There is so much to think about as we prepare for college and career. A lot of us get caught up in the excitement of going to college that it becomes hard to focus on the end-game which is to have a career. I made the same mistake 17 years ago; coming back with a MBA from a year in Europe and really not looking for a career but for a job.
I speak a lot about my time in Europe because it changed my life. I tell some funny stories about growing up in a small town (Staten Island) and having the experience be everyone pairs up quite young – some people wind up staying with the same friends, the same people for their whole lives. I have the best of both worlds for this and I have shared a few things via Instagram (@thenext_step123) about going to my former high school for a pitch to provide my college and career readiness seminar and getting texts from two ladies I graduated with uhm 22 years ago and who I still consider close friends!
For me, getting the chance to live in Europe and get my MBA changed my life. I learned to speak another language, how to live on my own and made lifelong friends all over the world now in addition to the friends I had in the USA.
I encourage every group I speak to and all of my students to consider living and studying abroad. I do a mini-economics lesson in it, too.
Mini Economics Lesson
When I moved to Roma in 1998, the Lira was still the currency of Italy. The framework was being laid for the Euro – as we know the idea of a European Union had begun many years before the time I was living there but it was the beginning of planning to execute and move to a single currency. My apartment I found was on the same block as the St John’s University Rome Italy campus and was beautiful – two bedrooms, a large living room, dining room area and a nice little kitchen with a washing machine in the kitchen (an actual washing machine – in the apartment) oh and floor to ceiling windows a back yard / patio area and more. From my front door of the building, I could see the cupola of St Peter’s (the Vatican). My rent for my share of the apartment with two other students? About $250 USD a month or about 300,000 Lire.
It was a wonderful time to have US dollars and I was able to travel and explore and study. When the Euro was launched, the costs went up without changing the wages. So a pack of gum that costs 2500lire was now 2.50euro. However, salaries did not change as aggressively. If you made for example 300,000lire a week, you did not now make 300euro a week but the exact translation between 300,000lire ($250USD or $200Euro – depending on the exchange rate).
My mini-economic lesson is that issue with the exchange rate from the country's origin currency to the Euro. There was a huge transition in terms of making the monthly budgets work on the micro-level for each family. Compound this with the mindset and culture of most of Europe (asides from Germany and UK), which is to work to live and not to live to work. These countries had in the past the ability to move and change their fiscal policies, their deficits on a per country basis and now with austerity measures could not move an inch on their own. This has led to some disasters (notably Greece) and now there are rumblings that the grand experiment of the Euro, the plan of the European Union becoming the "United States of Europe " might be dismantled.
There is an art to living in most of Europe - again, where people work to live and not live to work. I tell my students all of the time to consider their living arrangements, how many cars they own in their houses and even down to how many tv’s they have and compare it to what people in other cultures, countries have. I can speak from experience for Italy that most people live in small-ish apartments, maybe family of 5 in one apartment and one car per family (but potentially 2 motorinos - scooters) and maybe 1 television.
On Career Readiness
As we continue to build out our careers and growth plans, it is imperative to learn about another country and culture. As much as we are more interconnected now and able to gain voyeur status into other countries’ other people’s lives, there is nothing like immersing yourself in a new country a new culture and exposing your growing mind to a new perspective. I know that living abroad at 21 changed my life for the better. I look back and cannot believe how lucky I was, how much I changed by those 11 months living outside of US. I went from a typical Staten Island girl who thought I knew a lot because I had a BS in Marketing, I was class valedictorian, etc to really opening my eyes and realizing how much I really still needed to learn and how much was really still out there.
I encourage all of my students and seminar participants to consider traveling, living, studying and working abroad. As my clients (and even me) get older and have more responsibilities (read bills, children etc) it becomes harder and harder for people to pick up and go. The window is really most open during the time of college and right after (or before) to travel, explore and in so doing to find ourselves.
This ability to travel and to live somewhere else gives you insight unlike any studying can give you - it makes you realize how interconnected the world is and how different the world is at the same time. When you are born and raised in NYC or another big city in the United States, you run the risk of being very self-centered in that you know how things are done here and you want to apply that thinking to other places, other countries. Learning on the ground in another country forces you to recognize the phallacy of your thinking, your one size fits all marketing plan - it makes you more marketable to hiring managers who also know that the world is a large place. Adding in the ability to learn to speak another language and you can be even more competitive. I cannot tell you how many of my clients do not realize the power of their alternate languages and the difference they see with just that one addition to their resume under Languages - adding that in can lead to interviews, job offers and more.
For me and my language skills, my goal is to continue my Italian language skills and I do a little bit every week –try to watch one Italian movie per week, read the news in Italian via my Facebook feed oh and now I just downloaded Elena Ferrante’s first book in the Neopolitan series in both Italian and English and I am going back and forth between the Italian and the English to refresh and learn new vocabulary. I would say that each Chapter in Italian I read (before the English), I am comprehending between 30 and 50% of the story - I want to get to a point where I do not NEED to read the English to comprehend the chapter.
The hardest thing about keeping a language is the lack of words to express how you feel. I do try to speak in Italian to my children but I find myself struggling over vocabulary more than conjugation. It is a struggle but one to keep me even busier than I am. Teacher, Educator, Speaker, Author, Writer, Mom and More… keep learning to keep focused and happy, too. And pack your bags to explore the world! What do you think?
Lisa Vento Nielsen