I could not find a better moment to open this blog that this turning point, when my life comes into a new, undiscovered stage. New Year’s Eve 2010 will close a fascinating period that began some three and a half years ago, when I entered the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade Training Program for Young Professionals (the Program). Although I had already taken steps into becoming a professional of international trade, the Program shaped my career to a much further extent.
Becoming a Master
It all started with a highly selective procedure held over a four-month period. Nearly 1.000 candidates took tests on psychological skill, English proficiency, business writing and, finally, a personal interview. Only 300 of us gained a place in the Master in International Business Administration given by CECO (Centro de Estudios Económicos y Comerciales) in Madrid. The next seven months, as one professor put it, “would require blood, sweat and tears.”
The Master is hardly conventional: it condensed well over a year of contents in seven months. But the most stressful side was the competitive nature of the degree. Only 240 of the 300 who started the Master in December 2007 would be granted a traineeship in the network of Trade Commissions of the Spanish Embassies. What is more, the higher you placed in the ranking, the better chance to get a good destination (with the U.S. and China leading the charts).
I took the task seriously from day one. We usually spent the whole day at CECO, and had to study either at night or on weekends. We had continuous evaluations, group work, essays and simulations. We worked, we strived, we argued, we loved and we learned. We learned a great deal. At the end, my first grey hair became apparent, and I got 22nd position.
The Magic City
There was a two-week delay until the grant of destinations, so I enjoyed a relaxing trip to Lisbon with my classmates feeling confident. It was a Tuesday morning when the destination list was published on the internet. I had been chosen as Trainee for the Trade Commission of Spain in Miami, Florida, U.S.A., and I was ecstatic.
For one, twelve years after graduating from Quincy High School, I was back to the States. And then there was Miami, the beaches, the cars, the international allure: a Land of Opportunity with a Latin touch.
Behind the glitz, I quickly found that Miami was much more than that. It was “the” place to be for every major player in Latin American business, a prime financial center with a flourishing cultural scene where the U.S.A, Europe and Latin America met.
I arrived in early October, and was appointed to the Cultural Industries and Services Department, under the dynamic direction of Ignacio Domínguez, a Madrid-born thirty-something with an MBA and an unlimited passion for business. I had to learn fast, Ignacio held daily brainstorming sessions where he pushed me to be proactive, resolute and creative.
The paramount event upon arrival was the 1st Spain-Florida Business Conference, inaugurated by H.M. Juan Carlos I with a focus on renewable energies. Under the guidance of Ignacio, I drew the agendas for business meetings, developing carefully researched profiles. I was encouraged to suggest new ideas and present business opportunities to the participants, and today I am aware that some profitable deals were made on both sides.
As an anecdote, just the day before the big event a bad fall resulted in a broken bone in my right hand, I spent part of the night at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach but I wouldn’t have missed the interviews, so I was punctually at the Four Seasons Hotels to receive the delegates. Everything worked out fine at the end, although I was only able to give shakes with my left hand!
The rest of 2009 was a quick learning process. I helped develop the promotional strategy for the campaigns “Study in Spain” (Education Services), “America Reads Spanish” (Publishing) and “Audiovisual from Spain”/ “Sounds from Spain” (Audiovisual and Music Industries). This included sharing my time between deskwork and fieldwork. While I enjoyed doing careful market research and web design (see www.spainedu.org for some example), I just loved the tradeshow preparation and deployment.
I participated directly in five tradeshows and one promotional event:
Florida Media Market (10/2008)
Miami Book Fair (11/2008)
NATPE Market (01/2009)
Book Expo of America (05/2009)
Study in Spain 1st Annual Meeting and Prize Awarding (05/2009)
American Library Association Annual Conference (07/2009)
All of them were vibrant and energetic marketplaces, byproducts of the biggest marketplace in the world (the U.S.). There I learned that preparation is essential, that the smallest failure costs a lot and that improvisation skills are useful… when you are prepared.
