Friday, May 31, 2013

The many paths to global moxie

Global moxie is dedicated to bringing you stories of international professionals, and the details of how they got to where they are now - where did they find those opportunities? What risks did they take? What would they do differently, and what would they do all over again? These narratives provide a fresh lens through which we all might view our options differently, taking stock of what we have, and where we might go with our skills.

This week, we met with Gina London, an American expat living in Arezzo with her husband, Scott, and their daughter Lulu. Gina's a woman with more than a few stories to tell, but I was interested in her path to - and through - her international career. She's worked for CNN. She's distinguished herself professionally in Romania, Egypt, Cambodia, Macedonia, Jordan, and Iraq. She's a journalist and a writer, a student of the world with a wide heart, and curiosity to match.

Gina grew up in the American Midwest - Indiana - the eldest daughter. She never studied abroad - a decision she came to regret - held back, as so many young women can be, by the exigencies of college boyfriends. She graduated in Journalism, and moved to CNN - a reporter! It was a heady time. CNN was new then; there were opportunities everywhere. Yet Gina still felt she was missing something - that international experience. 

She learned about an opportunity with Freedom House, a journalism not-for-profit, to become their country director for Romania - then just emerging from the most brutal Communist dictatorship of the Cold War. (Told by a Romanian friend, "You probably do not know anything about Romania apart from the orphanages and Transylvania," Gina thought, in shock, "Transylvania is a place?!") She went for what was to have been three months, extending three times until she had been in Bucharest for a year. It was a life-changing experience to learn about this history from the other side of the looking-glass, and to see firsthand the effects of Communism on a people and a culture. The girl from Indiana was in a very different place indeed - and she liked it. She developed the sensitivity that comes from living in-country and out of the bubble; she saw her own identity change as she clarified who I am versus the person I'd like to be.   

She returned to CNN, staying anther six years, then moved to Denver to work for IRI (International Republican Institute) as an elections media consultant in emerging democracies - as she had done in Romania before. She worked with political candidates to help them manage their message - and stay in message - in diverse electorates, from Indonesia to Cambodia to Macedonia, using that cultural sensitivity that she'd cultivated in Romania (a similar program is NDI [National Democratic Institute]). Eventually, she found herself in Cairo working for IRI as the first resident country director for Egypt; however, the political became personal, and she received death threats. She wisely moved on. And out of Egypt.

Gina and her family now live in Italy as an academically-affiliated family; her husband is an artist, and works and takes classes at the the very international Accademia dell'Arte, nestled in the Tuscan hills outside of Arezzo. Gina is busy now consulting for media and communications, when she is not holding a Lincoln-Webster debate with the precocious Lulu. She's also recently published a lovely volume of anecdotes and cultural observations as a parent abroad, Because I'm Small Now and You Love Me: The World According to My Four-Year-Old.

The campus of L'Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy
Gina's distilled life wisdom to global moxie? "Go soon - do not wait! Move past your fears. Embrace the heightened experience that comes from living abroad, and choose to be close to the local culture."

Learn more about Gina at
Gina London in Arezzo - if you're here, get a budino di riso (rice pudding) from  Pasticceria De Cenci (background)!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"Opal," continued - "The Amazing Race" - and the Wisdom of Ireland

You remember Opal - our first success story from March. 

I recently checked in with Opal to find out how she is doing, six months after returning to the US from Italy, moving in Los Angeles, and working as a television producer for the show "The Amazing Race."

Opal is an eloquent writer, so I'll let her speak for herself.

"I have changed for the better since I've returned from abroad. After returning, I moved to a completely new place. Los Angeles is home to people from all over America and the world. It's very rare to run into someone that is actually born and raised in Los Angeles. Although I've always thought of myself as an open-minded individual, traveling and talking with different cultures prepared me for this new life. It's a big place to live and can be overwhelming. Finding and building relationships with people is your biggest asset, and the best way to find your place in this large city. Making relationships with people from different backgrounds abroad has opened me to new relationships here.

