In an era when language teaching was all about the rules of grammar, I had a French teacher who knew better. I adored French and was determined to master it, a goal that took me to Middlebury College with my junior year in Paris. Years later, I would go on to get a masters degree in French from Tufts University.
I contemplated post-college options at the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Deciding that waging peace was the right thing to do, I joined the Peace Corps and taught English in the Philippines. I learned to speak Tagalog, a far cry from French. And, yes, it WAS the toughest job I ever loved.
It took a few years after returning to the U.S. to settle into a career. The pieces started falling into place at Sylvania Training Operations, where I developed technical English curriculum for international trainees. The work took me twice to pre-Ayatollah Iran. Fascinating culture. Magnificent countryside. Incredible food.
The coup came. The Shah was gone, and so was my job. So I joined a booming Digital Equipment Corporation. Everyone in the plant knew their roles, but few understood the big picture. My job: to learn each department’s function, then fill everyone else in. I later refined my project management skills in systems engineering and software services marketing.
After seven years at Digital, including two in Northeastern University’s part-time MBA program, I joined Applied Expert Systems, a start-up company developing financial planning software. Then came the crash of ’87. Like dominoes, it took its toll on the investors, the company, and me.
Around that time, Japanese universities were starting to set up shop in the U.S. One of these, Showa Women’s University in Tokyo, established a study-abroad campus in Boston. At the end of its first year, Showa Boston cleaned house. I was one of the people they hired to help them rebuild.
Working for a Japanese vice-president with American colleagues for the benefit of Japanese students was, to put it mildly, an intercultural challenge. To learn more about Japanese culture—and my own—I took summer courses at the Institute for Intercultural Communication. I passed the knowledge on in workshops for Showa students, faculty, staff, and host families. After several years at Showa I left to start my writing business, but return now and then as a guest instructor.
At first glance, my career may look a bit patchy. But every work experience has played a part in my career. The writing talent came at an early age. The ability to listen, probe, change perspectives, analyze and communicate—all are sewn into the quilt that contributes to my professional strengths. It wasn’t a master plan. But the absence of just one piece would make all the difference.