Lost Girl of the Week: Katherine Ainsworth

Expats Abroad, France, Lost Girl of the Week, Lost Girls, Quitting & Career Management, Studying Abroad — By on September 16, 2009 at 6:00 am

A few months ago, we bumped into a very good friend of ours, Katherine Ainsworth, in (of all places!) an airport in Minneapolis-St Paul airport. She was positively glowing with the news that in a few short weeks, she would be leaving New York City and heading to Paris to start business school-and a brand new chapter of her life. As you’ll read below, Katherine is living out a lifelong dream and consequently, showing us that it’s always possible to change the course of your life. Good luck, Katherine!

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Katherine: The first time I left the US was at the age of 12 on a trip to France and England with my family for three weeks. I remember being excited. I also remember being nervous that I would get homesick. I didn’t. And I haven’t stopped traveling since.

After college, I moved to NYC, where I worked mostly in media but also dabbled in fashion & did a stint at an internet start-up (who didn’t in 1999??). While I liked working in these “exciting” industries, I didn’t find my jobs particularly satisfying or challenging. Thus, I fed my adventurous spirit by traveling to increasingly distant places for vacations.

On my first trip to Morocco in 2005, I was entranced by what I found in the bazaars – at that point, very little of the traditional Morocco jewelry and home décor had made it to the US, and I couldn’t resist buying up enough extra jewelry (easiest to transport!) to sell back in NYC. This was the start of my jewelry business, Gitane NYC. I have since added amazing pieces from India & Turkey.

I continued to working full-time while building my jewelry business. Wanting to ‘get a bit more out of life,’ I started thinking about business school, wanting to open doors to a more international career and perhaps take my small jewelry business to the next level. I started researching schools, talking to b-school grads and enrolled in GMAT prep classes.

At the same time, I started to get the itch to live abroad. I started investigating jobs and realized that it would be rather difficult (and extremely costly) for me to make the move. I desperately wanted to live in Paris, but the typical expat jobs (nanny, English teacher) didn’t appeal to me. I checked out ads in French publications online and every one of them seemed to require EU working papers, which I don’t have. And with weak French skills, I knew my chances of landing a career-elevating job were not good.

I realized that the solution to both of my goals – to go to business school and to live abroad – was the same: attend business school abroad! In the end, I only applied to schools abroad, and ultimately chose HEC Paris.

I was accepted to HEC in April (2009) and as luck would have it (and I say that with a straight face!), I was laid off from my job around the same time. So I spent the next two months getting my apartment in NYC sublet, packing up all of my belongings (hello, Manhattan Mini-Storage), saying goodbye to friends and taking French lessons in my spare time.

After bidding NYC ‘au revoir’, I rented a minivan and drove halfway across the country with my two kitties and everything I would need for the move to France (in my case, mostly clothing & jewelry!). I stayed with my parents in Minneapolis for nearly two months in order to spend some time with them before I made the big leap over the pond.

August was spent in Montpellier, a lovely city in the SW of France, just a few miles from the Mediterranean. Through a friend, I arranged to stay with a family in order to practice my French before school started in September. It was quite a shock to the system to move from daily life in English to daily life in French! But I decided that it was better to have that done with before I had to juggle French courses with Auditing & Finance 101!

Although I haven’t yet started my MBA program (two weeks away!), I know that I made the right decision for me. If I stay in France when the program is over (which is what I’m hoping to do), I’ll have French working papers for at least a year and an already-established group of friends in Paris. (Now in my 30s, I decided that I’d rather not ‘start over’ in a new city, knowing virtually no one, as I did in NYC after college.) I’ll also have a business degree from a world-class school and have a network of contacts throughout the world. And I’ll have memories that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t left the US. What I won’t have is regrets!

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As she travels abroad Katherine will continue to cultivate a collection of rare and exotic jewlery-all of which is for sale on her website www.gitaneNYC.com. The Lost Girls wore pieces from Gitane during our first-ever photos shoot for For Me magazine.
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    9 Comments

  • Heather Rae says:

    Katherine – what an amazing story! You are an inspiration.

  • Mars says:

    I LOVE that necklace!!!!

  • Maureen says:

    Katherine, I wish you the best of luck on your great adventure. You are a creative intellectual, my favorite kind of person. You remind me of Amanda, the Original LG. The Picture of you and Kittie is definitely cover-worthy and the necklace is a striking example of creative symmetry.

  • Manhattan Mini Storage says:

    What a great story!
    And agreed: BEAUTIFUL necklace!
    Did you happen to pack up any of your jewlery and leave it in one of our MMS units??? Lending any of those out perchance..lol.

    Have a great time and we promise to look after your belongings while you are away from NYC!

  • Taylor says:

    So happy I stumbled upon your blog…this gives me more chutspa to go out and travel my self! :)

  • Anait says:

    Beautiful story, and jewelry!

  • New Yorker in says:

    I love the determination to find an outlet for travel and professional dreams. Once you reach your 30's, working holiday visas and options of that nature become more and more scarce, but she seems to have found the perfect combination at the perfect time and worked out a healthy, intelligent plan to move forward.

    Best of luck, Katherine!

  • Taylor says:

    Wow..how inspirational. This is exactly the story that young girls need to lead exciting and amazing lives. Bon chance a Paris ma copine!

  • Nicole says:

    Yay, this is so exciting to read! I’m 25 and looking to do a similar thing… not sure if grad school is for me (yet), but it certainly does seem like a great way to segue into a professional life abroad. Thanks for the inspiration!