What life and study abroad have taught me about leadership

By: Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D.


The universe is a funny place. Over the last few days, multiple signs have come my way, nearly tricking me into taking notice. You see, as humans, we are blind to most of what is going on around us. We wander around without really understanding our purpose. We IMG_1314miss the signals. We lose opportunities. We are oblivious, either keeping our heads in the sand or in the clouds. It isn’t until we step back and really listen to the sounds of the universe that we experience any sense of true clarity.


One of this week’s signs was watching the episode of M*A*S*H* in which Hawkeye is asked to light the stove in the girls’ tent and nearly blinds himself when a gas explosion shoots from the stove. He is immediately rushed into the ER and his eyes are properly bandaged. The normally chatty Hawkeye goes into overdrive, talking up anyone who will listen until his buddy Honeycutt tries to calm him down. Instead of calming down, Hawkeye becomes intensely passionate while explaining the transformation that he is going through as a blind man. He talks with such conviction of the beauty of listening to a rainstorm. He has been forced to step back and listen to what the universe is telling him. It makes him a stronger, more cognizant and authentic person when the bandages come off.


Before you get your hopes up, that sense of clarity does not instantly appear in front of you by simply taking off a bandage. To truly understand who you are and what your place is in this world takes time, patience, and painful confusion as you dig deep into yourself.

Clarity does not come easily.

Clarity does not come easily.


Your insides start to churn, slowly at first. As the images, sounds, feelings around you become clearer, the motor shifts into high gear. Digging deep enough to produce that clarity is a very emotional process. Not everyone can handle it. However, to be a great leader, you must be able to endure the pain and confusion and come out better on the other side of it. It is hypocritical, if not impossible, to lead others down a similar path if you have not been through it yourself.


I will not claim to be an expert on this subject, but I will say that I am consciously walking my own path toward clarity of purpose and message. I know that I am a leader. That has been clear to me for a long time. But what kind of leader am I meant to be? Who am I meant to lead? How am I meant to lead?


The answers to these questions became slightly less murky last night while participating in a visualization exercise in a women’s empowerment group that I belong to. We were asked to think of a moment when we have felt powerful. After sifting through my memories, one image became very clear. It was me during my study abroad trip 15 years ago. That was my moment of empowerment. As the activity continued, I focused on travel images, finally settling on the Eiffel Tower. I have always been enamored by it, but now I know why. To me, the Eiffel Tower represents independence, strength, and innovation. Each of those words was practically screaming from within me as the tower image became sharper and sharper in my mind.

Study abroad taught me about the person I want to be.

Study abroad taught me about the person I want to be.


As a result of that exercise, I have realized that I want to be an Eiffel Tower leader. The Eiffel Tower is a classic symbol of the city and spirit of France. The fact that the tower starts from a wide base and moves to one single point demonstrates the struggle toward independence and the few that make it to that point. The materials used to build it and the time that it has stood attest to its strength, even in trying times. The sense of creativity and curiosity, as well as the incredible resourcefulness needed to construct such a structure represent the innovation needed to design and build it.


That is the kind of leader that I want to be. I want to be someone who instills independence, strength and innovation in herself and others. I want to be an Eiffel Tower leader. Had I not stepped on that plane 15 years ago, I may never have been witness to the magnificence of this towering monument. Little did I know at that time that my study abroad experience would eventually lead me to define what kind of leader I want to be. Now enough writing. I have work to do!




Dr. Julie Parenteau is President of Global Perceptions, a communication and relocation consulting business located in San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information on her and Global Perceptions, please visit http://www.global-perceptions.com/ You can also follow Global Perceptions on Facebook and Twitter.

Like what you see here? View more globally-themed posts and post your own at: http://www.smallplanetstudio.com/2013/12/06/youre-invited-to-the-my-global-life-link-up/


  • beautiful post, julie. the eiffel tower/leadership analogy is a vivid and lovely visual.

    • Thanks April! I was surprised how that image struck me in terms of leadership, but then, upon reflection, thought “Of course! Why didn’t I see that before?”

  • I love this, Julie! It’s so heartfelt and powerful. So true that “to truly understand who you are and what your place is in this world takes time, patience, and painful confusion as you dig deep into yourself.” I think it takes a lot of trial and error…trying one thing, learning from it, trying something else…I think we often realize who we are and what we want as we realize who we ARE NOT and we don’t want.

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Cate. I appreciate you organizing the Global Life Link-up and look forward to participating in future events!

  • Janice Ramos says:

    Un artìculo muy interesante que refleja los diferentes procesos por los cuales pasamos los seres humanos para experimentar crecimiento personal y profesional. Hay que vivirlos, procesarlos, crecer y evolucionar como una mejor persona. Me encanta la analogìa de la Torre Eiffel. Parìs siempre fue un viaje soñado y gracias a Dios pude visitarlo en junio 2011. La Torre denota fuerza, independencia, innovaciòn, perseverancia y consistencia, cualidades que debemos tener todos como lìderes. Y lo mejor de todo, es que TU las posees todas! Dìa a dìa, seguimos trabajando interiormente para pulir ese diamante que cada uno de nosotr@s llevamos dentro. Te felicito por ser tan excelente ser humano. Bendiciones del cielo en este nuevo año que comienza ! Sky is the limit !!!!

    • Wow! Me sorprendes Janice! Que palabras tan bonitas!! Gracias por creer en mi y por caminar este proceso juntas. Todos tenemos que trabajar cada dia para llegar mas alla y la Torre Eiffel sirve como mi guia por la caminata. Pa’lante vamos!

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