My name is Alejandra and I am an Argentinian living in Switzerland. I was honored to be selected for the St. Gallen Symposium as a Leader of Tomorrow twice, once in 2007 and a second time in 2016, so at very different moments in my life. Also, I participated in the WTO Model associated with the University of St. Gallen in 2008. Thus, I was lucky to see the development of the symposium for a whole of its three decades. Every time I visited St. Gallen, it has had a huge impact on my personal life and in my career. I wanted to share this with you today.
Following a decade of the St. Gallen Symposium
The first time I participated, in 2007, I was just starting my career in Biology. At that time undergraduates were still invited to the symposium, so I was around 20 years old. The topic was “The Power of Natural Resources”, a mixture between Ecology and Economics, which fitted me well as I was exploring my interests at that time. I had never been outside Latin America, and we were just coming out of a big crisis in Argentina, so I wouldn’t even think about travelling to Europe, until I saw the advertisement in the newspaper and thought: “I‘ll put all those English examinations to use and give this essay a try”. The symposium is one of a kind in providing equal opportunities to people from developing countries and I am proof that this changes lives.
For the essay, I didn’t limit myself to a literature review; I figured that I could connect with my community and get some real data to draw conclusions from. So I started a mini-research project to find out how much food waste was being produced in our local restaurants. After a month of hard work I came up with an essay that not only got me into the St. Gallen Symposium but also provided important information for my community. It was showcased together with my trip at the local newspaper and at my former high school.
About the trip itself, it was one of the best in my life. First time in Europe, first trip on my own, first time in a snow storm during the excursion to Appenzell, first time I had a Starbucks Frappuccino! The best part was the international buffet dinner night (besides the amazing, insightful talks of course!). I met awesome people that remain in my life until now, and some that I came across in job applications, other symposia or that simply continue to inspire me just by being connected through social media.
This initial trip, together with a following one to the WTO in 2008, gave me a glimpse of a different type of education than the one I was used to; more international, trans-disciplinary and entrepreneurial. So, when I was finishing my bachelor's degree and started looking for new horizons, the first thing that came to my mind was this experience, the international and challenging environment of St. Gallen and of course the beauty of the Swiss mountains. Applying somewhere in Switzerland was the first thing that appeared obvious to me as a next step.
Based on my area of expertise and the type of scholarship I was looking for, Lausanne was my first choice and when I got the grant, a good friend of mine, a former member of the ISC-Team was my guide for the first weeks until I got settled. A part of being a member of the Leaders of Tomorrow community is that somehow you always come across someone that is connected to you in a way. And the ideas that are exposed and discussed during the course of the symposium, both during and after the talks will always resonate with you when you need them the most. This would be the first time living abroad, with a salary of my own and doing what I really love. Now it has been almost five years since I moved to in Switzerland; after I finished my Master's degree in Lausanne I moved to Zurich to focus on conservation about biodiversity and natural resources. I am now in the USA for 6 months on an SNF scholarship.
Before crossing the age limit of 30 years, I applied with an essay one last time in 2016 and got the chance to be part of the community again, this time being among the oldest Leaders of Tomorrow, as opposed to the youngest, like I was in 2007. The topic was once more related to resource use, which is my strength now, framed as “Growth: the good, the bad and the ugly”.
My career and my life path are tightly linked to the experiences i made at the St. Gallen Symposium. Hopefully I get the chance to be part of it once more for the anniversary and celebrate with old friends in this moment of transition that I am in, maybe until I get to be a Leader of Today!
I was thrilled to have the chance to see how much the symposium has grown in these almost 10 years, how many lives it has touched, how many new sponsors support it and exciting activities are being held. Also, how much it has improved in terms of diversity and equality of opportunities for students from around the globe. It was refreshing to participate in the new networking activities at SwissRe, the one-on-one talks with CEOs, the boat trip with entrepreneurs and the community “unconference” at the end of the three days in May, all things we didn’t have before. Although, the basic spirit of camaraderie and excellence, and the courtesy and commitment of the students involved remains as high as it always was.