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Derek Lewis: Lessons Learned Living and Working Abroad

Derek Lewis graduated from Santa Clara in 2017 in finance, and he is now working as a program coordinator for the Spring Hill College Italy Center in Bologna where I studied abroad. During his time at Santa Clara, Derek developed an interest in business ethics that led him to an internship at Intel.


After graduating, he moved to Bologna, Italy and has spent the past two years working as a program coordinator for the Spring Hill College Italy Center. I wanted to talk to Derek to get his perspective on working and living abroad, especially since so many Santa Clara graduates stay close to home in the hot job market of the bay area after graduating


In this conversation, we discuss Derek’s journey to Italy, the future of work, migration, and the summer internship Derek helped coordinate last summer in a small town in southern Italy. Derek has some great advice for new grads and I think you will enjoy hearing the perspective of an alumni who took a little bit of a more unconventional path. 


Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: Were there any memorable classes that shaped your experience at Santa Clara?

Derek Lewis: Actually, the first class I ever took at Santa Clara was business ethics. It was symbolic of my educational journey because I really enjoyed that class, reading case studies about ethical companies, thinking about decision metrics ethical companies use to work in the world. That experience lead me to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and I got an internship at Intel through there.


GC: What interested you about business ethics?


DL: One of the concepts we learned was that business ethics isn’t just a noble way to do things, it’s also very practical. A lot of the companies that do ethical business in our world also happen to be very strong businesses. I was taken aback by this new framework that an ethical business can also be a very successful business.


GC: What did you learn from your internship at Intel?


DL: One of the things I found really interesting was the team I worked with. They really walked the talk with ethical decision-making and wanted to make it a priority for the company overall. One of the coolest projects I participated in was an Ethics in Compliance Global Summit. Intel has ethics and compliance liaisons in each of their business units, and we would go over best practices and scenarios at the summit. What I learned at Intel is that an ethical company depends on culture, not a set of rules.


GC: You were majoring finance, and I feel like a lot of finance majors want to work on Wall Street or trade stocks.


DL: I’ve never really been geared towards investment banking or hedge funds, I’ve always been more drawn to the side of finance that enables businesses to do things. My thinking with finance is using my financial skills and knowledge about financial planning, returns on investment, budgeting and accounting to enable organizations that have a mission to do their mission. My career plan would be more geared towards NGO’s and nonprofits from a lens of financial analysis.


GC: When did Italy first become a part of your life?


DL: My grandmother is an immigrant from Italy to the United States, so I grew up with a lot of Italian culture, traditions and lifestyle at home. When I was younger, Italy was almost a mythical place that my parents would talk about. My grandma and parents would say, “we have to take you to Italy.”


GC: How was your time studying abroad at the Spring Hill Italy Center in Bologna?


DL: My abroad experience was really formative. The Spring Hill Italy Center was definitely along the same lines of social justices and ethical decision-making that I was already interested in. It was also really challenging because I came in not knowing a single other person in the program. It was challenging being alone overseas. I had never really had ambitions of having an international career before going abroad. After Italy, I realized that it was not only possible, but beneficial to work abroad.


GC: I feel like a lot of students might romanticize or have dreams of working abroad but then just stay in the area where they went to school because they already have connections there. What would you tell a student who has ambitions to work abroad but isn’t sure how?


DL: After I graduated in 2017, I had opportunities to stay in the Bay Area, then I had this opportunity to come and work in Italy. I think it’s a lot easier to go back to the United States and reinsert yourself in that network than it is to come to Europe. That was the decision-making process I went through: that if I didn’t like working abroad I could still come back to the Bay Area whereas if I passed up this opportunity to leave now I might get sucked into that network in the Bay Area.


GC: What are your thoughts on what the future of work will look like, especially as it applies to immigration. There’s a fear that people at the bottom will be left behind and inequality will increase. Do you think we can get to a world where someone can migrate to a country like Italy and find sustainable work?


DL: I think the future of work is a really interesting topic because as automation increases, there just won’t be as many jobs. So the new job of society and communities will be to support people. As technological innovation goes up, material wealth also goes up. If you look at the last 200 years, new technologies always mean more material wealth with less labor. So then it becomes a matter of society redistributing that material wealth to people who no longer have the work. Then it’s about finding a balance where you still can innovate with incentives while having fair societies.

When you’re talking about migration, you’re talking about societies on a global level. Migration is an issue where what different societies do on a global level makes an impact. We have to stop looking at it through nation-states, and start looking at it as our global planet. The issue of migration for me boils down to what happens when different states are managed different ways. One reason that there are a lot of migrants from Africa right now is that a lot of people are getting out of extreme poverty and now have the resources to migrate.


GC: Any favorite place outside of Italy and the U.S. that you’ve traveled to?


DL: It’s kind of funny because of our current political situation, but I really loved St. Petersburg Russia. There are all these canals and I went in the summer, so it never got dark. The Russian cultural mindset is totally different. People in Russia are really blunt and there’s not a delicacy like in Western culture.


GC: If you could send a message to every person in the United States, what would you want to say?


DL: From an international perspective, I would say that there are other ways to live life, and our culture, our way to live, isn’t necessarily the best. There are pros and cons in the cultures that I’ve seen and traveled to, and I think depending on what you value in life, other cultures might do it better than us.

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