Originally posted http://www.columbusceo.com/content/blogs/ceolive/2015/11/guest-blog-columbus-business-professionals-make-connections-in-sister-city-genoa-italy.html.
I have always had the desire to travel abroad, but I’ve never been interested in sitting on a beach, soaking up the sun. My ideal trip for my first time abroad included opportunities for professional development as well as cultural exchanges. This trip finally came into motion when I came across the Greater Columbus Sister Cities International website.
On the website I saw that GCSCI was looking for professionals in their 20s and 30s to help strengthen business ties and build professional relationships with Genoa, Italy, a sister city to Columbus. I quickly applied and within a month I was interviewed by the GCSCI president, Tim Sword. Within a week after the interview, I was selected along with seven other delegates to head to Genoa for my first trip abroad this past October. Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson would be leading this trip.
With only a few weeks to finalize the agenda for the trip, Sword emphasized that he wanted the delegates to make this trip their own. The trip agenda was specifically tailored to the delegation’s specific areas of interest. My area of interest included visiting a children’s hospital in Genoa since I work as a Community Relations Specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I also wanted to connect with a local photographer because I have my own photography and video company, Tiffany Stacey Photography and Video, LLC.
On Friday, October 9th the delegation boarded a plane and headed to Milan, Italy. After landing in Milan, we traveled an hour and a half by train to Genoa, Italy. After checking into the hotel, we met with our host, a United States Consular Agent in Genoa. She welcomed us and shared valuable resources on Genoa.
During the four days in Genoa, we experienced Italian culture and the importance of establishing relationships abroad. The people of Genoa are incredibly warm and passionate about their quality of life. Although there were language barriers in various situations, this did not stop the Genoese from being hospitable to our delegation. This is especially true when we visited the Carlo Felice Opera House for an official ceremony to revive the ties between the US and Italy.
During this ceremony, the delegation was introduced to local Genoese photographer, Timothy Costa. He invited the delegation to visit his exhibition, Thousand People. The idea began as a project in which Costa took a thousand pictures of strangers in Genoa. Costa encourages his subjects to share their portraits on social media and credit him and his team at Tstudio. His marketing efforts have paid off as he has gained notoriety in the city. He mentioned that when he first began this project, people did not trust him. But now, people visit his exhibition with the intent to have their portrait taken. The attention has also led to a daily feature of two new portraits in Genoa’s local newspaper. As a photographer, I learned that even the smallest ideas can lead to big opportunities not only locally, but globally. As a delegation, we plan to assist in facilitating a partnership with Costa and the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Traveling to Genoa also afforded me with the opportunity to re-establish contact with Nationwide Children’s Hospital sister hospital, Gaslini Children’s Hospital. The hospital’s campus provides an incredible sight of the city and Mediterranean Sea. Councilwoman Tyson and I met with the External Relations Coordinator of the hospital who gave us a tour of their new facility that specializing in performing many outpatient procedures. During our conversation with the coordinator, she explained how Gaslini is trying to expand its international relations. She emphasized that she would like to build stronger ties with more hospitals in the US.
Before I traveled abroad, I attended events with Columbus Council on World Affairs and Columbus International Program, which both helped me to develop an interest in building relationships abroad and ultimately led to the business trip of a lifetime.
For professionals interested in establishing business connections abroad, I would suggest learning more about the culture in which you plan to do business with prior to pursuing any business transactions. If time allotted, I would’ve taken more time to study Italian. I quickly learned that not everyone overseas speaks English. And those that do know English may not be comfortable with speaking the language fluently. I believe learning the language would’ve made all the difference in connecting with the culture. So, do your counterpart a favor and learn their language!
The best way to persuade your company to allow you to travel abroad is by researching as much as possible to find out what systems your company has in place for global expansion. Once goals are identified, find out how you can use your talents to help with that expansion. If there are no systems in place for building business relationships internationally, seek out companies in your industry that are successfully conducting business abroad and find out their strategies for fostering those relationships abroad. With the Columbus Region looking to expand its global reach, I hope more companies will realize how imperative these connections are for their continued growth.