I’ve always been fascinated by borders. The first one I ever crossed was between my home state of Maine and Canada, when I drove to Quebec to dust off my high school French and to camp outside one of the oldest European-settled cities in the Americas. In college, I swapped my French for Spanish and spent a semester in Chile where one of my most vivid memories was an epic bus ride from the capital of Santiago that puffed up a long series of switchbacks to scale the Andes until it descended into Mendoza, Argentina on the other side. On the way back from my honeymoon in Bali several years ago, my new wife was somewhat taken aback when I seized on a routine stopover in Seoul to drive to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (known as the DMZ) that separates North and South Korea just to peer across the border into one of the world’s most isolated countries.
But nothing taught me more about the importance of borders -- and the power of international education to transcend them -- than the year I spent in Mexico as a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Fellow from 1998 to 1999. My mission was to learn how Mexican companies were seeking to take advantage of new trade opportunities with the United States. I was based in Monterrey, Mexico, a bustling industrial city in the northeast where I studied at the Monterrey Technological Institute, a first-rate university, and interned in the corporate finance department of Grupo Financiero Banorte, a major Mexican bank. Working side-by-side with Mexican colleagues to develop business opportunities along the border taught me the value of commerce in fueling economic integration. I like to think I played a small role in building what would later become Mexico’s powerful new middle class.
While in Mexico, I eventually visited 27 of the country’s 31 states, as well as the federal district that hosts Mexico City. And, of course, I crossed the churning U.S.-Mexico border many times, in addition to rural land crossings from Mexico to both Guatemala and Belize. In each instance, observing the patterns of movement of goods and people, and the economic and cultural interactions, was a keen lesson unto itself.
My Fulbright scholarship was an essential experience that gave me the diplomatic skills and analytic abilities to work across borders, whether they are political, cultural, or economic. Today, as a senior advisor on Western Hemisphere issues at the State Department, my work entails advancing U.S.-Latin American relations by modernizing our policy to embrace a more globally-minded hemisphere -- and one where mutual understanding and cooperation easily crosses the border.
About the Author: Daniel P. Erikson serves as Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs.