Japan
A decade after having lived in Japan, Kendra Mirasol (right) returned to Mt. Fuji with her children, Aly and Nick, in 2014.

At Home, Abroad

A lifetime of wanderlust inspires Kendra Mirasol, โ€™93, to support cultural exchange.

Kendra Mirasol, ’93, had one major goal while growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin. “I remember always wanting to get out,” she said. She studied German in high school and moved across country for college at the University of California, Irvine. During college, Mirasol worked in a hotel in Lindenberg, a small Bavarian mountain town. “They spoke zero English,” she says. “It was so fantastic for exposure learning. You had to sink or swim.”

After graduation, in 1989, just before the Berlin Wall fell, Mirasol lived in Kranichfeld, East Germany. She stayed with a pen pal whose family struggled to get by under Communist rule. “They were basket weavers—they got paid $1 per basket.” While attempting to leave the country, she was interrogated at the border for three hours because she forgot to file the correct paperwork at the police station.

“Those are exciting experiences,” said Mirasol, now president of IOR Global Services, a global mobility and talent development solutions company. Without work- and study-abroad programs, she said, “My life would be so boring.”

Mirasol came to Chicago Booth to supplement her German literature and language background with business acumen. She was able to maintain a global perspective during her interactions with international students. Mirasol could tell that a good friend of hers from Japan struggled to adapt to the direct, unfiltered mode of classroom discussion favored by some American classmates.  “It was so difficult for him to even contribute one idea,” she recalled. “He was probably the smartest man in the school, and when I saw that happening, I felt I had a responsibility to facilitate.”

India Mirasol joined the board of directors of Cultural Vistas to foster exchange programs to places such as Bangalore, India.

These types of cross-cultural support are needed every day, around the world, on a personal level, and in boardrooms. In April 2016, Mirasol’s passion for international exchange—and for the broader benefits of a global economy—motivated her to accept a volunteer role on the board of directors at the nonprofit Cultural Vistas.

Each year Cultural Vistas offers 6,000 students, professionals, and emerging leaders from 130 countries international internships, professional study tours, fellowships, and language and cultural immersion programs. It offers programs such as J-1 visa sponsorship for teacher exchanges, STEM study tours for historically black colleges, and fully funded international internship programs for underrepresented US university students.

Mirasol hopes to strengthen Cultural Vistas by assisting with the search for a new CEO, improving alumni outreach, and installing a stronger financial safety net. In 2015, 28 percent of Cultural Vistas’ funding came from government grants, and Mirasol wants to be ready in case that number is a victim of governmental cost cutting. “I just want to make sure we have a diverse set of funding coming in,” she said.

Intercultural diversity creates a stronger business force, Mirasol believes, by delivering young professionals a formative learning experience. Organizations that give employees the ability to work abroad create personal growth, which makes for better organizations and ultimately a better society. “When you have diverse groups coming together, there’s a continuous improvement in processes, in relationships,” Mirasol said.

Facilitating intercultural exchange is something Mirasol strives for at IOR as well. “We support people who work across cultures,” she said. “We help train them, get them settled, make their transition easier.” In addition to language support and global team building, IOR also offers support for spouses, who often have a more difficult time adjusting to a new country, a new culture, when their spouse’s work was the reason for the move. When it comes to settling into a new culture in a new country, Mirasol said, “People don’t understand how much energy that takes.”

Creating opportunities for skilled workers and brilliant minds to grow and contribute globally is key to Cultural Vistas’ efforts, a mission Mirasol hopes to sustain. Those who opt for an immersive international experience, Mirasol said, “have a common thread but a different perspective. You put on a different pair of glasses, and you see everything differently, and hopefully more objectively.”

—By Claire Zulkey