31 Days in Austin as a YLAI Fellow

31 Days in Austin as a YLAI Fellow

Looking Back on my Experience of Cross-Cultural Entrepreneurship

by Pearlita J. Richardson, State Department Fellow

When I signed up for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Program (YLAI) in 2021, no one could paint me a picture vivid enough of what it would mean to be selected out of 1800+ applicants. Or what it would feel like to sit in a room of 240 young entrepreneurs, real innovators, and hear the rumble of overlapping voices as we talked to each other. Immediately wanting to know ‘is this surreal to you too?’ And it truly was. 

But nothing could compare to my time in Austin, Texas, with 21 of the most fun-loving, adventure-seeking, change-making people I have ever met.  We arrived by greyhound on an absolutely hot afternoon and didn’t even check-in to our new homes before we hit the streets to experience the much anticipated ‘tex-mex’. Ok, I’ll be honest, we were starving. I stood beside Javier that day - a fellow from Mexico who has developed an artificial sweetener that still retains the rich flavour of real sugar- and he explained the ingredients and process of each Mexican dish on the menu so I could make the perfect decision. 

The next few days were a blur. My roommate, Norma Denisse - a Fashion & Technology Lawyer and University Professor- and I clicked right away. Sisters. We shared our lives, went shopping and developed an at-home routine that made going to the apartment at the end of a long day a most welcoming experience. 

My first day meeting my Foreign Placement Officer, Anna Claire Eddington, founder of Open Eye Beverage Company was an adventure. I laboured over what

Pearlita and Anna Claire

to wear, what to pack in my bag and whether I was armed with enough knowledge on her organisation, but Anna Claire was as warm and genuine in-person as she was online and working with her was easy. Our conversations flowed smoothly, our jokes were too dark for public consumption and our productivity when she took me into her workspace was unmatched. Watching her navigating her day-to-day operations and the dynamics of her team members was a real eye-opener. I recognized that although our sectors of work couldn’t be further apart than chalk and cheese, at its core, our values and operations aligned. Values like innovation, flexibility and authenticity. She made my time worthwhile and introduced me to others who did the same, Andi - who completely overhauled my financial planning- deserves a noteworthy mention. 

I did lots of things over the next few weeks, but the connections made with the fellows were my favourite parts. From anticipating my demise at a suspicious lakehouse with Maite, learning about Jose’s transition from Venezuela to Paraguay, Movies and my dinner order that went to another state with Paul, Sushi and Art museums with Kimery and the gang and the endless, vibrant parties hosted by Eurwin & Javi, my days were filled with love and laughter and the kind of advice that can only come from people who have also lived the risk-taking, world changing, failure littered and win-bound life you have. 

When we finally said goodbye, at our last rooftop gathering, under the night sky with ‘See You Again’ on low in the background, it felt like the cheesy closing scene of a really good film. Friendships were made there. Lasting connections. Something that good, deserved a good ending. And so it was. 

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