An American in Paris - Meet our Alum of the Month

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IES Abroad
August 30, 2013

There’s no doubt that study abroad can have a big impact on what you choose to do after college—but it’s not always immediate. In Eddie McDonnell’s (London ’86, Paris ’87) case, it wasn’t until eight years into his career in Boston that he planned to start a career abroad. And with a year of study abroad under his belt, he was ready. Now living in Paris and working as the Executive Director at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Arts & Culture, McDonnell shares what motivated him to study abroad in the first place (it wasn’t the classes!) and what a day in his life is like now.

IES Abroad: What led you to London and then Paris for your study abroad experiences?
Eddie McDonnell: I could answer that it was the attraction of studying abroad in fantastic world capitals but the primary factor at the time was gaining proximity to my French girlfriend, who was studying in a Parisian art school. Having dated long-distance for two years in college, we were happy to be geographically closer than Brunswick, Maine and Paris, France. This allowed us to stay close—and in fact we have been married for nearly 25 years and have two grown children.

IES Abroad: When you first arrived in London, did you have any career goals in mind for after college?
EM: I was initially considering law school as a natural continuation of my double major—Government and Classics.

IES Abroad: What about when you arrived in Paris?
EM: I soon became intrigued with the financial world following an internship in financial services and, in fact, I was already licensed to sell securities during my stay in Paris.

IES Abroad: How did studying abroad influence your career path?
EM: Studying abroad did not have an immediate impact on my career. I lived and worked in the Boston area for nearly eight years before planning to pursue a career abroad.

Studying abroad allowed me to become familiar with European cities and the European way of life. I cannot imagine venturing into a career abroad without the tools I gained while a student abroad in the IES Abroad programs.

IES Abroad: How has your study abroad experience influenced you on a personal level?
EM: It allowed me the opportunity to experience life in two fabulous cities: London and Paris. I gained confidence in my ability to adjust to foreign environments, to gain my bearings and to develop new friendships with people from a wider range of backgrounds than I had previously been exposed. Living abroad also widens your horizons and allows you to take a more critical look at your assumptions and perspectives.  

IES Abroad: What was it about Paris that made you want to live abroad and return to the city?
EM: When our children, with both U.S. and French nationality, were getting ready to enter school in the Boston area, we thought it would make sense to try exposing them to life in France.  Paris offered many more opportunities than elsewhere in France, so we focused on finding employment there.

In addition, the beauty of Paris was also a major factor. I moved to Paris back in 1997 but am still awestruck by its beauty. It was a great city to raise a family with friends, markets, and parks within short walking distance. We have never even owned a car in Paris!

IES Abroad: Tell us a little bit about the Mona Bismarck American Center for Arts & Culture. Walk us through a typical day as the Executive Director.
EM: At the Mona Bismarck American Center, we seek to be a hub for providing the highest quality encounters with American art and culture in its various forms through rigorous lenses of contemporary trends and influences. We enable the discovery of the richness and diversity of American art and culture through innovative exhibitions, educational, and outreach programs and events.

We host two to three temporary exhibitions per year in our ground floor galleries. We started focusing on American art nearly two years ago with an amazing exhibition featuring the three generations of the Wyeths. Since then we have hosted exhibitions on Mary Cassatt, Quilts, and now on view Little Black Dress. Our next two exhibitions are Yousuf Karsh: Icons of the 20th Century and Alex Ross: Heroes and Villains. In addition, we host a number of musical performances as well as dance and theatre. We also present a series of lectures and conferences related to the exhibition on view.

In addition to my role of managing the team, I am often in conversation with our partners, the press, board members, volunteers, donors, and prospective donors.

IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of going abroad?
EM: Don’t hesitate, keep a journal, explore, get lost a lot, enjoy every moment.

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