Exchange at Penn, Alumni Broadened Horizons

February 8, 2021
By Josh Pontrelli, Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager

Can one semester change your career trajectory? For Asanga Seneviratne, who graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2018, it did. Seneviratne, who participated in Exchange at Penn during the Fall 2017 semester and became involved with social enterprise businesses, began to look beyond traditional finance and economics careers due to his experiences at Penn. Among other experiences, Seneviratne credits his involvement with the Ideas for Action, a Wharton club that focuses on social innovation and sustainable business development crafted around public policy including the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “While at Penn, we worked with World Bank to support social enterprise in developing countries. We provided consultation and advice, created business models, and explained marketing,” he said. “I even got to attend the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Bank annual meeting in DC. To be walking in those halls, it was a pinch-me moment.”

Asanga
Seneviratne at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Bank annual meeting in Washington D.C.
 

After graduating, Seneviratne traveled for 6 months, then worked for the Australian government, but ultimately found his calling working with two youth-focused non-profits, helping students to create sustainable businesses within their community, build confidence, and grow. “My end goal is now to return to public policy or a community role,” he said. “The experiences I had at Penn opened my eyes to the opportunities I have and gave me the confidence that I can achieve.”

Now living and working in Sydney, Australia, at Oliver Wyman, a global management and consulting firm, Seneviratne recalls the roster of speakers as a highlight of his experience at Penn, specifically the founder of Chobani. “He spoke about his story – employing refugees, using sustainable farming, giving back to the locals. Those sentiments painted a picture of business creating a way to give back to community. It has stayed with me and was very eye-opening,” he said. “Being able to hear so many speakers within a 5-to-10-minute walk from my dorm was very special. I think Penn students take this for granted.”

In addition, Seneviratne recalls intellectual discussions with professors inside and outside of the classroom who were able to use their experiences in venture capital, negotiations, and politics as examples or case studies, allowing students to apply practical solutions to real situations. “I took a Chinese Politics class with a professor who spent 15 years in China advising the government. To have somebody like that teaching politics was simply incredible,” he said. “The classroom experience was second-to-none at Penn. It was very enjoyable, how interactive and small classes were. Lecturers really got to know you. With programs like Penn’s Take Your Professor to Lunch, it is such a unique opportunity to learn from somebody with a lot of experience.”

However, it wasn’t just Penn professors who engaged and inspired Seneviratne. “At Penn, what I found, really was a communal atmosphere that thrived on intellectual discussion. People come from all over the world, and everyone has a whole lot of experiences and gives different perspectives,” he said. “I found that diversity of opinions and thoughts and ambition to be inspiring. It was really a nurturing experience. I think the entire experience at Penn has broadened my horizons, empowered me, and gave me confidence to do things on my own.”

Asanga
Seneviratne with fellow exchange students on Locust Walk at Penn

 

Wing Sze Michelle Fung
Exchange at Penn, Alumni
by Josh Pontrelli, Penn Abroad Global Programs Manager