"I work with so many people from abroad - the Netherlands, Germany, Chile, name it. My colleagues travel the world on a daily basis. As much as I love to hear about their backgrounds, they are just as interested to hear my take on my time abroad. It gives us a common thread. Most of my job interview was discussing travel. We barely talked about my credentials for the job, but rather connected through how passionate we both were about the places we had been.
Guy in Ireland.
"Travel is the most rewarding experience. It opens your eyes to new adventures and lifestyles. I'll never forget what a guy in Ireland told me. "The best thing," he said, "that a person can do is to see how others live and experience new places. Seeing these things might change your opinions or your beliefs, or simply give you a new outlook on life. You must hold on to this when you return to your home. Do not forget what you learned while traveling." I try to remember this every day. I can't wait until I can go off to see new places in the future.
"The highs and lows of living abroad changed me: the language barriers, the missed flights, the random strangers, the lifelong friendships. It was more that traveling; it was making relationships and experiencing the days without itineraries that made all the difference." 
On a globalmoxie footnote, I'd like to add that, as a young independent traveler in 1995, I too was inspired and comforted by the spirit of the Irish, writing "let me be as happy and as trusting as the Irish, and as brave to meet what is new - people and places alike." There is something about Ireland that just really clicks for many Americans. If you haven't been - go. Rent a bike, cycle between pubs, have a cuppa and a slice of soda bread with real Irish butter, listen to local folk music, soak in the sea air and peat smoke. It will change you.
Letterfrack, Ireland, Co. Galway

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

She is the very model of a global moxie general

Friends, Romans, lend me your ears.

Today I'd like to shine a spotlight of global moxie on a woman whose efforts and successes truly merit mention. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma (Letters, Italian, European Studies); indeed, she hails from Oklahoma City, the very heart of Tornado Alley.

While an undergraduate at OU, Lauren studied abroad in Bologna, Italy - widely acknowledged at that time as the deep end of the study abroad pool. Bologna's a big city; with one of Europe's four oldest universities, the place is literally swarming with college students. You have to be brave, and linguistically confident to dive into this one. Lauren did - and like so many others whose stories I've been told, the first half of her Bologna experience was fairly terrifying. Oral exams in Italian. Huge classes. Brusque professors. And, it must be said, a fleeting sense of failure as she struggled to meet academic expectations. At one point, a professor of Church History cut her oral exam short, and recommended that she go somewhere and read for a few months before returning to attempt it again.
Bologna's arcades in the center of town.
But it got easier. She made friends. Bologna became smaller and more manageable (it's a city close to my heart). Who could fail to be comforted by the food there? Tortellini al brodo, crisp pizzas drizzled with spicy oil ... lasagna casalinga. She hit the books, and her Italian got better. She went back and passed the Church History oral exam. She went home with an Italian friend for the Christmas holidays, and the gentle hug of that family stayed with her forever - in  particular, the utter lack of commercialism in their holiday celebrations. A family party where an adult daughter was overjoyed to receive a bottle of shower gel as a gift. Because the real gift in that family was being together, sharing time and space together, eating together.

Lauren fell deeply in love with Italy. She decided she would stay. 

The mythical Rome spreads forward from St. Peter's Square

So, in 2008, after she'd completed her bachelor's degrees, Lauren applied to a graduate program in Rome through an American University (St. Johns, in New York), and got funded through student loans since all her credit was transcripted in the US (very clever, that). Her program in International Government and Politics required an off-site internship in Rome. It went very well. She finished her master's degree in 2008. One thing led to another, and five years later, she's still in Rome.
Her career has taken off in the direction of writing, editing, and translation; she takes time to mentor undergraduate students on study abroad (as she did here, in Arezzo, this spring - below.)

Lauren said a few things that really stayed with me when I sat down to interview her in April.

First, all her jobs in Italy came from the resilient network of friends and colleagues. Not once has she applied for a position listed publicly, American-style. The Rome internship led to other not-for-profit positions in editorial and press pools. As her colleagues began to see that Lauren was, in fact, intent on staying in Italy, they began to give her referrals to new contracts and to new jobs. She took a risk, and stayed - and it paid off, both professionally and personally.

Second, Lauren spoke very movingly about how Italy had changed her - for the better. Her time in Bologna took her off the frenetic award track of America. A self-confessed study nut, Lauren's undergraduate self at OU would barely take time off to have a coffee, so permeated was her world view and approach with American go-getter-ness. She remembered that undergraduate time as one of a discontented competition. What was all the rush for? Why did she want to get ahead, what did "ahead" look like, and why was it a problem if someone else arrived there first? Her months in Italy changed this. She began to appreciate small things - an espresso, a morning walk through the arcades - a talk with a friend. The way a family can sit down and spend and afternoon together in the living room in Italy, and no one is trying to run errands, go shopping, or rake leaves. Italy helped Lauren slow down and truly define her goals - ultimately, becoming more of the person she always was.

Another story of true global moxie. Follow Lauren online at
Monica and Lauren in the classroom at OU in Arezzo, before her hosted talk with students.