By Christine Cloonan, former Rotary Scholar
I first heard about the Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship during a coffee meeting with a fellow member of a women’s business network now known as Ellevate Network. My life path prior to that had been clear, but not always direct.
My goal was to study to get the best education I could with the ultimate purpose of getting a “good job.” But to the bafflement of my older relatives, landing on that good job took a bit of exploring. My first job was with a law firm, which convinced me not to go to law school. Accepting a one year teaching fellowship, I began a five year teaching career and earned a Master of Spanish at Middlebury College. I then developed an “itch” to go abroad to perfect my language skills and explore new places.
Over coffee, my colleague, who like me was a native New Englander, spoke about the Ambassadorial Scholarship and all the various opportunities that it had led to in her life. She emphasized why it is important to take “calculated risks.” This conversation became a turning point both personally and professionally.
After searching around for a sponsor, the Rotary Club of Andover, Massachusetts, invited me to breakfast so I could share my proposal to study in Argentina. They liked it, and after interviewing with the 10-person district committee, I received a letter – nearly a year after my initial conversation in the coffee shop – that I had been awarded a scholarship of around $25,000.
I was fortunate to be able to travel to Argentina solo for 10 days before making a decision whether to accept the scholarship, and as a result of university visits, decided to request a change of institution and apply to the Master of Finance Program at la Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Argentina.
In March of 2009, I landed in Buenos Aires, with the excitement of a 10 year old. One of the reasons I liked the Rotary scholarship was the emphasis it had on community and my first evening there proved the point. Prior to leaving Boston, I had emailed all of the scholars who would be spending the year with me in Buenos Aires. One of them invited me to join him and some others at their apartment for dinner the night I arrived – what a way to avoid the repercussions of jet lag!
Having other Rotary scholars, and Rotary members in a host club, helped me shoulder the burden of adjusting to a new culture, language, and program in a new field. During the year, while studying and building friendships at the university, I took part in dinners, meetings, and events with the Rotary Club of Nueva Pompeya and other clubs around Buenos Aires, introducing me to the diversity that is Buenos Aires.
My favorite story is from a trip a fellow scholar and I took to Tierra del Fuego, often referred to as El Fin del Mundo (or the End of the World). Taking a cab out of the airport to our hostel, we spotted a Rotary sign and decided to look up the local club. We found the location of its meetings, and the hotel concierge had us on the phone with the current president in a matter of minutes. Soon we had plans to meet her and another Rotarian for coffee, after which we were invited to join her and her husband at a local night club where their friend was a DJ. We had a memorable evening of dancing to American ‘80s music with a bunch of Argentines into the wee hours of the morning.
On a personal level, my scholarship enabled me to become more outgoing, confident and personable. It taught me that there really is no clear path in life and that one just has to go with its natural flow.
My professional trajectory also changed. I began working for American Tower, a wireless infrastructure company based in Boston, which had been the subject of my master’s thesis, as a Senior Financial Analyst with a focus on operations in Latin America
I encourage anyone, especially those facing a crossroad, to take a “calculated risk” and submit your application. It will be the first step in the journey of a lifetime.
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Following her 2009 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, Christine Cloonan began working in the wireless industry and was selected as the 2013 Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum Fellow. She is currently President of the Boston Chapter of Ellevate, a global women’s business network. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, Master’s degree from Middlebury College and a Master’s degree from la Universidad Torcuato di Tella.