Meet April's Alum of the Month, Nathan Minnehan, an IES Abroad Buenos Aires '10-'11 alum whose experiences abroad gave him the inspiration and perspective to start his own company--while studying abroad!
IES Abroad: You’re pretty young, and you already own your own business. Tell us a little about the business.
Nathan Minnehan: Well I own a company called WalknTalk, based in Chicago, Illinois, and we make handmade leather journals, cases and leather accessories. I work with Amish craftsmen in Ohio, and a mom and pop print shop in New York to produce a very high quality product. The original WalknTalk journals were made in Buenos Aires while I was studying abroad, and the very first ones were sold at the San Telmo street fair. WalknTalk journals have made their way into over twenty countries, and fifteen stores nationally. I donate a dollar from each journal sale to a WalknTalk scholarship fund for student exchange, and look forward to truly becoming the brand for student exchange and study abroad.
IES Abroad: Your company, WalknTalk, was essentially born in Buenos Aires when you started making and selling journals at a local market. What about Buenos Aires, or study abroad, inspired you?
NM: WalknTalk indeed was born on the streets of Buenos Aires... I saw the swirling creativity in the fairs, and the organic lifestyle of festivals and the gathering of people each weekend to celebrate. There was a celebration of life in engaging ways like sharing “mate” and dancing in the streets. I had three months of summer off school in between semesters, and I knew I wanted to join the fairs in a really native way. I made friends with some artisans, and before I knew it I had my own slot beside them at the market.
IES Abroad: When you first arrived in Buenos Aires, did you have any career goals in mind for after college?
NM: I knew that I wanted to become an advocate for student exchange, and somehow work toward making the opportunity more readily available to others. I did my first exchange through Rotary International in 2007-2008 in Prague, Czech Republic. I learned fluent Czech and truly transformed that year. I had developed a profound curiosity about how I could become a changemaker for the world, and advocate for student exchange.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad change or influence your career choices?
NM: On study abroad you’re able to grow outside of previous structures that often feel confining, whether they be your language, your town, your university, your friend group or whatever else you’re strapped to. Studying abroad allowed me to open up, and truly dream big. It gave me the perspective I needed to really get outside of myself and create a solid foundation for my brand, and for my life.
IES Abroad: Walk us through a typical day in your job.
NM: Every day I wake up, and I ask how can I create abundance today? I usually have some online orders to fill, which means going into my loft to retrieve journals, or I make them fresh then and there in my workshop. I’ve created a series of lofts in my Chicago apartment and a workbench as well that overlooks Lake Michigan. I’m definitely blessed with plenty of inspiration, and draw tons of strength from my gorgeous view. I equate view with vision, and can see how waking up inspired really energizes my day. I’ll call between five and ten stores daily, and follow up with current accounts. Once a week I call my Amish friends in Ohio to go over production, and usually have some epic moments of laughter and wisdom in all of my engagements with them. I like to “get lost to find myself” on a regular basis, so I usually have fun working at cafés around my neighborhood. Three days a week I commute downtown, and work from a Hispanic radio station called SPR-Radio Cosmos. I volunteer there helping with branding and event coordination. In return they allow me space in their office to facilitate WalknTalk office tasks. It’s an amazing opportunity actually. I started there as an intern in January of 2012 in my senior year of college, and now I’m on the board.
IES Abroad: What was your favorite hang-out spot in Buenos Aires?
NM: The Recoleta Fair was definitely my favorite place to hang. That’s actually the place where I met my Peruvian friend Ernesto who became quite a mentor for me and my artisanry.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of going abroad?
NM: Get lost to find yourself! Don’t worry about the hows. For example, don’t worry about how you will make friends, how you’ll overcome the language barrier, how you’ll adjust to the food, the climate, etcetera. Just embrace the opportunity as a chance to truly become who you are, and to see yourself and others in a new light. And if you’re wondering where to start, just start by getting lost...in everything.