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Prestigious Schwarzman scholarship leads him to the ‘poster child’ for emerging markets: China

Arlen Agiliga, who will graduate in May and then go on to a university in China for his master's degree through the Schwarzman Scholarship program, poses for a portrait in ISEC. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

So far, the extent of Arlen Agiliga’s Chinese-language skills begin with “nǐhǎo” (hello) and end with “zài jiàn” (goodbye). 

The Northeastern senior recently began learning basic Mandarin phrases in anticipation of the one-year master’s-degree program he will begin this fall at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Thankfully, all his classes will be taught in English. 

Agiliga, who will graduate from Northeastern in May with a degree in finance, is the third Northeastern student to receive the Schwarzman Scholarship, which sponsors students from a broad range of disciplines to study at the Chinese university.   

Agiliga joins a cohort of 151 Schwarzman Scholars, whose academic interests span science, business, politics, and more. But the throughline between all scholars, he says, is a knack for global leadership. 

“For me, that manifests in global finance and my interest in emerging markets,” he says. “China is probably the best place to study that. We can’t call China an emerging market anymore, but it really is the poster child of a successful emerging market.” 

Eventually, Agiliga plans to attend business school at the postgraduate level. But before embarking on that path, he intends to complete a master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua. 

“Global affairs is basically international business on steroids,” he says. “I’m not an international business student at Northeastern, so I haven’t had much experience in that area. That’s what I plan to focus on next year.” 

Agiliga, who never has left the United States, says his interest in China was piqued after a colleague recommended he apply for the scholarship. 

“I’ve always been interested in investing in America,” he says. “But as I was filling out the application, I began to realize just how big the world is and how much China’s market interests me.” 

After receiving notice that he was selected for the scholarship, Agiliga joined Northeastern’s Chinese Markets Club as the research director. His main responsibility is to produce long-form reports on specific sectors of China’s market. 

“I really enjoy the research, especially since I’m going to the place that I’m doing these reports on,” he says. “Hopefully all the research helps give me some perspective before I go to China.” 

When he’s not taking finance classes or crafting reports on international markets, Agiliga works in Northeastern’s Writing Center as a writing aide for students, especially those for whom  English isn’t their first language, a robust population at Northeastern.   

Though this work is far removed from the world of finance, Agiliga says this part-time job has expanded his leadership skills and helped him realize his passion for investigating foreign markets and cultures.

“I’m excited to meet new types of people from all different backgrounds,” he says. The scholars in this year’s cohort represent 85 countries. “I’m excited to learn from my peers who are all from disparate fields.” 

Much like the scholarship’s founder, Stephen Schwarzman, a renowned investor who is credited with establishing private equity as its own asset class, Agiliga also wants to pursue global private equity. 

“I don’t want to build a fund exactly like his,” Agiliga says. “But I do want to establish some sort of investment company that changes the world.” 

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