Being a Bruin is special. It automatically places you within a community for life — a second family. And while the Bruin family tree may have its roots in Westwood, its branches stretch out across the world’s 24 time zones. Take, for example, Ho Chi Minh City entrepreneur and lawyer Ken Dat Duong ’04. By holding fast to shared Bruin values, traditions and sentiments, Duong has found that his affinity for the university has grown even more intense over time, despite the 8,000 miles that separate him from the campus. “I got more connected to UCLA the farther I went from UCLA physically,” he says. Beckoned across the seas or up and down the continents by the call of one siren’s song or another — research, relationships, work, athletics or mere curiosity — Bruins migrate to Earth’s every corner to improve the world.
The UCLA Alumni Association boasts 43 regional U.S. networks and 14 international networks, together serving 560,000 UCLA degree and certificate holders dispersed all over the planet. International Bruins make their homes everywhere from Belgium to Brazil, Estonia to India, Taiwan to Turkey. They work together, play together, run together, fundraise together, volunteer together and, in London, literally have a ball together. They mingle at pub nights and in coffee houses, and toast their alma mater at happy hours. They host Dinners for 12 Strangers and New Bruin Send-offs. They put together conferences and panels and sustainability lunches. And they welcome newcomers, helping them settle into life in new countries.
Below, you’ll meet a few of the international Bruins, based in seven pockets of the planet, who are finding themselves and each other.
The Angels Funding Brazil’s Future
S2 Pets is a company that supports mom-and-pop pet shops across Brazil. Resilia Educação is an edu-tech company training lower-income people to become software engineers. Quero Meus Direitos grants lower-income Brazilians access to legal procedures.
These are just three startups in the growing, diversified portfolio of Bruin Angels do Brasil, an investors association for UCLA alumni. The group’s 46 members are plugged into Brazil’s growing angel investment ecosystem. Launched from Rio just before the pandemic, the group is spearheaded by Ariel Dascal M.B.A. ’00, president emeritus of the UCLA Anderson Alumni Network: Brazil Chapter, and chief digital officer of Rede D’Or São Luiz, the largest network of private hospitals in Brazil.
Dascal has attracted Bruins like Pedro Borges M.S. ’16. Founder of an Internet of Things company, Borges was alone in Bruinhood in the capital city of Brasília. Excited by the Bruin Angels do Brasil project, he quickly became active in the group, eager to invest in the future of Brazil. The chapter created an endowment to give scholarships to Brazilians who are accepted into the UCLA Anderson School of Management M.B.A. program; eight years in, the initiative has already funded the education of 12 Brazilian students, with five more currently enrolled. “This scholarship is making a bond among the Brazilian alumni,” Dascal says. “Some of the earlier sponsored students who are now successful in their professions are becoming donors.”
Global Entertainment. Sports. Travel. Experiences.
Wimbledon 2009. A 16-hour line overflows from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, and Navin Sharma M.B.A. ’07 is in it. To him, a 16-hour wait is well worth it to sit in that hallowed stadium and watch legends such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “It’s something you’ve been watching on television all these years, and then you’re actually there,” he says. “The players are literally five, ten feet away from you.”
Sharma has spent his adult life chasing such thrills, a journey that began at UCLA. “I got to see a lot more live sports,” he says. “I started traveling to watch live sports events. I mean, L.A. is good for that.” Now he’s fulfilling similar wishes for legions of sports and music fans as COO of DreamSetGo, a premium travel and sports subsidiary of India’s largest sports technology company.
But Sharma has another important role, that of connecting people with memorable moments as the Mumbai UCLA Alumni Network president. Getting Bruins together there can be challenging, as many Indian Bruins don’t return to live in their homeland after graduating, and Sharma is rebuilding the network following the COVID shutdowns. The New Bruin Send-off event this past summer was a great success, bringing in a diverse mix of people — Bruin entrepreneurs, diplomats and doctoral students and, of course, new Bruin admits and their families. Sharma hopes such experiences will ensure that the new UCLA students depart from Mumbai for Westwood feeling both prepared and inspired.
On his travels, it’s almost inevitable that Sharma will run into Bruins — whether by design or destiny. “In 2014, I was in Brazil for the World Cup,” he says. “In Rio, I was staying in a six-bed mixed dorm room. One of the girls turned out to be a UCLA law student.”
Yet another great advantage of being a Bruin: Sharma has instant access to local insiders wherever he finds himself as he crisscrosses the globe searching for new live experiences. As he puts it simply, “I think we’re lucky to have people we know all across the world.”
Group Chat Captain
People often assume Brian Hyunmin Han ’12 is the alumni network president in South Korea. Maybe that’s because he’s everywhere. Or it could be because he created and operates the UCLA Korean alumni group chat on Kakaotalk (basically, the WhatsApp of South Korea) that consists of roughly 430 Korean Bruins from around the world participating. Han travels around Seoul making time to meet with or help a steady flowing stream of fellow Bruins at coffee chats and impromptu meetups.
