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 http://ginalondon.com/.

Gina London in Arezzo – if you’re here, get a budino di riso (rice pudding) from  Pasticceria De Cenci (background)!

"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, Australia…you 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

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 fro
m 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 http://www.mediterraneanmoves.blogspot.it/.

Monica and Lauren in the classroom at OU in Arezzo, before her hosted talk with students.

The Moore tornado: picking up the pieces

The damage of the Moore tornado was visible in the morning light a week ago today – and it was breathtaking. Worse than the 1999 twister that mowed a path from Newcastle to Stroud, finally losing steam south of Tulsa. More than 13,000 buildings destroyed. 24 fatalities. Over $2 billion in damage. There was a greater loss of life in the 1999 tornado, but this 2013 tornado will have a far greater economic impact as people start picking up the pieces, making their lists, and trying to figure out where to start to rebuild.

The funnel’s path tracked just 15 km north of our Norman house, on Classen Boulevard. Too close for comfort, even from abroad. Had we been home, this would have been the fourth spring in a row that we would have taken shelter with a tornado on the ground in the vicinity. Tornadoes seem to be stronger than they did when I was a kid, growing up in Oklahoma. Or are our weather news and alerts just better?

The Italians in Arezzo continue to ask us questions about the tornado. They want to know if everyone is ok. They want to know if more tornadoes will happen. (“Definitely,” I tell them.) I, for my part, am regularly checking social media for news and updates about my friend and colleague Robyn, who suffered a catastrophic loss of property in the twister. She is doing ok, and even better, they were reunited with her dog, the faithful Mona, on Friday evening. Mona is recovering from her adventure; aside from some minor medical issues, by all accounts, she is in good shape, and will be back to her playful self soon. A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone around the world who made contributions large and small to Robyn and Ivan’s fund at http://www.gofundme.com/robynivan (still accepting donations, and no, it’s not too late.)

Global moxie happens every day. You know what it is? It’s when the world feels small, in a really good way, and accessible. Global moxie is reaching far and finding that, in fact, it is very close.

How to help tornado victims in Oklahoma: one family at a time

Robyn has been heard from as she and Ivan come up for air amidst their recovery.
From Robyn: I have been reading all of your thoughtful messages although I may not be replying to all. Your outpouring of love and support has been amazing. Some have asked where they can send supplies/care packages. Below is an address where you can send items: 
Ivan&Robyn 
c/o Kelly Long
517 NW 42nd St.
OKC, OK 73118
Contact Kelly at kellyrubylong@hotmail.com for specific questions about needs or donations for Robyn and her family. Also, there have been fewer donations for her husband, Ivan, who wears 32×34 pants and a large shirt. Prepaid gift cards are also appreciated. 
If you are looking for a way to help the victims of the devastating Moore tornado, consider a donation to Robyn and Ivan. Robyn and Ivan are expecting their first child in July and they lost everything in the storm – their house is gone, and their beloved dog Mona is still missing. In moments of great need, I have the desire to help but always wonder where my money is going. Well, here is an opportunity to know exactly who you are helping. If you feel you can, please help this young new family out here, to this fund drive set up by their friends and colleagues to help them rebuild their lives. All donations will go directly to Robyn and Ivan.

Thank you to our global community, friends of the spirit, travelers, and people everywhere for helping support Robyn and Ivan during this time.This is what globalmoxie is truly all about. Distance does not diminish empathy or support. Out of sight is most definitely out of mind – for those with globalmoxie, what is often out of sight is what is most filling out hearts.
Robyn and Ivan pulled their intact front door out of the rubble yesterday.
This is an example of one of the very few things that Robyn was able to recover from what was left of their home:


2013 Oklahoma tornado – global moxie gets very local

I have been in constant touch from Italy with friends, family, and coworkers, as we work to accumulate resources for our friend and colleague, Robyn Rojas, who suffered a catastrophic loss of property in the May 20 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Skype, MagicJack, and Facebook, along with a ton of old-fashioned email, and a web-savvy friend who quickly set up a GoFundMe account to help Robyn. Robyn is eight months pregnant – due July 25 – and she and her husband lost everything in the tornado. Literally everything.

There is a picture of her in the national news, sitting on top of a pile of rubble with her mother, eating dinner out of a styrofoam to-go box, looking with frustrated disgust at some small wooden tchotchke – perhaps a napkin holder; they are sitting in what looks to have been her kitchen; it’s hard to tell – and the look on Robyn’s face says, “well, here’s something to save, I guess. I wouldn’t have set it aside as something special!”

The Italians here in Arezzo have voiced constant concern and support. In fact, Robyn’s situation was even publicized in Italian news (she is not named) here (in Italian). They all invoke their concern and dismay and grief after the terrible earthquake in L’Aquila, Abruzzo a few years ago. Many want to know why Oklahoma homes do not have basements. Many have asked us why builders were issued permits to rebuild in an area that is known for repeat targeting by tornadoes of historic strength (1999, 2003, again now 2013). All have expressed special concern for the affected elementary schools, Briarwood and Plaza Towers. They want to know why children were permitted to attend school in a building that was known to have no safe shelter from tornadoes if it is a constant headline in our weather. They are grieving with Oklahomans for the loss of young life in Moore. People around the world are asking these questions.

