OGE interviewed Ian Conyers, former Michigan State Senator for the Michigan Senate, and now current director of Government Relations at Ruth Strategies. You can find him on social media at @ianconyers. We talked to him about his time studying abroad in Portugal in summer 2008, and how study abroad changed his view on the world and his career path.
If you are considering studying in Portugal, Georgetown University recently introduced a new program available during the fall, full year, or spring terms: Lisbon, Portugal, for Language and Culture in Lisbon, Portugal (CIEE). If you are interested in a summer study abroad program led by a Georgetown faculty member like the one Senator Conyers attended, you can view all of the GU Summer Abroad Programs. The deadline for fall, full year, and summer applications is February 14, 2019.
Interviewer: So, what made you decide to study in Portugal?
Senator Conyers: So, in 2008, I didn’t have a passport. A friend of mine, who had studied abroad before and had just kind of been abroad, was shocked that other students didn’t know about studying abroad and I was one of those students. So we went over to the center and looked at programs. The professor was Eusebio Mujal-Leon, and he was an interesting person on campus who was leading a group. So we literally went out and did my passport paperwork and got all that together and ended up going on that trip. The title was Politics, Law, and Security in the European Union. and it was happening at a time when they were really trying to figure out what the bonds of trade would be and how they would keep the Union going, and how they would start to work on issues that were very very important at the time. So it couldn’t have been a better time to be there or to be observing and the president of the EU was also Portuguese at the time, so we got a chance to meet with just so many interesting people first hand.
Interviewer: Is there anything you wish you had known before you went? Either about Portugal or in general? Or traveling or living abroad?
Senator Conyers: I wish I would have known earlier that whole, holistic education, has to be global these days. In a world that’s getting much smaller, I think, honestly, within your first three years at Georgetown it should be almost a requirement at this point to have a truly global education. So I just wish I would have been exposed earlier. I know a lot of folks get the chance to travel in high school, and I just think the earlier you can start to open your mind up the better.
Interviewer: Is there anything you wish you had done before you left?
Senator Conyers: I had great moments captured. If I had a better generation iPhone ten years ago...my pictures are kind of blurry. I wish I would have encouraged more folks to travel. I ran track and played football and it’s often that people that are involved in sports don’t get the chance to, so I wish I would have urged more athletes and more folks who aren’t necessarily “travel-focused” to get a headstart. Often times, even in extracurriculars, or if you’re studying music, you don’t have the chance to really take advantage of what the study abroad program has. So I would let folks know it’s not just for SFS or Global Business, it’s for everyone.
Interviewer: Did study abroad change your view of the world, or more specifically, your views on how things are just done?
Senator Conyers: Absolutely. You know, with that trip to Portugal literally being the first time I had been outside of North America. You get to see the government and how it works, getting to see Parliament, where you’re bringing together countries from all over the EU, who have their entirely-own sovereign set of rules, they’re collaborating together, and understanding how different styles of parliament work. It’s just is a great lens to look at how ours works, what’s right with it, what’s wrong with it, and I think that set me on a path of always having an open mind and understanding that our way is not the only way that things can be accomplished.
Interviewer: What were the academics like in your program?
Senator Conyers: We had just great access where they were bringing in security and talking about the security of the European Union, that was incredibly important, and to learn the challenges that they face, I think the closeness of certain types of threats, or certain types of trade, or, you know, certain types of activity, is not really clear on many Americans’ minds because we’re so far away. We’re an ocean across from where all the action is, essentially, and they really drove home, being there in those classes, how up-close and how imminent many of the issues are for many of our allies and the many nations of the world.
Interviewer: So it sounds like study abroad kind of opened your mind, also prepared you a little bit towards your current position. Can you go into that and say how your current position was helped by your study abroad, or just your general international education at Georgetown?
Senator Conyers: You know the old saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, right? For the study abroad program, I received a bit of aid, so the first step and I’ve gone to nearly 50 separate countries, some of my own curiosity, some with actual delegations. I just got back from Australia two weeks ago, with a group called the American Council of Young Political Leaders, and if you say you’re interested in this or that subject matter, they look at, have you actually gone anywhere, have you actually participated, have you actually reached out on this topic.... In my current role in the state senate [as a Michigan State Senator], being able to sit the last two years on the committee on economic development in international investment, it’s given me kind of a spectrum through which to talk about the issues, to say, you know, no no, you’re looking at that wrong, I’ve been there. Or, hey, this would be a good opportunity for our state because I know the market there. Or, you know, having on-the-ground experience, or just not having a pensive nature towards being open, right? You know, saying, hey, we should invest in Germany, or we should collaborate with Australia, or we should be seeing ourselves as a global player even on the state level. It puts it into perspective. So that gave me a real spectrum, and really a leg-up on the competition, being able to say, I know what I’m talking about because I’ve actually been there.
Interviewer: One last question. Do you had any general advice for Georgetown students, studying abroad or not, and a second part of that would be, if you could advise them on what they could to do better prepare themselves to be more open-minded, what could they do?
Senator Conyers: I would say, always be open to a place that you didn’t have an interest in at first. So, I don’t believe that I went there saying, “I’ve got to go to Portugal”. We looked at what programs were being offered, and that was the one that fit the schedule, and I was like, well ok, I’ll go. I knew nothing about Portugal. It was such an open, awesome experience to have, not too much knowledge, not to overdo it, to experience it, and I would say, when you’re actually abroad, my advice is to branch out, don’t just stay on campus, try to make local friends, go to places that are local, within reason, and take it in. Don’t stay on your tablet, don’t stay on your phone, don’t be overly obsessed with your marks or your grades, you’re gonna do fine. Just try to take as much in as you can, and it’s exciting because you’ll have life-long friends from those opportunities.