When I arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania, I could not believe there wasn’t a commissary for American employees. Having previously lived in two underdeveloped countries, I understood the importance of having a package of Oreos within a few miles reach. And, I noticed the extreme lengths people were going to for yogurt and peanut butter. They would spend hours roasting and crushing and roasting and crushing to make a simple sandwich for their child.

After a few months, I couldn’t take it any longer. I approached ‘The Board’ of the American Employee Recreational Association (AERA) as a volunteer to get a commissary up and running. Thrilled with the idea, they hired me as their Business Manager. I was to oversee the cafeteria, the pool, the gym, the new commissary, and as a bonus, a new gift shop.

The association was built around membership and ‘The Board’ expected the membership numbers to reach approximately 100, as morale improved with these two additions. A big part of my job was to make sure those members were happy.  That was accomplished through superb customer service, as well as effective design and timely distribution of event flyers, newsletters, and advertisements for all five entities.

This was back in the early days of my digital career, 2008, and before Social Media was popular. I was using Publisher to create the newsletter and flyers, to then ‘upload’ and send through email. It’s too bad I don’t remember the clever name I gave the newsletter. An Aera-ial View keeps coming to mind, perhaps it was along those lines. Nonetheless, after each publication I inevitably received an email or two of kudos.

Using my creativity and design skills in another area, I tackled the challenge of transforming the old embassy loading dock into a viable office and storefront. It didn’t take long for QuickBooks to become my best friend – once our first shipment of food arrived, inventory control and journal entries took over my life. And, as an accounting graduate, I enjoyed phasing in new policy and ensuring the organization’s compliance with U.S. GAAP.

One of my proudest moments during those three years was during audit season. Becoming intimately familiar with financial statement preparation, I can confidently report the independent auditor was thrilled with my work and had no problems or questions during his review. Seamless!

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