Ryan Zimbalist, second from right, with other students participating in the KPMG Program.

Accounting student transformed by Belgian internship adventure

In college, many students find comfort in their familiar surroundings, rarely venturing far from campus or their own social circles. Yet occasionally, a mentor or program presents them with an opportunity that pushes them outside that comfort zone and broadens their horizons in unexpected ways.

Ryan Zimbalist, a junior at Rutgers Business School - New Brunswick, embarked on such a transformative journey when he traveled to Belgium during the summer as part of an internship program offered by the global accounting firm KPMG. When applying for the program, the accounting and finance major had no idea that it involved a four-day training component in Brussels on cultivating key professional attributes.

In the enchanting city of Brussels, Zimbalist joined 120 students from more than 10 countries, sharing a hotel room with an Amsterdam native with whom he formed a lasting friendship. The group participated in several cultural excursions, including partaking in an educational scavenger hunt across the city and making delectable chocolates in a Belgian factory.

During the program’s classroom component, Zimbalist and the other students honed their cross-cultural communication skills. First through self-assessment tests, they discovered which type of communication style they exhibit. Zimbalist learned he has an “amiable” style, characterized by his quiet, observant nature. Through interactive exercises, he had the opportunity to “flex” his social style and adapt his communication to different personalities, a skill crucial for building friendships and thriving in a global business environment.

“With a large company like KPMG, you are working with international clients, so you need to know how to adapt and interact with people from all over the world,” he said.

The trip had a profound impact on Zimbalist as he transformed from an introvert who gravitates toward familiarity to a competent communicator who embraces the unknown. “Not knowing anybody in Belgium forced me to go outside of my comfort zone and interact with people from all over the world,” he said. "Since everyone else didn’t know anybody either, we were all in the same boat and formed great friendships in the span of four days.”

Zimbalist said stepping beyond the familiar confines of Rutgers and into a new culture also ignited a strong desire for international travel.

Rutgers Business School student Ryan Zimbalist
A selfie of Zimbalist as he walks through Brussels.

“Before the trip, I had never traveled outside the U.S. except for Canada," he said. "Now I want to travel internationally to as many places as possible to experience different cultures.”

For Zimbalist, the trip is a reminder that college life is not just about acquiring knowledge. It’s also about forging new connections and having experiences. “I now see the value of interacting with many different people. I’m going to bring that back to Rutgers and talk to as many people as possible – and step outside of my comfort zone,” he said with a smile.

- Elise McIntosh

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