This month, we introduce you to our inspiring alum of the month, Deborah Schuler! Schuler studied abroad on the IES Abroad Durham Program in 1973-74, and has since led a vibrant career in international finance that allowed her to live and work in Singapore, London, and Hong Kong. Here’s how she got started.
How did studying abroad influence your career path?
“Many of us who do study abroad do it because we’re interested in experiencing things foreign in the first place. When I was in Durham, I really enjoyed living overseas. Thereafter, my objective was to work abroad, so I considered either law or business. Ultimately I picked business—two years to get an MBA rather than three years in law school. I really wanted to start doing something, rather than be a clerk for a few years and carry bags for people. Even though I suppose you have to do that for any career nowadays!”
Schuler acknowledges her year abroad as “instrumental in her choice of career and in being a plausible candidate for overseas assignments.” Her career has allowed her to live and work all over the world, specifically Chicago, Singapore, London, New York, and Hong Kong.
What have been the highlights of your career?
Now retired and living in Florida, Schuler had a long career in international finance, most recently working as the Senior Vice President and Group Credit Officer for Financial Institutions in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for Moody's Investor Service, Inc.
“I deliberately picked a career that would take me overseas. I started as a banker for Continental Bank in Chicago.” After seven months of training, Schuler was assigned to the Asia-Pacific division, made her first business trip to the region soon thereafter, and relocated to Singapore within two years.
“The Continental Bank went bust and was bailed out by the FDIC in 1984. Working in a bank that failed is quite educational!”
Schuler then moved back to Chicago, where she trained new bankers, assessed loans all over the world (allowing her to travel again), and analyzed credit risk and derivatives for banks. In 1994, Bank of America bought Continental Bank.
“We all thought, ‘Well here come the pink slips!’ but if you were mobile, you were safe. Bank of America wanted people who had international experience, so once again my time abroad proved an advantage.”
Schuler moved to London where she examined derivative exposure for Bank of America, later switching to work for derivative subsidiary Credit Suisse. Eventually, Schuler got a job at credit-rating agency Moody’s Investor Services, Inc., where she spent the past 15 years of her career working in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
How did your study abroad experience influence you on a personal level?
“I grew up a lot that year,” says Schuler. “I only called home on a holiday or two. There was no Internet or Skype in those days, just air mail. You were very much on your own.”
Upon returning home from Durham, Schuler noticed a change in herself: “I thought through things more. I was much more confident that I could do what I needed to do to get by. I had visited countries where no one spoke a word of English. I had traveled all over without ever getting stranded, and somehow communicating with locals if I got lost, all before you could find your way using a cell phone. If I could get myself through a situation like that, I could get through anything.”
If you could do it all over again, what is the one thing you would do differently?
“I absolutely loved Durham!” Schuler says, “But I was worried about academics when I picked my destination. Looking back, I think I should have gone somewhere else and become fluent in another language. I was too scared that my language skills would limit my coursework.
“I wish I had been a little more adventurous. What if I had gone somewhere to learn Chinese? I did spend 15 years in Asia!” Schuler laughs.