This past August, Mike Akiki (MBA, 2018) flew into JFK for the first time. He’d come as a scholar with the Bobst Lebanon Scholars Program—which sends one MBA student to study at NYU’s Stern School of business each semester—intent on bringing himself up to speed in the ever-evolving field of financial technology. And what better place to do that than New York City, the global capital for financial innovation, where bankers design products so abstract that the term ‘underlying asset’ becomes meaningless!
Before he arrived at NYU, Akiki had been a student at AUB’s Olayan School of Business, and before that, an electrical engineer at a struggling construction firm. Business school was, for Akiki, a way to hit the reset button on a stalling career.
Coming to New York, to NYU, from the small skiing village of Faraya in Mount Lebanon where he lived with his parents, has been eye-opening. “I’ve met so many different kinds of people, which has been great. Since I’m more introverted I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” Akiki says. And he has, attending events at NYU’s Latin Society, and enjoying the Greenwich village nightlife.
Anonymity, he says, has been among his greatest joys. “I really felt the meaning of freedom. I don’t know how to explain it. People don’t care about what you wear or what you do here. They give you your space to do whatever you want.”
In class, under the tutelage of instructors like Roger M. Stein, a Research Affiliate at the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering, he’s learned to use sophisticated models that can predict the likelihood of loan default, and even built his own, using the statistical program R.
He’d love to put what he learned into practice at a US bank, but for visa issues. “They file H1B cases in April, so the timing doesn’t work. If it did work, I’d love to stay here.” Instead, he plans to return to Lebanon and apply for work at a financial firm in the Gulf, “likely the UAE.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the city’s eclectic cuisine, “especially Indian and Mexican,” touring the island on foot, boat, bike, and succeeding wildly in his personal goal of escaping his “comfort zone.