Developing Professional Skills Through Study Abroad – Alum of the Month Christine Cloonan

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Victoria Bruick
October 17, 2017

Alum of the Month Christine Cloonan reflects on her time studying abroad in MadridMeet Christine Cloonan (IES Abroad Madrid, Academic Year 2000-01 | Bowdoin College), Senior Financial Analyst at American Tower, and our October Alum of the Month.

After studying abroad, Christine started her career as a Spanish teacher, but her passion since childhood was to pursue a career in international business. In 2009, she was awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship and went on to complete a Masters in Finance in Argentina. Upon returning, Christine launched her career in international business, and today she is part of the 2017 cohort of Boston’s Future Leaders run by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Read on to discover how Christine transitioned between professions and how the skills she learned studying abroad in Spain have proved helpful every step of the way.  


IES Abroad: As a student at Bowdoin College, what led you to study abroad in Madrid?

Christine Cloonan (CC): As a college student, I studied diligently to become fluent in Spanish with the hope to be able to use it in an international business profession. A high school teacher/mentor advised me to live abroad and be immersed in the language as a step to reach my goal. She emphasized that studying abroad for a year, instead of a semester, was the best approach to become fluent. She was right – my language skills definitely improved exponentially in the second half of my year studying abroad in Madrid.

Looking back at your academic year of studying abroad in Madrid, what are some of your most significant memories?

CC: There are so many significant memories. The most important to me is the global friendships and networks that have developed as a result of my time studying abroad in Madrid. My IES Abroad program was housed in el Colegio Mayor San Augustin. The director of the program invited the Spanish students living in the colegio mayor to travel with us on our weekend excursions.  I became good friends with one Spanish student who I met on a trip to Granada. We stayed in touch after college as we entered the working world, and last year I went to his wedding. There, I reconnected with his friends who I hadn’t seen in over 15 years! 

After graduation, you started your career as a Spanish teacher. Were there skills learned abroad that you applied in the early days of your career?

CC: As a Spanish teacher I used my experience abroad to provide real life applicability to classroom learning. Listening to Spanish pop songs was a way to learn vocabulary and grammar. Watching movies provided dialogues and gave insights into culture.

What led you to change direction and pursue a career in international business at American Tower?

CC: From a young age, I had always hoped to have a career in international business that leveraged my Spanish language skills. In 2009, I took a break from teaching, after being awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, and earned a Master of Finance from la Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Argentina. Returning to Boston from Argentina, I wanted to put my enhanced academic and intercultural skills to work in the business world. I wrote my thesis about American Tower, per the suggestion of a finance recruiter.

You are also President of the Boston Chapter of Ellevate, a global professional women’s network. What inspired you to get involved in this organization?

CC: While teaching, I attended a women’s business conference and received a copy of the book “More than 85Broads.” (85Broads was the predecessor to the Ellevate Network). One of the women featured had a lot of international business experience, so I joined the network and reached out to her. When we met for coffee, she advised me to apply to the Rotary Foundation Fellowship. I applied, received the fellowship and used it to earn a Master of Finance from a business school in Argentina. When I returned to Boston, I reengaged with the network primarily to give back to an organization that had led to a life-changing experience for me and to build a community of professional women as I looked to make a career transition. After making my career transition, I continued to be involved due to Ellevate’s supportive community and learning opportunities it affords.

You were selected to be part of the 2017 cohort of Boston’s Future Leaders run by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce? Tell us more about this.

CC: The Boston Chamber of Commerce Future Leader’s Program is described by the Chamber as being “limited to an exclusive group of successful, emerging professionals who have been identified for their leadership potential by senior executives of Chamber member organizations.”

Our program has included:

  • A multi-day leadership development program at Harvard Business School called “Leading With Purpose - Business Leaders Creating Social Value”
  • A daylong program at the State House with Suffolk University focused on business and government
  • Networking sessions featuring candid lessons from top Boston business leaders
  • And networking opportunities with peers in the program

Are there any skills you developed while studying abroad that you continue to draw upon today? Do you still use your Spanish language skills?

CC: Studying abroad challenges your constructs of how the world works and how people operate. In doing so, it teaches you to be understanding of others, flexible and adaptable.  These are all great skills for navigating a global workplace. Yes, I use my Spanish language skills every day. I work with the Corporate International team at American Tower with a focus on the operations in Latin America. I do research, document review and correspond in Spanish as needed. I also use Spanish as much as possible when socializing with my native speaking colleagues.  

What advice would you give to a student thinking about studying or interning abroad?

CC: Studying abroad is one of the most powerful experiences you can have. If you have the opportunity to do so, I encourage you to take advantage of the experience.  However, ensure your decision about where to study is made with careful consideration.

Whether you want to teach or work in international business, you too can enhance your career when you study in Madrid. Check out all of our Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students.

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