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Ruth Ann Hanson, Chamber Area Director
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Bridging International Connections: Indonesian, South African Students Receive Business Exposure Through Chamber

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber has taken on a bit of an international flair over the past several months.

Thanks in part to an international scholarship program combined with a tremendous working relationship with Central Lakes College; two aspiring business majors are making connections through the Chamber’s Member Outreach Committee.

Bradley Van Der Zandt, 22, of Cape Town, South Africa; and Jaka Mahendra, 23, of Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia; have been in the Lakes Area since August 2010 as part of the US Department of State’s Community College International Development program, a program aimed at providing opportunities for building global relationships that strengthen educational programs and promote economic development. Both young men were chosen to come to the United States on a scholarship to attend a community college and serve an internship in their respective communities in relation to leadership.

Bradley and Jaka are two of nine CCID students currently residing in the Lakes Area and attending Central Lakes College. Although unfamiliar to each other prior to August, both men shared a common interest in business. After arriving in Brainerd and visiting with CLC advisors, both men were encouraged to connect with the Chamber to learn more about local business relationships, leadership and opportunities.

Jeri Hughes, Events Coordinator with the Chamber, said she was contacted by Joan Jenkins and Pat Swarthout from CLC in regard to the students and their interest in getting involved locally. Hughes said the Chamber was more than eager to take the students on through an internship. Both Bradley and Jaka attend monthly Chamber committee meetings and networking events where they have an opportunity to network and learn, first hand, how local businesses operate.

“Basically we observe how businesses and organizations work, take some notes and implement them in our daily lives,” Jaka said, following a recent Chamber Member Outreach meeting. “Someday we’ll be the guys sitting in this kind of meeting.”

Both men are already well on their way to reaching their business aspirations. Bradley received his business management degree in Cape Town before coming to the US, and has a strong interest in pursuing work in financial management; while Jaka has already owned his own business, an Internet café, back in Probolinggo and hopes to reopen his shop when returning home this year.

In addition to attending meetings and learning through making observations, both men also attend the Chamber’s CHOW events to meet and greet and assist wherever necessary, as well as make personal calls to Chamber members to invite them to events and thank them for their participation in past events.

“We’ve really focused a lot on networking because that was their interest,” Hughes noted, adding how impressed she has been at their willingness and ability to jump in with both feet and get involved in such new territory.

“I am amazed at how they’ve come into another country, can speak so well and adapt so well to our way of life,” Hughes commented. “They are really great guys!”

Shannon Janco, Chamber Member and Chair of the Outreach Committee, said she has enjoyed getting to know both men through her Chamber involvement and believes other members would most definitely agree.

“I really feel that the opportunity to have Bradley and Jaka on the Member Outreach Committee has done more for the community than it may have done for them from an educational perspective. People are captivated by them at our events. You will always find the business owners of the Brainerd area talking with them about their country and different aspects of business cultures and traditions. I've also heard people asking them about the foreign exchange program. Some have been interested in hosting and others have children that are interested in participating in this type of program. Although they are here for education, I truly believe that we have all learned from them.”

The two men will return to their respective countries in May, but not before taking a trip to visit the Nation’s capitol, as well as New York.

“I’ve enjoyed the college,” Jaka said, noting the friendships and connections he has made in such a short amount of time, including an experience that made local news. In November, Jaka and fiancée Anindita Anjali, who lives back in Indonesia, were married over the Internet via Skype software.

“We are here to study and get exposure to being American students,” Bradley explained. Part of that exposure has included an introduction to snow and cold, something both men agree was enjoyable for one day but quickly grew old. They also laughed about their fondness to American fast food, something they admitted to walking late at night in the cold to get from their apartment at The Pines near CLC.

“The people have been just so friendly since the time we got here,” Bradley noted.

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