Excellence in Action
Alana Moceri ’91
Interviewed by Monique Beals • January 24, 2019
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
It’s kind of long and windy, but that’s what happens. I graduated with a full resume of internships, activities and The Daily Bruin of course, which was a huge launching pad for me. I worked there for two years selling advertising, and that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to work for an advertising agency.
When I graduated in 1991, we were in the middle of a recession. I was the only person I knew who got a job in an advertising agency, a very small publicity agency in Santa Monica. I worked for them for a little over a year with a tiny salary. I would go home crying at first, but I knew I had to do it and see what I could get out of it. After that time, I wanted to take some time off to travel, so I saved up my money and worked extra jobs, and I left to travel through New Zealand and Australia for a few months. During that time I realized what I really wanted to do was work in a political campaign or a nonprofit organization.
When I got back, I started reaching out to contacts and people I knew working in the field. I took some informational interviews, I was networking, and I ended up getting a job at the Arthritis Foundation as an Assistant Development Director, doing fundraising. I loved it. I worked there for a couple years, and then I applied for a job at the American Heart Foundation, which was the gold standard of nonprofit work. I got that job and absolutely loved working for them.
As much as I loved it, I was burnt out after about 5 years in the nonprofit industry. Fundraising is tough, but I had a sales background working for The Daily Bruin that helped me with fundraising which is a lot like sales. I had one really tough event where we lost a couple big sponsors. The Heart Association was also going through a massive merger of the Los Angeles and California affiliates, so a lot of talented upper management were leaving.
So, one of my dreams had always been to learn another language and one day I read in the LA Times about language schools abroad, which back then—we’re talking 1997-98—was fairly new. I decided to take a couple months off to go to Spain and learn Spanish. I had been really itching to go live abroad, so off I went. I arrived to Spain the week before I turned 30 years old, and it was a little bit of an “Eat, Pray, Love” situation, but that was the beginning of my life here. I went to a language school and was doing intensive Spanish learning while traveling around and meeting people. People go to these language schools from all over the world. It’s pretty fun. I travelled all around Spain and Europe. I went to another language school, because I didn’t want to go home without conversational Spanish. Despite about two months total in intensive Spanish classes, I really got fluent when my friend’s mom got me a job waiting tables in a hotel restaurant on the Costa del Sol—the only waitressing I’ve done in my life! I spent every day that summer speaking Spanish to my coworkers and English to guests. I never studied grammar again. From there, I moved back to Salamanca and worked for don Quijote Language School setting up their internet affiliate marketing program. They got me my Spanish work permission and when that job ended, I decided it was time to move to Madrid, where I might feel less ‘foreign.’
It was 2004 and I was dying to get back into nonprofit or political work, so I started reaching out to different organizations in Spain saying how I would be happy to work as a volunteer or help teach fundraising skills. I got nowhere. And this was when Bush was President and 9/11 had happened. There was the Iraq war, and there were massive protests in Spain. 90% of the Spanish public was against being part of the war. There was also the train bombing here in Spain in the Atocha train station—I was just around the corner when it happened. The Spanish government—the same one that got into the Iraq war—lied to the people, blaming ETE, the Basque terrorist group, but foreign press reported that is was Al-Qaeda. There was en election that same weekend and the governing Popular Party, which was supposed to win, lost and the socialists (PSOE) won, meaning a new Prime Minister Zapatero, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several times. That night, as I watched the socialists celebrate, I figured that if Spain could change their entrenched government, then maybe the US could too. So in the midst of this, I realized that the Democratic Party had to exist somewhere overseas, and I found out that it certainly did.
I was desperate to get involved in any way, and as it turns out, there was an upcoming meeting in Madrid to establish the Madrid chapter of Democrats Abroad, the overseas branch of the Democratic Party. So I went to this meeting of about 80 Americans, all Democrats, all angry at the Bush administration. And they needed someone to lead the group, so, I nudged the person beside me whom I had just met and told her, “Nominate me. I can do this.” So I became the founding President of the Madrid chapter of Democrats Abroad in Madrid. I started with 50 people in Madrid and we had another 50 in Barcelona, and over the next five years, I built it to about 3,000 people. It was challenging. Finding Americans abroad can be like finding a needle in a haystack, but the point of it all is so that Americans will vote from abroad. The whole organization started in order to advocate for Americans to have the right to vote abroad. For the next several years, I lived and breathed Democrats Abroad. It is tough to describe how big of a deal Obama’s campaign was here in Spain, so we were gaining a lot of momentum. Somewhere along the way, I started doing some media work.
I went on television for the fist time that fall, talking about the election and the Democratic Party in Spanish. It was tough! I started doing a lot of television work representing the party, because Democrats Abroad is an official part of the party, they are the equivalent of a state committee. My job was to tow the party line and use the talking points, and around 2005, a smaller TV station asked me do a 15-minute debate every Friday with the local president of Republicans Abroad. That was some of the best experience I got, and that was how I learned how to do television: what to wear, how to sit, how to prepare, and everything. I made lots of great connections that way, and I continue to maintain those connections today. The political world is small in Spain, and everyone knows everyone. After five years, I was burnt out with Democrats Abroad and it was time to let some new people take over. I wanted the party to be the priority and worried that too much centered around me at times. It is an even more vibrant organization today through the hard work of people who came after me and I’m so proud of that.
