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For many Americans, the thought of emigrating to a foreign country can be intimidating. But for Ellen Kountz Laupa, moving to Paris was the joie de vivre. “I left the U.S. eager for a change,” recalls the 27-year old Francophile whose interest was sparked after visits to France and Switzerland as a teenager.
But it was more than the charm of corner cafes, baroque architecture and French cuisine that lured Kountz Laupa to the City of Light. It was a job. “When I arrived, I embraced everything around me. Except for my family, I missed nothing about life in New York,” she says. In 1992, while interning at a Paris law firm, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School senior didn’t like what was happening back home. “That was a recession year and I saw that the best students in my class were not getting jobs,” she recalls. “I thought, `With my B average, I had no chance’ but I saw some hope in Europe.”
As the U.S. economy took a beating, talk of a conversion to one European currency reverberated from Germany to Spain. European companies took heed, shoring up their workforces with skilled professionals to usher the transition.
On the coattails of this fervor, the economics major mailed out more than 150 resumes, marketing her years of investment classes and college concentration in public sector finance. Her diligence paid off when she landed an internship at J.P. Morgan & Cie S.A. in Paris on its Technology Help Desk. With much enthusiasm, but limited French, Kountz Laupa provided technology support and development for the firm’s global markets trading, sales and research. “As a result, I didn’t attend my college graduation, but I was grateful to be working,” she adds.
In two years–one of which was spent as a global technology and operations trainee in New York–Kountz Laupa was on the technology career fast track. But she wanted her chance in sales. “Most people enter sales in their early 20s, and at 24, I knew there weren’t many years left for me to get my foot in the door.” In 1994, with her French finance vocabulary much improved, yet not mastered, Kountz Laupa became a fixed-income sales associate at Union Europeenne de CIC, France’s seventh-largest banking group.
Plunging head-on into her new position, Kountz Laupa successfully marketed French government and corporate bonds to foreign propriety traders, market makers and portfolio managers. With accounts in eight countries, she traveled frequently to London and Brussels.
Last year, her hard work reaped rewards and she was promoted to vice president of international capital markets. As Europe inches closer to the January 1, 1999, debut of the ECU (European currency unit), Kountz Laupa is poised to help her bank make a market for Euro-denominated securities.
However, for those seeking to launch a career abroad, be forewarned: success won’t come without challenges. For example, France has long been known as a bastion of strong patriotism and ethnocentrism. That, combined with a 12.7% unemployment rate, has played out negatively for foreigners, particularly the