Sara Bularzik has used her love of travel to make Daniels a more welcoming place

Sara Bularzik holds up a cup of tea at a Chinese tea house

Sara Bularzik, at a teahouse in China (Photo courtesy of Sara Bularzik)

In the French city of Lille, about 140 miles outside of Paris, Daniels College of Business MBA students were getting an in-depth lesson on discomfort.

Armed with surveys and smartphones, they approached shop owners and everyday people to conduct some casual research on product placement.

None of the students spoke French. Some had never traveled abroad. Just about everyone was outside their comfort zone.

But Sara Bularzik couldn’t have felt more at home.

The assistant director in Daniels Graduate Student Services served as an advisor for the global trip, a hallmark of the Daniels MBA experience. But the 10-day experience in France was also a prime opportunity to feed her lifelong passion for international travel.

“It was a very easy yes,” Bularzik said of the invitation she received from Megan Reilly, the director of MBA global and experiential learning. “She knew that I would probably be a pretty good person to go to France.”

Sara Bularzik poses with someone next to a motorbike in Indonesia

Bularzik, in Indonesia in 2010 (Photo courtesy of Sara Bularzik)

Bularzik has lost count of how many countries she’s visited (though she estimates it’s around 40). She can get by or better in six different languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin and Danish).

It all translates to vital experience that has helped her become an approachable, empathetic resource for students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds. During her five years at Daniels, Bularzik has been an informational resource, a safe space for seemingly “embarrassing” questions and a broker of intercultural differences.

The opportunity to stamp her passport for work, however, felt extra special—especially in France, 21 years after a high school excursion gave her an incurable case of the travel bug.

“That trip changed my life,” Bularzik said. It was her first time out of North America and she devoured every drop of culture she encountered. Her high school class toured Paris, hiked in the Alps and stayed at a boarding school with French teenagers.

“It completely blew my mind,” she said. “I just remember feeling: The French language is not something you study in a book and it’s not something that you see in movies. To see it being used by other 16-year-olds is like, ‘Oh this is a real [applicable] thing and I could become good at this.’”

When she went to college, Bularzik followed through on that realization. She minored in international studies, studied abroad in Copenhagen and took classes in French, Spanish and Arabic. During her master’s program, focusing on international education, she spent a summer living in China (her “other love affair”) and learned Mandarin.

Trinkets and mementos from those trips sit on a bookshelf in her office, next to gifts and souvenirs others have brought her from all over the world.

“I love, love, love when I have an international student walk into my office because I know, especially if it’s their first time in the U.S., they can be really intimidated by formal relationships like [with] a professor or an advisor,” she said. “I think that I have the skills now to make sure I break down that barrier and make sure the student feels comfortable and that I am a person they can come to. Some of the countries that they’re coming from, there’s not a role like that in the universities that they went to for their undergrad.”

With the MBA cohort last fall, Bularzik intermittently played the role of translator and tour guide, dusting off her French fluency to coordinate on-the-ground logistics and ease communication, when necessary.

The MBA cohort poses in front of the Eiffel Tower

Bularzik and the MBA cohort pose in front of the Eiffel Tower. (Photo courtesy of Sara Bularzik)

Helping students connect with a new country was deeply satisfying, Bularzik said, and she was impressed with how eagerly the cohort approached the new experience.

“They were always taking in, asking questions, processing, maybe making some judgements internally,” she said, but they handled themselves as polite guests in someone else’s country, even when frustrating, unexpected challenges arose. “The maturity I saw was truly impressive.”

Now that she’s back on campus, Bularzik is finishing up her EdD dissertation at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education. Her research, perhaps unsurprisingly, examines the undergrad study abroad experience—what types of programs they choose, what influences those choices and what motivates them to travel to another country in the first place.

“I’m really, really interested in whether this generation of students, Gen Z, is resonating with messages about sustainability and social justice and the public good in their study abroad,” Bularzik said. “Or, are they stuck in what my generation was kind of stuck in, these neo-liberal ideas about making sure that I have the best resume and I am the most competitive person so that I can go out and take over the world?”

Even with a passport full of stamps, Bularzik feels her most recent trip to France elevated her understanding of the Daniels student experience, particularly the role hands-on learning plays.

“I feel like I’ll be a better advisor now knowing how important and impactful this trip is going to be for them,” she said. She’s seen the importance of the many challenges and case competitions Daniels offers in Denver, but, “to see it happen in France, in this multilingual experience, just makes it even more solid in my mind that those experiential activities are what students will come to DU for and remember about their time here and why they’re getting a master’s degree in the first place.”