We sat down (digitally) with William (Billy) Coons, a CEA alumnus who went abroad to Barcelona in Spring 2017. He let us know what he’s up to now and how study abroad has truly become a formative experience for him. He says, “I will be beginning law school next fall and my time abroad changed my perspective of just about everything.”
Q: How did this experience affect your personal and career growth?
A: I think the best way to extract the most from the experience is to thrust oneself into being extroverted with the locals. There is a certain degree of getting comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s inherently awkward trying to convey a message to a Catalan merchant without sufficient Spanish or Catalan. However, if you become confident and persistent enough, your point will come across with a mixture of broken Spanish and skill in charades.
I mention this because that did wonders for me. If you can become confident across a language barrier with a total stranger, your communication skills back home improve tenfold. This was beneficial for me because I didn’t even know I wanted to attend law school until my senior year. An ankle surgery from collegiate rugby hampered my wanting to join the Marines, so naturally I relied on my existing skillset to decide my next move. Already interested in law, ethics, and logic, and now with a newfound ability to speak with confidence to anyone despite language barriers (I'm now a master in body language and charades), law school became the evident choice.
Already a business student, I am taking my now-enhanced skills in communication and awareness of what others are saying through their own personal intricacies and context clues and will be pursuing a career in corporate law.
In the realm of personal growth, I have become a better listener to see if I can pick up even one word from a local. Also, wanting to experience things like surfing in arctic waters that may only be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I became far more adventurous, seeking out new experiences every day.
Q: Did any of the courses you took abroad stand out or relate to your business/ethics interest?
A: Cross-cultural management was very relevant. I hope to work for a company (Tesla) that is very much international and spans across many nations and cultures, so my eyes were really opened to how different seemingly universally uniform things are, such as addresses (e.g., in Japan, they're far more different). This will be very useful in my law career if I'm representing someone from afar; I will do my due diligence to be more aware and communicate more effectively with their culture in mind.
Q: You mention arctic surfing -- did you end up doing that? How did you even hear about it? Were there any other unique opportunities that you were able to take advantage of?
A: I did, yes! I surfed in 33° F water in Grindavik, Iceland. I am an avid surfer from San Diego, so I sought out extremes to surf in. As it turns out, there is indeed one surf rental on the island, Arctic Surfers, so I rented a board and wetsuit. Through my conversation with the owner, Ingo Olsen, I learned of the Golden Circle, which is an area of Iceland that includes geysers, dramatic waterfalls, and scenery in their national parks. I took my BMW X1 rental and just drove through a very remote and beautiful area of the world.
Q: For anyone else facing a potential career or academic major change or shift, what advice would you offer them?
A: My advice would be open to where the tides take you. At first, I thought I was dead-set on the Marines and nothing would ever change that. Fate had other plans, so I recommend to those who go abroad to really be open to experiencing all there is to see and do, and you'll be surprised at something you never thought you'd be good at or interested in. You’ll be best served in a career in which you have both the ability and the affinity for the work itself.
Q: Did you have experience with the Spanish language before you went abroad? What made you choose Barcelona?
A: I'm from San Diego and took Spanish at the University of Arizona, but my ability in Spanish was far from sufficient to get me through a conversation entirely in Spanish. However, I learned I love the language and loved the free practice in a native-speaking Spanish country. I even bought Rosetta Stone to keep improving. The University of Arizona’s business college, Eller, only allows for Barcelona or Rome. I chose Barcelona because of its incredibly cool culture and history, and because it's a big hub for European travel, and I heard the nightlife was second to none. My family is from Ireland, so it was easy to fly over there and elsewhere, which was extremely rewarding.
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