This is kind of an unconventional addition to the So What Do You Do Exactly? interview project. Normally, I focus on the tangible content of “work” that people do, but in Leslie’s case, I think her career path is where the real meat is. From Chile to China and back, I think she epitomizes the very millennial idea of stitching together a “job” out of a wide range of passions and skills.
Leslie lives in Santiago, Chile where she splits her time between a variety of teaching, translation, and entrepreneurial projects:
What are you working on these days? Which pots do you have fingers in? These days, I’m teaching a social entrepreneurship course at a Chilean university, teaching English to environmental attorneys, doing some website and training projects for a consultancy in the north of Chile, and doing pitch and presentation training for a Chilean biotech startup.
I’ve also created a free online course called How to Create Your International Career and am thinking about writing a book on this topic in the future. The mix of projects shifts around from month to month, and (as you can probably tell) I’ve been really busy lately!
How did you decide you wanted to live and work abroad? I always knew I wanted to study abroad. My mom studied in Germany and my dad studied in Brazil. One of the reasons I chose UC Berkeley was because of its study abroad programs. I studied here in Santiago, Chile for all of 2005. This was half of my junior year and half my senior year, The history, business, and mountaineering classes I took all counted towards my degree in Latin American Studies.
When I graduated in 2006, I didn’t know what to do. About a week after graduation, I pored through my well-worn copy of Colleen Kinder’s Delaying the Real World. This book lists about 1000 ideas of things to do after college, all of which don’t involve law school or cubicles. A section on teaching English overseas mentioned CIEE Teach in China. The program required being a native speaker with a college degree, and the deadline was one week later. I began contacting program alums who were listed as references. And a few days later I FedEx’d in my passport and application.
I’d never studied Chinese, never visited China, and never been particularly interested in mooncakes or Mao Zedong. So I spent the summer volunteering in ESL classes and studying basic Mandarin with a listen-and-repeat Pimsleur Language Program. Less than three months later, I was on a plane to China.
What did you do in China? At first I taught English at a university about an hour from Shanghai. Then I interned at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. After a year and a half in China, I got homesick and decided to go back to San Francisco.
I had major culture shock. (I found myself saying things like, “Wow, there’s free coffee at Bank of America, and you can understand exactly what I need and help me in five minutes! I fully expected to be here all afternoon” and “Wow, Trader Joe’s has so many choices. And I can read *all* the labels!”) Soon I found a job at a startup in SF and settled in. But six months later, the financial crisis hit, the company went under, and I decided to move back to China, this time to Beijing.
In Beijing I worked in a number of fields — advertising, consulting, non-profits, etc. — and studied Chinese with a wonderful tutor and in small classes with trailing spouses from France, Thailand, and other countries. I eventually got burned out, and left China in June of 2011. I explained this decision in more detail in this letter :Dear China: It’s Not You, It’s Me. Let’s Be Friends Forever.
What brought you back to Chile, so many years after studying there? I came to Chile as part of Start-Up Chile, a program of the Chilean government to attract world-class early-stage entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses in Chile. A woman I’d met when I was in Chile in 2005 emailed me in early 2011 to invite me to join her visionary solar energy project. I arrived in July. Start-Up Chile brought me in to contact with dozens of entrepreneurs from all over the world, and soon I was invited to freelance on several other projects. I did Spanish-English and Spanish-Chinese translation for meetings about iron ore investment. I did writing and editing work for a handful of startups.
These days I’m part of a co-working space that’s filled with mostly Chilean entrepreneurs, and these friends and colleagues have given me countless opportunities to get involved in cool projects.
How do you actually spend your time? Is there such thing as an average day?
8:00:Get up, get dressed, make tea.
9:00-10:00: Teach an English class to an environmental attorney. Normally there are three but only one shows up. We talk about the many definitions of “file” and how to use the subjunctive.
After class I go back to my apartment to make brunch and respond to a bunch of emails. Then, I take the metro and then a micro (local bus) to the university where I teach social entrepreneurship.
2:30-4:30: My students give midterm presentations about how a social enterprise called Living Goods can partner with Nestlé or Unilever to sell healthcare products door-to-door in Uganda using the “Avon Lady” model. Half the students are business majors from Chile and the other half are exchange students from Europe. The presentations are awesome! I wish the companies were there to see it.
6:00-9:00: I meet with a biotech startup to coach them on their pitch for the upcoming Start-Up Chile demo day. The product is a film about the amniotic membrane that can regenerate eye tissue. We revise the presentation. The new version starts with a before-and-after story of a middle-aged man named José. Before, he couldn’t see much. After his surgery, he could see kids’ faces, and even drive. I coach the team on how to explain this clearly in English, to deliver maximum impact in a 3-minute presentation. The guys order sushi. We eat together.
10:00: I get home. Exhausted. My boyfriend made macaroni and cheese! There’s some left for me. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
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