Back to Buffalo, via China

Alexa Buzak ’13 returns to her hometown to work for a hat manufacturer after studying and interning in China

By John Walsh

So far, Alexa Buzak’s ’13 life has come full circle. The starting and ending point is Buffalo, N.Y., but she has traveled to the other side of the world in between.

Buzak grew up just outside the waterfront city and attended Clarence High School, graduating with more than 400 students. She studied Spanish throughout elementary school and high school, where she also took a Chinese language class. A well-rounded student, she was a member of the National Honor Society and a volunteer award winner as a result of performing more than 100 hours of community service. She also participated in clubs, varsity gymnastics, and band.

For college, Buzak didn’t want to stay in Buffalo, but she didn’t want to go too far from home. Cleveland was perfect. Once she visited John Carroll, she fell in love with many aspects of the University, including the campus and people. No one else from her high school chose to attend JCU, so she didn’t know anybody when she arrived on campus.

“I met a lot of great people at Carroll,” she says. “Many of my college friends are my friends for life.”

Matriculating to Carroll, Buzak was awarded the Presidential Honors Awards scholarship, which:

Buzak in front of the Himalaya Mountains

Buzak in front of the Himalaya Mountains

• is the University’s most prestigious academic scholarship;
• provides support to the top 50 students in each incoming freshman class whose accomplishments earn them a spot in the University Honors Program; and
• demonstrates John Carroll’s commitment to, and tradition of, academic rigor by providing significant support for exceptional students.

While at JCU, Buzak upheld the scholarship and made the dean’s list several times.

“I got a lot out of John Carroll because I put a lot into it,” she says.

After considering various fields of study, Buzak chose the Boler School of Business because of its well-earned reputation. She also liked the international component to her studies. Ultimately, Buzak majored in International Business with Language and Culture (IBLC) and minored in Chinese. Early on at Carroll, she didn’t think she would choose Chinese as her foreign language, primarily because of her background in Spanish. But an opportunity to study in China presented itself through the IBLC major, so she took advantage of it. Jim Martin, Ph.D., – associate dean for programs and curriculum, co-director of the IBLC major, and professor of marketing – advised and guided her through the program.

“I thought I would be a logistics major until I discovered IBLC,” she says.

The Red Dragon
Buzak studied abroad in China during her junior year, specifically the spring semester of 2012 (January through May). She attended The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, founded by a consortium of Jesuit schools and coordinated by Loyola University Chicago. Alyssa Harr ’12 was another JCU student studying at the Beijing Center, but Buzak rarely saw Harr because she was an English studies student. While in China, Buzak worked for several different companies as an intern. She worked:

• as a market analyst for Ascension Capital Group, a bankruptcy servicing and litigation service provider based in Beijing;
• for Ogilvy Public Relations and Fender Guitars, helping the Arizona-based company enter the Chinese market;
• on a project on behalf of a Chinese hotel to make it more comfortable for foreign business people; and
• on cell phone apps, specifically what kind Westerners use compared to the Chinese to determine how to tweak them for Chinese users.

Buzak also helped other Western companies, such as Ann Taylor, merge their products into the Chinese market. She entered data and analyzed statistics about the typical Chinese consumer.

“I loved working in a professional business environment,” she says. “My commute from school to work was one hour, and I used public transportation. I loved the big city. I was able to meet and network with many young professionals and was exposed to professional development.”

Buzak on the Great Wall of China

Buzak on the Great Wall of China

Working an internship on top of her studies – which included several business courses and one intense Chinese language course she took four mornings a week – was difficult for Buzak, but she was up for the challenge. She also took a course in Taoism.

“I had to attend all classes unless I was excused by a doctor,” she says. “I couldn’t miss one class or my grade would drop a whole letter.”

The school she attended, the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing China, is a lot bigger than Carroll – there were 17,000 student at the university, many of whom study international trade and economics. She lived in Chinese dorms – typically there are six students to a dorm – with only one other international student, who was from India. The lifestyle is fast paced.

“I was respected by students and professors for learning Mandarin and being able to speak their language,” she says.

“I was nervous before I left for China, but felt very safe once I got there,” she adds. “It’s more safe than downtown Buffalo at night. As an example, a water bottle dropped out of my bag unbeknownst to me, and five Chinese people bent down to pick it up before I knew what was going on.”

Opportunities from experience
Buzak’s internship in China wasn’t the only exposure she had to the business world before graduating. The summer before her senior year, she took an internship position at the New Era Cap Co., an American headwear manufacturer based in Buffalo. Buzak focused on the logistics of the company’s products – caps, apparel, and accessories – being shipped throughout the U.S. and internationally. She actually looked elsewhere before landing the internship at New Era. After Buzak completed the internship, the company offered her a job after graduation.

“But I still went through the job process with interviews and cover letters,” she says. “I attended a job fair, but no offers were as interesting as New Era’s.”

A couple months into the new job at New Era, Buzak works in the field of integrated logistics services, communicating with foreign vendors, and working with master universal product codes and data. Presently, she’s working on a new packaging program and updating master data for new accounts. Project management is an integral part of her new role, which helps improve processes. In addition to one in the U.S., New Era has nine factories abroad, but so far, Buzak has traveled only domestically. She plans to travel to Europe, Asia, and Latin America in the near future.

“I’m the only one in the company with an extensive language background,” she says.

Buzak’s career plans include earning an MBA, improving her language skills, and getting more exposure to international business.

“I’m confident in my IBLC degree making current and future opportunities possible,” she says. JCU

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