock market, investors invest into property - it is simply another asset class comparable to your equities and bonds. The special thing about this asset class is that you can actually see it, touch it, be in it and ‘feel’ its value. This is what makes it “real”.

Buying or investing in property does not simply mean buying a home. It also includes commercial real estate such as offices. Investors are also not simply buyers, but can enter the investment by being financers to property managers. Equities may dominate the headlines but property assets are actually the biggest asset class in the market.

This versatility is just one of the many complicating factors when preparing for the competition. All case studies are based on a real life transaction that a judge – sourced from many large international investment firms such as Blackstone, Silverstein Properties, Moody’s Investors Service and Brookfield Properties, had executed. In each case we acted as strategic advisors to an investor trying to make a decision on how to execute a transaction.

Our team was selected over more than 20 other teams from the University of Sydney Business School. Winning against tough competition and case experience made us think we were well prepared and exposed to all the potential cases.


How optimistic we were. The case was by far one of the most complicated cases in the competition’s history, involving competing options for a single block of land, a construction project, waterfall ownership structure and numerous stakeholders.

Time management is always a struggle in case competitions, no more so than when there are competing priorities of final exam study and the temptation to enjoy New York. In the final hours before submission, six of us were cramped in one hotel room, scrambling to finish the presentation: stressed, fatigued and running on pure adrenaline.

The morning of presentation day was brutal. With only around 3 hours of sleep each, we were the first group to present in our heat, and up against host university, Cornell, and past competition winners, University of Connecticut. Despite our nerves and feeling unprepared, we delivered a strong, cohesive and perfectly timed presentation, hitting the time limit of 15 minutes on the dot.

‘”A” for timing’ was the first response from the judges.

It was the first time that any Australian university had been invited to compete in CIREC and we certainly made an impression. The judges for our heat had taken the longest and found it most difficult to identify a finalist. While University of Connecticut were the finalist from our heat, we were thrilled to learn that we had come second in a heat of such tough competition.

CIREC in New York is an amazing opportunity to gain almost real-life experience in advising real estate transactions - from conducting the research and valuation to preparing the pitch or ‘story’ for a recommendation, under strict time pressures.


The week was a tough balancing act, but we still managed to enjoy New York, including Halloween, and form friendships with competitors from across the global. These connections have given us invaluable insight into putting the University of Sydney Business School in good stead of entering the finals in future year. We hope this opportunity will also lead to future encounters in a professional context.

We hope that CIREC 2014 will mark the beginning of many new opportunities within the University of Sydney Business School, such as a new Sydney University Real Estate Society.

Real estate is a fast growing and highly dynamic asset class but still remains a mystery to most undergraduates. The team is currently working on establishing a society and initiatives to increase the profile of real estate finance within the Business School. So (quite literally), watch this space!

Annie Feng
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School