From Mexico City to a Career in Finance—Our January Alum of the Month

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IES Abroad
January 26, 2015

This month, IES Abroad students are embarking on study abroad adventures in distant locations across the world. So it is fitting that we take a look back with our January Alum of the Month, Bruce St. John (IES Abroad Mexico City, Spring 1985), who began his own study abroad adventure exactly 30 years ago this month. After returning to the United States to obtain his MBA at New York University and pass the CPA exam, Bruce began a career in finance at Goldman Sachs, where he currently serves as Vice President.

Read on to learn how Spanish continues to play a role in Bruce’s career today and how his children followed in his footsteps with their own experiences abroad.

IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study in Mexico City? 
Bruce St. John: At Williams College, I studied Spanish and Latin American Literature with a professor who inspired me to study abroad. IES Abroad offered a single semester program at a local Mexican university, ITAM, with all coursework conducted in Spanish and at a reasonable cost.

IES Abroad: Looking back, how did studying abroad influence you, both professionally and personally?
: As a foreign student, I appreciated the local ITAM students who made the effort to speak with me. One student in particular, Mauricio, was particularly helpful. I learned that fostering diversity is more than being open and accepting. It is making the deliberate effort to reach out and speak with someone who is different than me, listening to his story, and then making myself available to help as needed. This awareness influences me personally and professionally on an on-going basis.

IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
: We had a “kick-off” dinner with the IES Abroad President William Gaines and heard his passion for establishing an IES Abroad presence in Mexico City through ITAM. He wanted to act with subtlety, entering “through the back door,” seeking first to understand, then to be understood. He emphasized the special place that our class of Paul, Eric, Ken, Jim, Tim, Armin, Andrea, Kathy, Margarita, and Luisa played in that mission. He asked Nancy Mayagoita, an IES Abroad staff member, to lead our team. There was no turning back after that kick-off dinner!

On another occasion, our VW van, or combi, broke down on a road in Oaxaca. My friend Paul took a picture of me as we tried to wave down passing drivers for help. We yelled out “payaso” (“clown”) at the very loud commercial trucks speeding by that didn’t stop and help us!

IES Abroad: How did living with a host family shape your experience abroad?
: My host, Senorita Berta Luz Campos Burgos, was a 75-year-old graduate of the UNAM’s first co-ed class. She worked her entire life at the Center for Tropical Diseases and volunteered at the local hospital. She never married, but her many nieces and nephews called her Tia Bella (Aunt Beautiful) because they couldn’t roll their "r’s. I read my history books to Tia after class, and she would share her perspectives and memories. She said it helped take her mind off of her severe arthritis pain. But I suspect her smiles may have been her grimacing through my Anglo-Spanish!

IES Abroad: Have you kept in touch and/or been back to visit?
: Yes. I returned to Mexico City to recruit for Goldman Sachs. I visited Tia Bella’s house but she had passed away. I gave flowers to her sister-in-law, “Cha-Cha” who remembered me. I thanked Cha-Cha and her kids, the very ones who had named Tia Bella. They were now raising their own kids in Tia’s house. She had left it to them. Cha-Cha placed my flowers in Tia’s courtyard.

IES Abroad: What interested you about finance and how did you get started?
: I have come to believe that capital, in the hands of those who can best deploy it locally, offers the best chance of increased opportunities globally. If Spanish is the language of friendship, then accountancy is the language of commerce. They can be mutually beneficial.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your career at Goldman Sachs. What do you like most about your job?
I have worked for Goldman Sachs for 25 years. I earned my MBA at NYU and passed the CPA, which was a “piece of cake” compared to studying Spanish in Mexico City!  Accountability, integrity, transparency, and a commitment to diversity are central to my happiness. I am thrilled to work for a firm that pursues these ideals and to participate in a profession that demands them.

IES Abroad: Do you still use your Spanish skills today?
: I am active in my firm’s Hispanic network. I use my Spanish in an intentional manner to reach out to new hires, to network, to recruit, and to mentor. Spanish can often help transcend the superficial barriers that may prevent a conversation, and it can help pave the way for longer-term friendships.

IES Abroad: Your children have followed in your footsteps by studying abroad. Tell us a little about their experiences.
BSJ: Our son, Max, studied in Vienna with IES Abroad this past fall and loved it. It is ironic that his return from Vienna was almost 30 years to the day that I arrived in Mexico City. Max learned German, traveled through Europe, and made new friends. Our daughter, Natalie, participated with a research team in Namibia, Africa, last summer.

IES Abroad: Has your experience abroad shaped how you raised your children?
: At ITAM, I took a philosophy class with an instructor who was focused on “The Art of Laughter and Memory.” From that, I learned that although intense study, hard work, and graduations do matter, they risk making us too serious. So I tried to raise my children to take themselves a little less seriously, remembering to laugh quickly and often, especially at humbling experiences and awkward situations. Developing a sense of humor, and knowing how to laugh, even while working hard, is “how we roll.” My hope is that they will continue remembering, learning and laughing for at least the next 30 years!

IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?
BSJ: Do it. Don’t fret so much over logistics or money. Grants and loans are available. IES Abroad, in particular, is committed to helping you study abroad, and many IES Abroad alumni contribute toward these scholarships. Don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect plan of study. The bigger picture is about new experiences, new ideas and new friendships. It will offer you the experience of getting around in a foreign country, and it will leave you with invaluable life lessons, memories and friendships. Good luck!

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