International alumni find love and learn path to success

February 01, 2024 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

Many alumni can credit the Merage School for improving their careers. But for Christie Chang, it’s also where she met her life partner.

She met her husband Jason during her first year at the school while they were both enrolled in the MBA program. Both were transfer students from Taiwan and they eventually used the skills they learned at the school to become successful leaders in the finance industry back home.

“I have benefitted greatly from UC Irvine, but I have to say the biggest takeaway I took from my experience at the school is my husband,” said Chang, laughing. “But the Merage School helped me immensely with my career and helped me feel at home as a student from Taiwan. Since I attended, the school has become very well-known globally and it’s an amazing place for international students to learn new skills and network with people from all over the world.”


Global Education

When Chang attended UC Irvine from 1986 to 1988, the business school was known as the Graduate School of Management.

Like many students traveling thousands of miles from their home, Chang felt culture shock during the first few months of her time on campus, particularly feeling the vast differences between the conservative culture of Taiwan and the liberalism of Western culture.

She said she didn’t speak English very well at the time and felt cut off from her home. Students have access to digital devices today that Chang did not have when she attended school. She decided to dive headfirst into the experience and began speaking and learning from people from all walks of life.

“The first thing I learned was how to adapt to Western culture,” she said. “I was able to speak with people from all over the world. This was the first time I interacted with people from different cultures from my own.”

Chang said the education she received also differed from her schooling in Taiwan. Students were encouraged to freely and openly express themselves. She learned independent thinking and to have faith in her own problem-solving abilities and judgments.

She said a Taiwanese education was really defined by memorization and cramming, with students passively listening to professors rather than asking questions. So, being exposed to a Merage School classroom provided her with the confidence to speak out.

Chang also appreciated the education in finance and management she received. She learned new concepts and tools that had more practical application in the business world.

“I learned a lot of lessons that I could use in different business scenarios to tackle different challenges and situations,” she said. “I think the learning was really more practical.”


Career Benefits

After graduation, Chang traveled back to Taiwan where Jason had returned and was working as an investment banker. She realized very quickly how valuable her experiences at UC Irvine would be for her career.

Having learned the intricacies of Western culture, the ability to speak comfortably with a diverse group of people, and having the boldness to lead positioned her for a role at a multinational company instead of a local Taiwanese organization.

She landed a position as a financial analyst at IBM Taiwan for a few months before deciding to move on to Citibank in 1989 because she felt it was a better fit. She has stayed at the company ever since and now serves as president of the bank and chairwoman of Citi’s Asia-Pacific corporate bank. Jason has also been using his financial skills while running a family shipping company.

“If I never went to UC Irvine, maybe I would not be qualified to be accepted by Citibank Taiwan,” she said. “I often speak with people from different countries, and I am confident in communicating my views and ideas.”


International Community

Chang still stays in touch with the small group of Taiwanese students she attended school with and other alumni she and her husband have met in Taiwan. She also has a close relationship with Dr. Joanna Ho, a longtime Merage School professor of accounting.

Chang credits Ho with being a friend and mentor to Taiwanese students while she attended the school. Chang met with Ho for lunch and dinner while she was on a recent trip to Taiwan.

“She helped students with housing, transportation, and a number of other issues,” Chang said. “She was so helpful and it’s amazing to stay in touch with her and my other classmates. The school really helps create this international community that is so beneficial to students and alumni.”

Becoming a part of the Merage School community means being a member of a global network of industry leaders. In particular, the Merage School has strong alumni connections and university partnerships across Asia. In celebration of these relationships, Dean Ian O. Williamson traveled this summer to Taipei and Singapore to visit with current and future members of the Merage School community.

Chang believes the work of Dean Williamson and other faculty members have positioned the Merage School as an internationally recognized business school. She hopes Taiwanese students and others from around the world will consider attending the university that provided her with not only a successful career, but a lifelong partner and global network.

“I really encourage students to go abroad and experience and explore different parts of the world,” she said. “It really expands your toolkit and provides you with unique experiences that can really benefit your career and life. The Merage School did that for me and its global footprint has only grown since I went there.”