The World Was His Classroom
International experiences shape Coles graduate’s future
KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 6, 2018) — By the time Ivan Stavrev graduated in July with a degree in international business, he had spent nearly one-fourth of his college career outside the country.
Opportunities to study abroad in Italy, Morocco, Australia, Cuba and Spain helped Stavrev develop valuable global perspectives on culture and business, and prepared him for his new position at NCR, a company operating in more than 150 countries.
As a child growing up in Bulgaria, Stavrev and his family frequently traveled across Europe, instilling in him a passion for international experiences. This passion remained a part of him when he moved to Cobb County as a teenager, and directly influenced his choice of major when he enrolled at Kennesaw State University in 2014.
“At the time I already knew I wanted to be a business major, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get into accounting, international business, management or marketing,” Stavrev said. “Once I was accepted into the Coles College of Business, I looked at the requirements for each major and saw that if you major in international business, you have to study abroad for at least one semester. That was a key point for me.”
Stavrev went on to participate in two separate full-semester education abroad programs. The first, called Around the World in 80 Days, saw 11 students travel to four continents throughout fall semester 2016. Stavrev and his cohort visited Italy, Morocco, Australia and Cuba, spending three weeks in each country taking general education courses taught by Kennesaw State faculty.
The experience was a life-changing one for Stavrev, who says it gave him a greater appreciation for how challenging it is to communicate effectively with people from different cultures.
“We got to meet so many different people, and they all had different perspectives on life, religion, the economy, everything,” he said. “Sometimes you have to go to their country, their place, and their work to understand where they are coming from in order to have a conversation where both of you are on the same level.”
Less than a year after returning from Around the World in 80 Days, Stavrev was on a plane to Spain for his second education abroad program. He spent fall semester 2017 as an exchange student at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid studying the Spanish language.
Unlike the previous program where he visited a new country every few weeks, Stavrev spent the entire three months in Madrid, minus occasional weekend excursions to nearby countries. In addition to taking classes, he worked remotely four hours a day as an intern for transaction technology firm NCR’s Atlanta office.
Stavrev had impressed NCR with a series of videos published on his YouTube channel documenting the Around the World in 80 Days program. NCR hired him in May 2017 to help create videos for their human resources initiatives, and allowed him to continue his work from Spain.
Working remotely taught him how to coordinate with a business team internationally.
“It’s one thing when you know someone is going to be in the office and you can ask them something,” he said, “and another when they are abroad and you have to keep track of how many hours they are behind you and what their schedules look like. Day-to-day interactions aren’t happening anymore, so you have to learn how to communicate effectively.”
Stavrev continued working with NCR after returning from Spain, ultimately accepting an offer to work for the company full time after graduation.
His exchange in Spain was not the last time he traveled abroad as a Kennesaw State student. During summer 2018, he accompanied Chief International Officer Lance Askildson to Singapore to do photography and videography at the Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative summit organized by Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs as part of a U.S. Department of State grant program.
Askildson, who also traveled on and was the chief organizer of Around the World in 80 Days, is impressed by the positive effect international experiences have had on Stavrev.
“Ivan has been extremely successful as an international traveler and cross-cultural learner for many reasons,” Askildson said. “Chief among them is his humility and love of learning. Learning across cultures requires you to put your preconceived notions aside in order to listen and understand another’s cultural perspective. Ivan does this exceptionally well.”
While international travel has played a significant part in shaping Stavrev’s academic and professional life, he also excelled as a student on campus, including participating in the Student Managed Investment Fund. The SMIF allows Kennesaw students to manage a real investment fund worth more than $170,000. Stavrev was responsible for investigating new IT firms to invest in, successfully pitching the purchase of stock in enterprise software firm Oracle.
“This helped tremendously in my understanding of financial markets, investment and trading,” Stavrev said. “You might think you know about how and what to invest in, but that changes when you have professionals and students who have done this for years investing real money. They were able to help me so much.”
Stavrev’s career coach Diane Fennig, who taught him for two semesters in the Undergraduate Program Advising Center, is not surprised by Stavrev’s successes.
“Ivan continued to demonstrate strong emotional intelligence throughout his tenure at Coles,” Fennig said, “and has integrated his international business education into his work experience and his two education abroad experiences. Ivan will be a Coles student to follow.”
As Stavrev begins his career with NCR’s Professional Services division, where he will rotate between marketing, finance, governance and business operations every six months, he continues to look to the future. He plans to pursue his Project Management Professional certification. This will allow him to work in multiple industries in any country.
“At this point, I am aiming to network as much as possible and get more experience under my belt,” he said. “I’d also like to travel more and experience different cultures. Things happen very quickly in the business world and you must be able to adapt.”
— Patrick Harbin
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.