UC Alum Enjoys Life As Ex-Pat In Belgium
Date: Sept. 4, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Photos by Dottie Stover
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: General News
Most Americans work a few years in the United States before taking on an assignment overseas. But not Jennifer Bragg, a UC alumna who headed across the Atlantic for her first job after graduating from the College of Business Administration in 1999.
Bragg at least had some prior work experience overseas before heading to Brussels for her current job as a systems analyst at Procter & Gamble's European Technical Center.
In the summer of 1998, between her junior and senior years at UC, she found a banking internship in Ankara, Turkey, with the assistance of global studies coordinator Susan Sadlier at CBA and the AISEC international exchange program.
That two-month chance to work abroad allowed her to travel all over Turkey every weekend with her three AISEC roommates, who were European. "When I went back to Cincinnati to finish school, I felt sort of suffocated," said the 1994 Wellington High School graduate from Wellington, Ohio (near Oberlin). "I just had to go abroad again."
When Procter & Gamble offered Bragg a permanent position while she was co-oping with the Cincinnati-based consumer products giant, she told them she would prefer to work overseas. A little while later her supervisor told her that P&G in Brussels had an opening. The manager would be coming to town, if she would like to interview with her. She did, and was offered a job working on the consolidation of P&G's corporate databases.
Bragg, now an official U.S. expatriate, recently shared her story with 20 CBA juniors traveling through Europe for 32 days to learn about global business. She organized a three-hour visit to P&G in Brussels for the students, who include 19 scholars in the Carl H. Lindner Jr. Honors-PLUS program.
The 25-year-old Bragg introduced the students, via Internet video technology, to P&G colleague Jan Groenwald, a Dutch ex-patriate who talked to the group from the kitchen of his Cincinnati home at 4:30 a.m. Cincinnati time.
Bragg also organized a panel discussion featuring five ex-pats who work at P&G.
Just two months after Bragg received her bachelor's degree in information systems from UC in 1999, she began her first job at P&G in Brussels. Because she was hired as a local Belgian she did not get as much assistance with her move as an American employee of P&G who is assigned overseas as an ex-pat.
"I had to find my own apartment and my own way to work. I was really just numb, with all these things hitting me at once. It was very difficult the first six months," Bragg said. The voluminous paperwork of getting her driver's license, setting up a checking account and getting a credit card were things she handled all on her own.
All over Belgium, P&G employs personnel representing 57 different nationalities, so Bragg has gained exposure to a striking cross-section of the world. Her ex-patriate panel discussion featured her manager, who is from Italy, a Swiss-born human resources recruitment manager, a Canadian-born finance employee and two other Americans.
English is the official language of the global business world, including P&G in Brussels, but communication can still be a challenge across so many cultures.
Six months after her arrival in Belgium, Bragg started learning French because 80 percent of Brussels speaks French. Belgium is a country with a linguistic divide, stemming from its history as a part of the Netherlands - the northern region speaks Flemish, which is based on Dutch, while the southern region speaks French. Although the capital, Brussels, is located in the northern region, both French and Flemish are spoken here, but French dominates the city. Street signs, however, appear in both languages.
Now that Bragg has a Dutch-born boyfriend whose parents speak only Dutch, she has switched her language lessons to Dutch. "We had our first conversation in March," says Bragg of her beau's parents. Her boyfriend now lives in The Hague in the Netherlands, but he will move to Brussels in October.
Three times a year, Bragg goes home for a visit. Her parents have come to Brussels twice to see her. From her apartment in Brussels, she has traveled extensively, seeing the Netherlands, England, Paris and other parts of France, Germany, India, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
She plans on Brussels being her home away from home for at least the next 18 months to two years. What comes after that, Bragg is not sure. She is certain, however, she loves working in Belgium for now.