He makes connections outside of South Korea, too. Through events like the UCLA Alumni Asia Networks Leadership Conference, Han has extended his network to encompass the whole Asia-Pacific region. He’s the founder of Singapore-based StarX Ventures, which invests in and accelerates Web-3 companies, as well as the Young Birds Club, an exclusive, invitation-only NFT membership group. Han says there’s no better ice-breaker than stating his UCLA pedigree. “It gives me a good elevator pitch,” he says of meeting other Bruins in Asia. “‘Oh, I went to the same school, but I work in blockchain, targeting a global audience.’ It’s a good opener, because people always want to learn about high-tech, crypto or NFTs. It helps me.”
As a connector-in-chief, Han draws on seemingly infinite reserves of energy and empathy. He sees the group chat helping members with business and career opportunities, including Korean Bruins who may live in Singapore, China, London or Boston. He reviews résumés and offers advice to those looking to change professions, and he enjoys getting together one-on-one with other alums to reminisce about life in Westwood. “I’m just glad that I can help Bruins,” Han says. “They actually inspire me.”
The Justice Makers
In Spring 2017, Karen Tse J.D. ’90 took to the stage at the UCLA Law Women LEAD Summit. With her characteristic passion and magnetism (see her TED Talk), she spoke about the work she has done as CEO of International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) for human rights. IBJ’s goal is to increase access to justice systems, especially in developing countries, where that access can often be impossible to find.
Kristi Ueda ’14, J.D. ’19 was enthralled as she watched Tse on stage. The law school student shamelessly followed — or in Ueda’s words, “stalked” — Tse from room to room, panel to panel. At one of the last panels of the day, Ueda finally made her move, rushing up to Tse as she came off the stage. “I love your work,” declared Ueda. “I love your organization. How can I come to Geneva to intern for you?”
Though completely caught off guard, Tse was impressed. A few months later, IBJ had a new Bruin intern in Switzerland. “That summer absolutely changed everything for me,” says Ueda. “It was such a great experience.”
She watched and participated with IBJ staff on calls communicating with local staff in various countries. Ueda says it was a wonder to witness what it takes to coordinate so many offices, programs and JusticeMakers around the world. And Ueda was also able to accompany Tse to high-level meetings.
She met lots of other Bruins in Geneva, where a huge number of human rights and U.N. workers congregate. Two of IBJ’s founding board members are UCLA Law alumni — Francis James J.D. ’90 and Mia Yamamoto J.D. ’71. In meetings and happy hours, Bruins were everywhere. One day, Ueda was in an Old Town café when she spotted a woman sporting UCLA gear. When Ueda approached her, she learned that the woman had gone to UCLA School of Law and was now a corporate lawyer and in town for a meeting.
Anne Werner ’22 had a similar experience as an intern at IBJ in 2021. “I adored my summer in Geneva,” she says. During Werner’s six weeks in Switzerland, her work primarily consisted of supporting local legal defense resource centers in different parts of the world. She fondly remembers IBJ’s office traditions. When interns leave, they receive a blessing and have a poem read to them by the staff. “Ms. Tse gives all the interns small gifts when they leave,” says Werner, who studied political science and international development. “She gave me a little charm bracelet. It was so sweet and really special.”
As for Ueda, who now works in litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, she and Tse ended up getting along famously. Tse invited the young law student over to her home on several occasions that summer in Geneva, and the two remain close. “It all worked out,” says Ueda. “All the puzzle pieces came together. Good thing I stalked her, I guess!”
Read the amazing story behind a global 50-year-old alumni tradition: Dinner for 12 Strangers.
Life Is a Ball
It may not sound like it when you hear her speak, but Victoria Frost ’07 was born in London. However, as the daughter of a chef for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, she found herself regularly on the move; the family eventually ended up in Santa Barbara, where Frost attended junior high and high school — and presumably picked up her ambiguously American accent. After excelling in academics there, Frost made her way to UCLA, where she quickly became ensconced in residential life. Hall council, residence assistant, dance marathon, tutoring club, Undergraduate Students Association — Frost found that she loved being a part of organizations and meeting new people.
She’s been involved in student life at higher education institutions ever since, turning it into a career that’s taken her to Florida, Italy and, finally, back to the U.K. Frost is currently deputy head of student services for the London School of Economics and Political Science. She also serves as the UCLA U.K. Network alumni president, the UC Alumni U.K. Board secretary for engagement, and co-chair of the UC Alumni U.K. Gala Planning Committee.
