Week of the International Student: Mario Reina
During the Week of the International Student, we interview international students and alumni of Erasmus University Rotterdam and ask them about their journey. Meet Public Policy graduate Mario Reina, who is at the heart of his country’s journey to become a successful peaceful and prosperous nation after decades of internal strife.
During his time at the Ministry of Trade, he was part of Colombia’s delegation negotiation team that reached free trade agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore under the Pacific Alliance regional partnership, using the skills and knowledge he gained at Rotterdam. Mario is now working at the Embassy of Switzerland in Bogotá, supervising projects that support private sector companies and help them to access finance and business advice.
Colombia is looking to the future with optimism. A peace accord with the FARC in 2016 ended 50 years of civil war and set the country on the path to recovery; it became a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2020. Nevertheless, the country’s leftist progressive leader, President Gustavo Petro, who was elected in August 2022, still faces many challenges to promote sustainable growth and bring in policies to improve the social welfare of his people.
Mario is determined to help his country overcome its recent turbulent history: “Colombia is facing a new horizon. For many years our global reputation was not good, the world only knew used to associate Colombia with drug trafficking and terrorism. We must make sure violence never returns but also we need to bring prosperity to the whole of our large and diverse land.”
Fascinated by Dutch determination
After his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogatá, Mario crossed the Atlantic to study for a master's in International Public Management & Policy and Development Economics at EUR in Rotterdam, with a scholarship from the Colombian Government. He says he had always been fascinated by the Netherlands: “I wanted to learn more about Dutch determination and how a small country threatened by rising sea levels became a strong European power and a world leader in trade, innovation, maritime engineering, and water management. I knew developing my skills at a leading university would help me benefit my country.”
Made the right decision?
Although he made the most of his chance to study overseas, it got off to a shaky start. Mario explains: “I needed to sort out a lot of official paperwork with the scholarship and my visa, it was a lengthy process and time was running out. July and August went by and I actually arrived in the Netherlands on the very day of the first class. Thankfully a friend was there to pick me up at Schiphol, drop off my bags and drive me straight to the university. My English wasn’t very good at that moment and I only managed to understand about 20 per cent of the first lecture, I did wonder if I had made the right decision.”
Happily, Mario soon settled down and enjoyed his year in Rotterdam. “I was the only Latin American in the class, most of the others were European. They helped me a great deal and many of them are still friends today. We had a lot of fun, I remember nights out with salsa dancing and plenty of football matches, in fact, I ended up an Eindhoven (PSV) fan. It was a tremendous experience for me, personally as well as professionally and certainly enriched my life. I’m looking forward to going back before too long and seeing how Rotterdam has changed since 2015.”
On a successful track
Mario is sure his country is on track to secure its place as a successful and secure nation. “Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, we have a wealth of raw materials, much natural capital and the capability for sustainable development to combat climate change and contribute to the global economy. We are working more with commercial partners across the world, for example companies in Switzerland are interested in buying from our specialist cocoa producers to make their famous chocolates. And tourism, of course, is vitally important. I would encourage anyone interested in unspoiled natural wonders, mountains, rainforest, amazing wildlife, historic towns, friendly people and world-famous beaches to find out more about us and visit Colombia.”
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