By Leslie Costa, J-1 Intern from France
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Leslie Costa visiting U.S. Senate Office Building[/caption]
In 2007, I graduated from the University of Montesquieu in Bordeaux, France, with a degree in economics and law, before moving to Paris to study a Masters degree in corporate finance. During my studies, I undertook multiple internships that provided a strong foundation of knowledge for entering into the financial world. However, in a post-recession business world, I found it difficult to get an entry-level job. Employers repeatedly told me I needed additional experience. Determined to acquire the skills I needed and propel myself into a new realm of experience in a stubborn European marketplace, I set my sights on the United States and a corporate world that would open many more doors of opportunity.
After much research, I decided to apply for the Exchange Visitor Program where I was placed in a French-owned credit bureau in Miami for a yearlong internship. My internship equipped me with the broad skill set, expertise and experience I needed to pursue my ambition in finance, and was a vast contrast to anything I experienced as an African intern in France. I was living in a culture perceived by the French and most European nations as highly capitalist with a shallow ideology. Despite this preconception, I began to appreciate the American culture and its acceptance of other nationalities. I felt more understood as an African in America, even though I was still learning the language, and realized that the country’s capitalist mentality can result in a drive towards success and personal achievement.
The level of tolerance and the dedicated work ethic that I observed in my colleagues was an eye-opening experience and I soon understood the importance of honor, independence and networking as attributes that are key ingredients for career progression. Unlike in Europe, failure was not perceived as a shameful judgment, but as a learning experience that builds strength. This philosophy and the underlying belief that time is money gave me the broad understanding of how America offers the opportunity to dream big and accomplish those dreams with hard work and dedication. I embraced the country’s optimistic approach towards young entrepreneurship, personal development and a positive outlook on the promotion of cross-cultural personnel in the workplace.
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Leslie hosts workshop on Benefits of Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone which includes resume coaching, career advice, and interview preparation sessions with MBA students of Hult International Business School, San Francisco (April 2015)[/caption]
During the second half of my internship program I started applying for jobs in France and received several offers. Employers viewed my international experience as a huge asset. I returned to Paris in the spring of 2011 and began working at Sisley Cosmetics as a junior international financial controller. Over the next nine months I developed a desire to share my knowledge and journey with other aspiring entrepreneurs and teach them the importance of moving out of one’s comfort zone and into areas of the unknown with an open mind. It was in 2012 that I decided to start my own business and dedicate my life to educating French students, graduates and young professionals about the benefits of an international internship.
I started forming relationships with universities across the country and presented my own story as a way of inspiring undergraduates and their professors. While developing university contacts, I also started forging a network of small and medium size companies in Miami that were open to intern placements. Barfield Aerospace, an airline parts and maintenance company owned by Air France, became my first partner organization. I worked with them to send students from colleges and universities in Paris for internships at Barfield offices in Miami. I also formed a partnership with Modani furniture and Paton Marketing. After the first year of operation, I had placed more than 50 students in over 50 companies in the U.S while expanding my network of universities in Paris.
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Photos from a workshop Leslie hosted to raise awareness of J-1 Visa Rules & Regulations and provide advice on how to have a successful internship experience in the U.S. with University of Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico (October, 2015)[/caption]
Over time, I decided it was more advantageous to be in the city where students and graduates were being placed, so in October 2013, I moved to Miami and started setting up corporate marketing and networking events. Human resources personnel and company CEOs attended, and I generated referrals and additional interest from various organizations throughout South Florida. I also set up a marketing and communications team for my company in Paris that would focus on creating relationships with colleges and universities in countries such as Belgium and Switzerland. Shortly after establishing myself in Miami, I extended my internship placements nationwide to New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, California. By 2016, I had secured a network of more than 50 universities across 10 countries in Europe from which students and graduates were being placed. In five years, I would like to see my company become an official U.S Designated Sponsor Organization of the Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 Visa).
I struggled to secure the position I was looking for in France, and through my own experience as an intern in the United States, I was able to begin my desired profession upon my return. I want to teach graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs the importance of experiencing new cultures and the ability to discover exciting new career prospects through obtaining the knowledge learned within an international company. Maximizing one’s own personal and professional development can only be achieved when you have the courage and strength to move out of your comfort zone and in to a new realm of possibility that will allow you to prosper and unlock your own potential.
I pushed myself to be fearless and take the first step that ultimately allowed me to become a business owner in a foreign country. I want to offer others this life changing career opportunity.