Apart from being a sparkling affair where the dress code is black-tie masquerade, the springtime gala is the biggest annual fundraiser for the University of California Trust (U.K.), with the funds allocated for study-abroad scholarships. The gala regularly draws upward of 130 attendees, representing all the UCs, with the biggest contingents hailing from UCLA and Berkeley.
Indeed, the ties between the UC and UCLA alumni in London are strong. “I was at a wedding this past weekend,” says Frost. “There were six of us there from UCs there who know each other from this network. It’s lovely to have developed those friendships.”
Her upbringing in Sydney, Australia, prepared Samantha D’Souza ’18 for UCLA and for a professional life that necessitates skipping from continent to continent. She and her sisters were raised by Indian immigrant parents who encouraged them to explore music, athletics, academics and culture. As a teen, seeing her all-girl schoolmates enroll in American universities planted the seed in her mind to pursue an education abroad.
She challenged herself to get into a college from the U.S. top-20 list, but then almost missed the deadline for UC applications. At the last minute, she typed out two raw, emotional, unproofed essays — one about a friend’s mother who had passed away, and another about her parents and the sacrifices they had made — and submitted them with only moments to spare. In the spring of 2014, she learned she had been accepted at UCLA — news that almost sent her tumbling down the stairs as she rushed to share her excitement with her sister.
A former president of the UCLA Student Alumni Association and now a member of the UCLA Alumni Board of Directors, today D’Souza is a creative strategist, producer and storyteller for act.3, a global marketing agency. She recently wrapped up a six-month stint in Cape Town, South Africa, where she produced a docuseries tracing the paths of 11 women as each embarks on their first marathon. As a runner who once trained with UCLA’s track and field coach and later served as track and field team manager, D’Souza calls it her “dream project.”
In traveling North America, Australia, Africa and beyond, she has realized just how far the Bruin network extends. “I have this amazing network of wonderful people who care about me and my future,” she says, “who will lead me to other wonderful people who also care — and whom I care about.”
The Long Way Home
Founder and president of the Vietnam Alumni Network, Ken Dat Duong is a lawyer, serial entrepreneur, investor, and, most recently, new coffee shop owner in Ho Chi Minh City. In 1983, when Duong was 2 years old, his family escaped Vietnam as boat people. They eventually settled in north Orange County, where Duong grew up. When it came time for college, he chose to attend UCLA, where he studied economics and double minored in computer specialization and Spanish before continuing on to law school.
While at UCLA, Duong traveled to Spain with UC’s Education Abroad Program; during law school, he studied in Thailand and interned at Vietnamese law firms. Once he graduated and passed the bar, he launched his international law firm, establishing an office in Orange County and another in Ho Chi Minh City. In 2015, he moved back to Vietnam to coincide with the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership and other Southeast Asian free trade agreements; he foresaw that the country would be overflowing with unique business opportunities.
The 2016 launch of the Vietnam alumni network helped Duong broaden his own network in the Asia-Pacific region. His firm subsequently expanded to include offices in Thailand and Singapore. The Vietnam Bruins count entrepreneurs, corporate executives, teachers and film producers among their members. Today, the happy hours Duong arranges often have more than 30 Bruins in attendance; Ho Chi Minh City alumni host “welcome to the city” events, Dinners for 12 Strangers and New Bruin Send-offs. The alums attend basketball games and speak on panels together.
Duong speaks about the other Asia-Pacific networks that are well developed — those in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea — where former prime ministers or vice ministers of countries and chairpersons of large corporations are affiliated with UCLA. The region’s alumni events offer unique opportunities to rub elbows with such prominent figures. But each one, Duong says, is humble enough that he was able to approach them and just strike up a casual conversation.
Lately, Duong is the one having to field requests from strangers. “Many people come to my coffee shop through my YouTube channel,” Duong says. “Three days ago, someone came in and asked me, ‘Are you Ken? I know you went to UCLA.’ I proudly put that on my Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s the most recognizable affiliation that I have.”
Recipe for a Bruin
Given all their worldly experience and innumerable encounters with alumni on different continents and in various contexts, we asked our global Bruins one burning question: Just what are the qualities that make a Bruin a Bruin?
Kristi Ueda ’14, J.D. ’19: Brightness, sunniness, visionary.
Samantha D’Souza ’18: Curiosity, empathy.
Ken Dat Duong ’04: Being driven, down-to-earth.
Victoria Frost ’07: We are passionate.
Pedro Borges M.S. ’16: Bruins are high-achieving, cool people.
Brian Hyunmin Han ’12: We’re laidback, willing to help others.
Navin Sharma M.B.A. ’07: UCLA folks are open, friendly, collaborative.
Around the World in 13 Songs
Here are the tracks that define the experience of being a Bruin overseas, according to the alums whose journeys are chronicled at each stop along our global tour.
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Winter 2023 issue.