Marie-Louise Abram is the Director of International Programs and External Relations at Penn State Harrisburg. She and I have traveled together on Penn State study trips to China and India and each time I have been impressed with Marie-Louise’ inherent grace. Nothing seems to fluster her and she navigates cultural norms easily. She has a PSU graduate degree and a Vanderbilt undergraduate degree. Her volunteer works includes multiple board appointments, and her hobbies include dance of all types, including the Argentine tango, music, and investing. She is a mother to a university student studying music and pre-med studies. Marie-Louise has continually been an inspiration to me and with every conversation we have, I leave with more to think about.
Q: You have such an interesting role at Penn State. Can you tell me some of the most rewarding parts of your career?
MA: I have the distinct pleasure to see and experience people, places and things from all over the world with my work in university international programs. My experiences can take multiple forms so that stakeholders can be as diverse as college presidents, ambassadors, students, donors, etc. This intersecting point is rich with possibilities and creates value for anyone involved. It is amazing to watch an idea come together with different people providing what is needed. The joyful moments come when you hear a new perspective emerge as one learns about a new culture, country or people. Students always provide lightness and joy in those moments, and it works for the visitors we host from overseas as well.
Q: You traveled a great deal growing up; what lessons did your childhood teach you?
MA: My childhood shaped my life in every way. Growing up in an international family where we spent childhood summers in Lebanon with my grandparents was a gift. It was incredibly fulfilling to be part of a family whose members are diverse in their interests and experiences and would do anything to support each other. The extended family is accomplished and unique. They live and travel all over the world, and speak multiple languages. For example, my mother went to medical school, became a biochemist, and as a woman of her time, it was remarkable. She was encouraged by her father who was a pharmacist, businessman and diplomat with ties to Egypt and the United Kingdom. He encouraged my mother to achieve, accomplish, and make a career.
Against the backdrop of my childhood, I was able to see the contrasts between cultures. I could see as an American how we are raised to be individually minded, while most parts of the world, like the Lebanese, work together to make each other whole. During my childhood, Lebanon was thriving, but by the time I was 15, we stopped our trips due to the war years. Those were terrible times and people suffered. Much was lost and it was devastating to lose regular, personal touch with family. That longing shaped my attachment and affection for the country and family.
Those early times in Lebanon taught me how humor, good will, and an understanding people of different cultures are critical. The world seemed flat because I had to negotiate with parents from a different culture and learn to my hometown in South Carolina. It requires a lot of agility and stillness to modulate between different cultures. It did produce some anxiety about functioning in different cultures, but without knowing, one integrates different expectations. This perspective still resonates with me and works well.
Q: Tell me about your interest in investing?
MA: I enjoy markets and investing. While in graduate school, I started to develop more interest in international investments, microfinance in particular, and made a trip with a group of bankers and investors to Argentina to see firsthand how this type of business works. It was inspiring to see capital being made available to people who did not have access to traditional banks and sources of money. These types of small loans were making a difference in people’s lives in astounding ways. Businesses could grow and families could thrive, and donors or investors could know that their money was stimulating an economy and provide sustainable autonomy to these entrepreneurs. My interests have grown from there, but I will always remember the micro bank’s customers and their stories.
Q: What is something that everyone should know?
MA: There are several things I ponder:
- We come from the most creative force in the universe – whether you call it God, the Holy Spirit, the infinite field of possibilities, etc. and that this force is feeding us every moment. This creativity is beyond anything we can imagine and speaks through our instincts and the people we encounter.
- It’s easy to forget to trust yourself.
- It helps to remember that we are all in this together, and seeing ourselves as interdependent is necessary.
- Choosing the high road and kindness always pays off, even when you feel like you’re losing something in the process.
- Peace of mind and health is worth everything.
- The truth will always be revealed, even if it’s not on your timeline.
- Following what you love is the path filled with grace.
- Choosing love over fear is a relief!
Q: Describe what inspires you.
MA: I know when something or someone is inspired – it takes my breath away. I’m inspired by simplicity, brilliance, intellectual genius, generosity, creativity, beauty, nature, my daughter, joy, laughter, music – it goes on and on. I’m particularly awed and humbled when I can connect with someone who clearly is bringing inspiration and encouraging the idea that all is well.