Around that same time, I was starting to write more seriously in my blog and for some publications like the Spanish Huffington Post, and then I got offered a job teaching an International Political Communication course at the Universidad Europea, where I still work. This changed my life because it turns out that I absolutely love teaching, especially university teaching. This is something I never, ever expected. At the same time, I was developing my career as a consultant. I handled international press for the Spanish think tank the Fundacion IDEAS and consulted on Senator Barbara Boxer’s campaign, organizing fundraising events in Paris and China. In Spain, I became very closely associated with the media, and at the time, I felt like I wasn’t fully qualified for that since I wasn’t a journalist, but it is funny where your career can lead.
I now work a little more than part-time at the Universidad Europea. They hired me for my experience workin in politics, so I ended up getting a Master’s Degree in Political Science and am now starting a PhD, which is hard work, but I’ve also enjoyed. I’ve also expanded the publications I write for here in Spain and more and more in the U.S. as well. I’ve ended up explaining not just American politics to Spain but Spanish and European politics to foreign audiences in English and Spanish, often going on Skype to connect with TV stations in the UK and Latin America.
What inspired you to choose this career path and to shift from activist to analyst?
I loved politics as a young person, probably because my dad and his family were very political and argued constantly. I studied political science because I thought it was important, but I also wanted to learn to win political arguments. When I started working with the media in Spain, I found myself constantly having to explain how the US political system works, something I really enjoy doing. So, I really ended up using my degree! It is hard to overstate how huge and powerful every little thing that the US does and how much it impacts the whole world. The world is following every little thing America does, but it’s important to understand the “why” behind it. The political systems here are very different—Americans don’t understand parliamentary systems, or the European Union either. I have become passionate about people understanding international relations and politics. We can break it down into terms everyone can understand so you don’t need an advanced degree to read the international section of the newspaper. We have to find better ways to communicate about international issues, and I love being a part of that.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
I’m in contact with some of my friends from UCLA. For people of my generation, we weren’t already connected to each other via social media and all of that. About 4 years ago, someone contacted me about setting up a UCLA alumni group in Spain. Chancellor Block came for a visit, and he was so lovely to meet. The group has been slowly coming together. I have a few colleagues at work, both Spaniards and Americans, who have participated in various programs at UCLA. It has been cool to see this international group of Bruins coming together.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
After leaving Democrats Abroad, I had to do a major rebranding of myself as an analyst and not an activist. Now that I’m not representing the party, I can look at things from a more critical perspective. Making that shift was hard. You don’t see loads of people who are former campaign operatives in the media here as analysis. Rebranding yourself is tough, because it’s hard to get yourself known to begin with let along try to get people to put you in a different box. It is also a pretty ruthless and competitive game. Being foreign makes it harder, and being a woman does too. When people here think politics, they think of older men with white hair and beards.
Ultimately though, you want to be different. You want to stand out. I think that you can speak about politics and have fun with it, and that is what makes me a little different from the rest. It isn’t easy to go on television and debate politics in your second language, but you can’t shy or doubt yourself if that’s what you want to do.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?
First, moving abroad and working is not easy or for the faint hearted. You’ve really got to be able to establish a network of contacts. Especially in Spain, it is all about who you know. Every great opportunity I’ve had has been a result of my networking.
At the same time, you don’t need to know exactly where you are going. Sometimes I’ll ask my students what they want to do, and frankly, not many of them know. It is important to know that that is okay. People’s careers take some pretty windy paths even if later, looking back, they do make some sense. Of course, it’s also important to set shorter and longer term goals. When I left Democrats Abroad, my focus turned to becoming the go to political analyst to explain US politics in Spain. Now I also explain Spain and the European Union in the UK, U.S. and Latin America.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to call yourself what it is you want to become. I had this magical moment when a journalist called me a political analyst—and I thought, yes, yes I am. So, bill yourself as that and start doing it. I hate the term expert. No one is a true expert, you’ve just got to do your homework. Jump in, do the hard work and make it happen. You’ll learn along the way.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I loved my years at UCLA. I had a fantastic time. I think it is a vibrant community. I had professors who were and continue to be superstars in their field. Being part of that was exciting and gave me a lot of confidence. People in Spain know what UCLA is. It has given me credibility as an analyst and opened doors for me as well. It is such a community of overachievers, and to see what my classmates are doing has been incredible. One of my sorority sisters was Channing Dungey, who became the black American president of a major broadcast TV network. You see people like that and just think wow, those are the kind of people I went to school with at UCLA! Between The Daily Bruin and my sorority, Delta Gamma, I met so many inspiring people at UCLA.
And finally, what’s next?
I’m starting a Ph.D. so that is a big goal for me. My research is about how European multi-level governance affects international political communication campaigns. While I love the challenge of doing original research, I remain passionate about writing about intentional affairs for general audiences. I want people to understand how the world works and that’s really motivating for me.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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