American Horizons in Italy: Introducing Abigail Rupp

American Horizons in Italy: Introducing Abigail Rupp
U.S. Consul General Abigail Rupp at the Florence consulate

A Vista reporter sat down with the new U.S. Consul General in Florence, Abigail Rupp, to get her take on Women In the Know.  Rupp works in coordination with the American Embassy in Rome to serve the U.S. and her citizens in Tuscany, most of Emilia Romagna and San Marino.

Before arriving in July 2014, Rupp worked in Moldova, Ghana, Russia, Ethiopia and Washington D.C.  The daughter of two U.S. government employees and a resident of D.C., Columbia, Maryland and Reston, Virginia, whether or not Rupp would pursue a career in the Foreign Service was something she never questioned.  Fluent in Russian, Romanian as well as Italian, and with a long list of accomplishments, Rupp is also mother of three and wife of a diplomatic security special agent.

The interview began by questioning Rupp about how her high-ranked position pertains to her gender and how her wisdom can apply to women across the board.  It then moved to questions regarding the study-abroad agenda and experience in Florence.

As a college student, seeing women in such high positions of power is such an inspiration.  What advice do you have for young women pursuing higher education, specifically in fields typically dominated by men?

Pick something that really interests you and even if people tell you can’t make money at it.   I have a master’s degree in Public Policy and Philosophy.  A degree in Philosophy teaches you how to read critically, and ask questions, and build an argument, and all of those skills are useful in my job.  So, that would be my advice: find something you’re interested in and then figure out how that could connect to the employment possibilities.

What have you discovered about the condition of women during your international postings?

Offering assistance to women improves the entire country’s condition. In many cases, they are the ones that hold that society together, and not just for the traditional reasons of kids and home.  There’s research that shows that if you provide extra income to women, either through microcredit or food assistance, they use it to support their families. Of course, there are lots of challenges for women around the world.  It’s not an easy life.  I worked with an anti-trafficking program in Russia, and with different kinds of health programs in Ethiopia and Ghana, but I think we always have to think about how significant the work that women do is, no matter where they are.  Another priority is setting up programs that allow young girls to go to school.

The theme for Vista Magazine’s newest series of articles is “Women in the Know.”  How would this apply to your life and career so far?

I think that to be a woman in the know, you would have to know who you are, where your place is in the world, and what you want to achieve. I think a woman in the know should also have a commitment to helping others, no matter where she is.

What advice do you have for other Women In The Know?

You know more than you think you know, and it doesn’t matter how you think others see you if you are genuine and you work hard and you have an interest in what you’re doing, people will see that.  I think the best way to be successful is to be true to yourself and do something that interests you personally.

What are your other goals and priorities as the U.S. Consul General?

We have a lot of things on our plate, and a few of them are coming up in the relatively short-term. One of them is the Milan Expo, which used to be known as the World Fair.  The U.S. has a big pavilion that we’re building; the Expo itself is focused on food, both the cooking of food and the gourmet side of things, but more importantly on how we’re going to feed a world population that continues to grow.

Another priority for us here in Florence is promoting entrepreneurship in the region. Part of that as well is our support for the ongoing discussions on a bilateral trade treaty between the U.S. and the EU, called TTIP, which would allow an enormous market to open up for Italy, certainly for the U.S., and for the rest of Europe. The consistent priority of our mission is always going to be to support American citizens who are overseas, no matter what else is happening in the world.

Do you have any advice for prospective or current college students debating whether or not to study abroad?

It’s a fantastic means to learn not only about another country, but also about yourself.  You can challenge yourself in ways you don’t expect, no matter where you’re living, and you learn about a culture. It also is a great way to see if an international career is right for you.

When presenting the publication Educating In Paradise: The Value of North American Study Abroad Programs in Italy, you mentioned that you foresee a doubling in the number of students studying abroad.  

I mentioned the doubling because it’s a goal of the State Department in collaboration with the Institute for International Education. They would like to find a way to get more American students to study overseas. I think it’s two-fold. One is universities have to prepare students for that study abroad experience, and then they have to collaborate closely with countries to make sure that there are programs where those students can go.

It’s no secret, however, that there have been some difficulties in the past few years in particular with students’ safety In Italy, and certainly in Florence.  We have students who have too much to drink and in some cases get arrested, or worse.  It is a challenge to live in any foreign country and be immersed in a culture. I think it’s important in those cases for the universities and the city and we and the U.S. government to collaborate on ways to make sure students are well prepared and well-supported and well-informed about what it’s like overseas.  (kaylah grant & jacob mccarthy)