Julia has dual master’s degrees from UPEACE and American University in Washington DC in International Relations and Affairs and Natural Resources and Sustainable Development. She is a co-founder of Lafaza, a sustainable vanilla importing venture, and spent the first half of her career working on development and environmental certification programs through Latin America. Julia is from the United States but has lived in Costa Rica for nine years, as well as spending significant time in Mexico and Brazil.
What is your favorite travel memory?
My favorite in its absurdity (looking back):
I did a gap year in Brazil at age 17. On the plane ride there, I remember having a 3-seat section to myself, and just lying there crying non-stop throughout the 10-hour flight to Sao Paolo. All I could think of was all of my friends, heading off on predictable paths, to well-known universities, settling into dorm rooms with their parents, and going to freshman welcome parties. What the heck was I doing?
It was my favorite because the year in Brazil was the most profound, growing, and learning experience I could have ever hoped for. Within 24 hours on the ground, I didn't look back! It just goes to show that you need to push through those self-doubt moments!
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
How haven't I grown? While I've been in charge of departments and projects before, this is the first time I've felt that an organization's success rests, at times, in my hands.
We teach a lot of introspective classes, and I've learned so much about myself, my strengths, and where I can use a little help. I, for instance, am highly organized and process-oriented, but I'm also quite risk-adverse. In a team, it helps me enormously to work with a big picture thinker who will push me to make changes and innovate!
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
Within months of starting at UPEACE, I hosted a group of students from San Jose State University. I connected particularly well with a woman getting her MA in Educational Counseling.
About 2 years later, she contacted me on LinkedIn to tell me that she had become a Counselor. As such, she had been offered the opportunity to help plan an international trip for the school's choral group. She had been so moved by her experience with UPEACE that she planned the trip around a visit to us! So cool to have her reappear, and she staged an amazing signing event in the middle of our 'Peace Monument' – a surreal and beautiful moment for all!
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
Personally, I LOVE the Positive Leadership workshop. I feel like its content is the reason I work with UPEACE. We talk a lot about well-being and how to cultivate it in your life, both in the workplace and personally, and I just think that it is profound content.
Every time we have a new employee, I ask them to take it, and I make sure to be a part of it at least once a year to make sure I'm being the best I can. I just think that it is so relevant to absolutely everyone, at all ages and stages of life, and I think it can truly be a life-changing workshop!
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
UPEACE is a magical place, and we have the luxury of being here. It's a mix of being affiliated with the United Nations – so academically challenging and internationally minded – with the fact that we're sort of located in a garden on a mountaintop, surrounded by coffee fields. Then add in self-reflection, cross-cultural sharing, and amazing content!
And the team? I swear I work on the best team I could imagine. We have complementary strengths, but mostly we're just genuinely nice to each other, and we care about each other. I think that shines through in how we treat each other, and it makes me happy to come in to work each day.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
To reference Simon Sinek's famous TED Talk, I think that companies need to have a higher purpose and a clear understanding of their “why”. At the end of the day, we all want meaning in our lives.
You cannot dedicate 40 hours per week (or more) unless you have an underlying passion and understand how those hours are making a difference in the lives of others.
In our case, we believe firmly in empowering people to understand they can make a positive impact in the world. What could be more important than that?