For many Spanish companies, these events were the thermometer by which they would predict next-year sales, so they had made their homework, and I had to be up to their expectations: booth design, shipment of materials, advertising, agendas, business support, and detection of new opportunities, everything had to be carried out well, and fast!
Despite Ignacio’s apprising letter of recommendation, pointing out my skill in tradeshow organization, I do know I could have performed better. I left behind several tradeshow reports containing this self-criticism. Some of them may still be reviewed on ICEX website (www.icex.es).
I left Miami on October 2009 with a mixture of sadness and excitation. There I had grown into an international trade pro, and into a worldly young man. But my future was to be decided: ahead was one month of interviewing with Spanish companies in need of young trainees. These interviews were prepared to match companies’ and candidates’ interests, but in practice there was fierce competition among us. However, I made no more than one interview.
Back to College
I met Carlos López-Terradas on a warm October morning in Universidad Carlos III’s Campus in Getafe. Carlos is the International Relations Office Director, an enthusiastic man with a deep knowledge of his business. I had never been to this University before, but I fell immediately in love with her.
Founded in 1989, Universidad Carlos III was built on former military barracks located in southern Madrid. It was the first public university created under democratic rule, and its freethinking, optimistic spirit is still fresh in the air. After half an hour of getting to know each other, I was ready to sign for them.
I quickly became acquainted with the International Relations Office Team. Carlos, the Coach, had a well-oiled machine working on all cylinders. The University had experienced an unprecedented international expansion since 2007 and there were big plans to put into practice.
My duties there could be defined as multi-task. In formal meetings I was introduced as International Education Coordinator, which in turn meant I was ascribed to three different departments: The International Reception Office: in charge of the legal and logistic counseling to foreign faculty. The Non-European Mobility Department: in charge of international agreements and double degrees outside the European Union. And the European Mobility Department: in charge of the European educational programs.
Any given day before lunch I could obtain a residence card for a U.S. Professor, prepare an international agreement with Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, and solve an asymmetrical Erasmus agreement with Science Po in Paris. Then in the afternoon I might apply for European funds in the Jean Monnet program.
This all was possible thanks to one of the best teams I have ever worked with. Elisa, Blanca and David are committed and resourceful individuals, who do not stop before any difficulty. They made working at Carlos III easy and fun and the results are there to impress.
I am particularly proud of having been able to fit in and be an important part of all three departments, and I did my bit on most projects going on at international level. However, my fondest memories are on the human part of the job: the constant encouragement from my colleagues, or the sincere gratefulness of one foreign professor when together we overcame an immigration barrier.
The University received well my enthusiasm and offered a renewal to my one-year contract. It was actually a gift, considering the economic scenario and the competitive nature of hiring in the public sector. Then, why am I writing of a new stage in my life from Paris at 4:30 PM this 2010 New Year’s Eve?
The Leitmotiv of my refusal is written in the heading of the blog you are currently reading: I feel passion for excellence. Excellence is the skill to overcome barriers and difficulties, while maintaining a high degree of performance. Excellence means giving it all, and seating calmly at the end of the day knowing you have tried your best, regardless of the results.
Universidad Carlos III had one of the best teams ever. They had made the best of me, and they were obviously well-suited to continue without my bit of help. I communicated my decision, which was well understood and I started making plans for my next adventure: back on the road.
Ever since I was sent to the small mid-western town of Quincy, I have feared and searched the challenge of living abroad. There is a mixture of excitement and worry in the prospect of a new destination. Language barriers, bureaucratic demands, cultural differences… the settlement process is already demanding, but this time was different, I was no longer under the auspices of a certain mission, this time I was on my own.
And here I am, in the midst of change on a cold Parisian evening, waiting for the old year dying. I have high hopes for 2011. I know I will find troubles on my way, but I also know that I am prepared for them, and through this blog, I want you to witness my modest striving for excellence, at the end of which I only want to be able to quote Conrad: Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.