I am working all channels on behalf of Robyn. We have three home options lined up for them as possibilities for this summer. A short-term car loan for the summer has been offered. As soon as she is ready, she will be taken care of and will have a support network for months to come. The collections on the GoFundMe site are in the five figures now. But how much does it take to repurchase life as it was? Is it even possible to do so? Probably not. But little ways can help. They need everything. At this time, they have nowhere to store anything. (They are still indexing what was not destroyed at their house, like that napkin holder.)

If you have not donated to Robyn’s GoFundMe campaign set up by their friends and colleagues, please consider doing so here. Please. They truly need our help. I am honestly touched by the donations from around the world from people who are most likely OU international alumni – Japanese donors who survived the 2011 tsunami, Chinese alumni, latino alumni. The list of international names grows and grows. Not to mention the list of our international education colleagues from around the country – Texas, Florida, Oklahoma… companies and campuses large and small.

Robyn has plenty of global moxie herself, having traveled and danced with a company in Asia. She abroad in Mexico as an undergraduate. She speaks fluent Spanish; her husband Ivan is Colombian. In her job, she works with people from all over the world every day (I know this because we shared a cubicle wall before my husband and I came to Italy for the year.) Honestly, Robyn could have a career in diplomacy. Her attention to etiquette, kindness, and detail is incredible, and she’s putting those skills to work locally, in Norman, Oklahoma – which is home to quite a large international community, thanks to the university.

Robyn’s dog Mona has still not been found. (If you aren’t busy and have internet access, here is a picture of her dog, Mona. It has been hard to match the lost and found pets with the limited internet access in Moore. And the fact that everyone’s laptop and computer and router are gone. And all the cables connecting all the telecomm.) Shelters and owners have been posting images, but it has been hard to play the lost-pet memory game online with so many different sites, grainy images, etc. There is a good chance that Mona is fine and is in shelter somewhere. A post-tornado picture of her might be on the web. Can you help Robyn look for Mona? Owners and pets are being reunited each day. Pets are smart – they know how to survive, if it is at all possible. I know Robyn’s heart would be far less heavy if she could just hug Mona.

Photo: This is Mona for those who want to post her missing. We lived near 19th/SW149th and Santa Fe.

globalmoxie is localmoxie

Global moxie is essentially local moxie. You’re always somewhere – you can’t be everywhere at once. The global moxie eats and sleeps on planet earth.

On Monday afternoon, around 3:30, a historic tornado hit very close to home – Moore, Oklahoma, site of two other historic tornadoes in 1999 and in 2003. Destruction in the affected area is complete, again. Many University of Oklahoma staff live in Moore and commute to Norman for work, including my colleague and friend Robyn Rojas, who is the assistant director of International Student Services at OU.
So imagine that you, as a mama bird, are about ready to hatch a giant egg. You’ve got that nest all feathered and done up – daddy bird has made a crib out of twigs and leaves. Spring is here. The sun is shining. Then, one day, almost without warning, the sky goes black, and a funnel drops from the sky. Your nest is blown away. All your friends’ nests are blown away. The tree you built it in looks like some kind of fire-hydrant medusa. Your friends’ trees look the same. Hey, meanwhile, the sun is back out. You and daddy bird are fine, but what of the months of nest-building, and the perfect tree you’d picked out, and the crib you built? 
This, my friends, is what happened to Robyn on Monday. One day the thing you’re most worried about is labor and delivery, and your chidbirthing class starting soon, and cloth versus disposable diapers. Then, in the blink of an eye, a very different reality comes to you. A surreality, what with that sun shining on the wreckage. And you’re dealing with a very different, more basic, and serious set of worries, on top of the very basic and serious worries about taking care of a newborn for the first time.

As soon as the tornado left, but weather was still severe, Robyn and Ivan drove from Norman to Moore to look for their five-year-old daughter who goes to Briarwood Elementary School, in Moore. There were no fatalities reported at Briarwood, but those children looked like they had been through hell, and had kept going, as the Churchillian adage would have it, but had certainly lost some of their composure in the process. Who wouldn’t? Their little girl was pulled out from under a desk in the school. She is fine, but their whole family will have a lot of recovery and healing to do before they feel truly safe again. And maybe they never will, not after this close call.  

Spring in Oklahoma is downright schizophrenic.

We are all doing our best to help them, and to let them know that they have options, and a community support network. Robyn and Ivan are currently picking through what remains of their home. If you have not donated to their GoFundMe campaign set up by their friends and colleagues, please consider doing so here, now. Please. These are real people. This is real life.


What is global moxie?

What is global moxie? It is a plane ticket, a passport, a paycheck? Or is it a way of life, and a state of mind? Is it possible to be global when you’re at home? Does being out of country permanently change you, or the way you view the world, or the way the world views you?

Is global moxie a new pair of shoes or glasses, or is it an experience that becomes a touchstone for future endeavors? Can it be gained on a short trip abroad, or must the voyage be longer, or must one go abroad at all to find global moxie?

I am at the tail end of a year in Italy, and am mulling these questions. I’ve seen three seasons of students comes and go – summer 2012, fall 2012, and summer 2013 – and the 2013 summer students are arriving. I am wondering how the reentry experience has been for the students who have come and gone, and who are now in the US again. What has changed, what is different? Are you different? Do you feel more different than you look? I want to know.

Coming soon: the tale of Lauren Sanders, Ms. Global Moxie if I’ve ever met her, an Oklahoma girl from Midwest City who moved to Italy in 2008 and never looked back. I interviewed her last month – feature coming soon. Stay close!