Study-Abroad Experience Drives Alumnus Abroad

Monday, April 3, 2006

Businessman Jeffry Paul was raised in St. Cloud, attended the local university, SCSU, and returns to St. Cloud regularly to see his parents, other family and friends. But since 1980, when he spent a year studying abroad, his life and his outlook have been global rather than local.

Jeffry PaulIn the late '70s, while Paul was a business student at SCSU, two of his sisters participated in the University's study-abroad program in Alnwick, England. After listening to the stories they told on their return, Paul packed his bags and flew off to spend a year in the study-abroad program SCSU then offered in Denmark.

"It was the best year of my life," Paul said of his first global experience. He challenges anyone to ask his mother what her son was like before he headed to Denmark and what he was like when he returned. "She'll say I was two different people."

After he earned his SCSU marketing degree in 1982, Paul returned to California as national sales manager for BearCom. By 1999 he was in Guatemala, where he opened a distribution center, then partnered with his two key managers, businessmen from Guatemala and Spain, to buy out BearCom's name and distribution rights for Central America.

When Paul first went into the wireless technology business in Guatemala, he said, "I was a Gringo, I knew no Spanish, and I'd never managed all aspects of a full distributor." He didn't lack for self-confidence, however. When he and his partners opened their business in 1999, with four employees and no sales, he heard "can't do, can't do" over and over again. Says Paul: "But you can."

The Central America BearCom operation, which has as its tagline, "Communicación Global," now distributes from offices in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Brazil. By the end of last year the company had 55 employees and sales of $18 million, which Paul expects will double again in the next two years.

Paul, who is president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, said business is conducted very differently there. "It's a little bit of the Wild West. It isn't Third World. But it's about 2 1/2." The country has been an ideal location, as the growth opportunities are unlimited and because the country allowed BearCom to establish itself as a private duty-free zone, he said.

"Our office looks like the U.N.," Paul said of headquarters, with employees from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Spain and the United States. Add to that daily interaction with customs officials and conversations with staff in the company's five offices throughout Central and South America, and it's a very international environment.

Paul attributes his wanderlust, his self-confidence and his willingness to take on challenges to his study-abroad experience. "I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't gone to Denmark."

Paul and his wife Carolina, a native of El Salvador, have two children, Jesika and Renee. The family visits St. Cloud regularly, but last fall Paul made an extra trip in order to join 75 alumni of the Denmark study-abroad program for a reunion.

Because of the experiences they'd shared 25 years earlier, the Denmark study-abroad alumni came together as lifetime friends. "We were a little older, a little grayer, a little fatter," Paul said, but everyone sat down and began talking like they'd been students in Denmark only yesterday.

In preparation for their reunion Aug. 11-12, alumni of the Alnwick, England, study-abroad program were invited to submit favorite memories and photos from their experience.

This story reflects some of the comments included in the dozens of enthusiastic responses from participants eager to reminisce about their transcendent coming-of-age experience at "The Castle." Although there is not room on these pages to include all of the stories and photos, all are published in their entirety at www.stcloudstate.edu/studyabroad/alumni.

- Marjorie Proell

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