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A 40 Year Adventure

by AIFS Abroad
Bill Gertz, AIFS President and CEO, in China

Congratulations to our President and CEO, Bill Gertz, who last week, received an honorary Doctorate in International Relations in recognition of his commitment to education and internationalism. He spoke at a graduation ceremony and shared some wisdom from his years of working in international exchange. What has he learned and what is his advice? Read on.

Forty years ago I received my Bachelor’s Degree from SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York.

Unlike all of you standing here today, I had never been outside of my comfort zone. I had never left the northeastern United States, never met people from other countries or learned about other cultures. I had led a pretty sheltered life.

That all changed for me the summer after graduation – this summer for all of you.  I flew from New York to Amsterdam and began my 40 year adventure. I backpacked through Europe for two months, sleeping in parks and hostels, riding the rails while looking out the window watching the world go by.

I learned two things that summer after graduation. First, I could handle life on my own, I had finally grown up.  And second, I never wanted to stop experiencing life on the road.  So, I took a job at an international education organization which led to my current role as President and CEO of the American Institute For Foreign Study.

Forty years after my first trip abroad, I love my work more than ever. I love airports and airlines. I love meeting people from all over the world, I love late night conversations about poIitics and music, I love tasting new food and having new experiences. I love the look of Euros and Pounds. I even love the smell of foreign cigarettes and railway stations.

My years in college taught me how to think critically and how to write. This and a sense of humor is all you need to succeed in our crazy world. And a little bit of love, of course. And family.

I hope all of you have learned some important life lessons [here]. Certainly you have met people from all over the world and now have a deeper understanding of our global society than you had when you began your studies.  

The world is a crazy place but now you have the opportunity to put your personal imprint upon it. Do it and don’t look back. Ever.

I sincerely hope you change the world before the world changes you, which invariably it will. Stay focused and stay committed to yourself.

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