Student Intern Helps Europe Convert to a Single Currency
By Emily Harrison Weir
Imagine going to a French grocery store and having a head of lettuce cost not seven francs but one unit of a currency you've never used before. On January 4, millions of people in eleven countries will start pricing lettuce and everything else in "euros," the new currency of the European Monetary Union. It's the most significant monetary change in modern history, and MHC's Andreea Arambasa '00 had the internship of a lifetime in helping a task force prepare French financial markets for the change.
The international relations major jumped at the chance to extend her junior year in Paris with a summer internship at the Paris stock exchange, working for the general manager of the euro conversion project. She liked it—and they liked her—so much that the internship evolved into a yearlong, paid job. It'll postpone her graduation, but after all, it's a historic opportunity.
In January, banks and investment firms will conduct all transactions in euros, providing nearly instantaneous transfer of funds throughout Europe. With a single currency, the focus of trading will shift from investment by country to investment by economic sector: cars, technology, pharmaceuticals, etc. After a three-year transition period in which both euros and each country's national currency will be valid, all spending, saving, and investing will be done solely in euros. By 2001, everyone will know how much lettuce costs in euros.
Arambasa's main responsibility is writing technical reports for Paris stock exchange managers, brokers, and investment firms across Europe. Easily described, perhaps, but not so easily done. "The most difficult part of this job is the confidentiality intrinsic to highly competitive financial markets," she says. "The single currency will improve trading facilities for all involved, but information about the different euro approaches is definitely not up for grabs." So she must use diplomacy to create an environment of confidence among those from whom she needs to gather information.
Arambasa is in constant contact with financial market professionals by international phone calls, faxes, and emails. "I spend a good part of my day setting up communication 'bridges' between my French colleagues and their counterparts throughout Europe," she says. In a single week, she may contact people in Austria, Germany, the Benelux countries, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Portugal.
Not only must she be ready to answer any type of euro-related question, but Arambasa must also be able to do so in several languages. "I need to understand a bit about every financial field affected by the euro, so I do a lot of research before I call anyone," she says. "I prepare questions, although I never know in what language they will prefer to answer."
In addition to her native Romanian, Arambasa is also fluent in French, English, and Italian and speaks some Spanish as well.
She also has to be up to speed on the lingo of international economics. Inspired by an MHC economics course in finance, Arambasa took a course on the euro currency at the prestigious Institute d'Etudes Politiques de Paris last year. Contacts she made there landed her the euro internship, but Arambasa believes that the foundation for her fortuitous internship was laid at MHC. Economics and politics courses provided background, and the Career Development Center helped with internship research and support, interviewing skills, and résumé revision. "Mount Holyoke is really adapted to the career needs of its students and prepares us well for the working environment," she says.
She works long hours now—until 8 or 9 pm when deadlines loom—for the "certain satisfaction that comes with the work accomplished." Arambasa's favorite part of the job is traveling monthly to Brussels and Luxembourg for meetings of the Federation of European Stock Exchanges (and exploring those cities after business hours).
All Paris lies before Arambasa from her hilltop Montmartre apartment. From the window, she sees the domes of Sacre Coeur and can follow the winding roads past parks, cafés, and open markets into the wide boulevards of central Paris. She's taking in plenty of concerts and museum exhibitions, and spends her weekends exploring Normandy, Brittany, the Loire Valley, and other areas of France.
Arambasa is preparing for a journalism career, and sees her international relations major as "one of the beautiful ways to achieve a global yet analytical perspective for reporting." The euro work has increased her interest in writing for economic publications, which she says represent "a sector very little exploited in my country." She may return to Romania after graduation, and hopes eventually to take part in the process of bringing her nation into the European Union.
"Historically, no group of independent countries has been unified economically by a single currency," Arambasa reminds. "It is hoped that the euro will not only facilitate economic development and reduce trading costs across Western Europe, but that it will also have a socially unifying effect." Optimism is running high. "Some believe that the single currency of the eleven industrial countries of the European Economic Union will be stronger than the American dollar," she notes.
Still, there's skepticism among ordinary Europeans "who fear that the euro will bring confusion and diminish their national identity," Arambasa says. "At the same time, the euro can create the foundation for a new Europe, that of the young generations who move across the borders for education and work much more than their parents did." People, in essence, like Arambasa herself.
Photo by Stephen Knox