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Alumni Spotlight: Mario Ignacio Artaza '82

Mario Ignacio Artaza, class of 1982, was the first Chilean to study all four years and to graduate from Georgetown Prep. In early September that year, he returned to his country where he enrolled at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile to study Journalism He went on to study an M.A. in International Relations at the University of Chile.

Between 1984 and 1993 he worked in several different news media, traveling and covering stories ranging from the Olympics and Pan American Games to the rise of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, from the return of democracy in Latin America to naval maneuvers in the South Pacific and missions over Iraq. In April 1993, after applying to join the Chilean Foreign Service, he was accepted to the Andres Bello Diplomatic Academy, where he graduated with the Ambassador Carlos de Costa Nora Award for Diplomatic Vocation. During his 28 years in the Chilean Foreign Service, he has served abroad as Director (Program) at the APEC Secretariat in Singapore; as Director of the Chilean Trade Promotion Office in Beijing and as Consul General of Chile in Hong Kong SAR and Macao SAR.

Between 2014 and 2017, he took a leave of absence from the Ministry to head the team responsible for establishing Chile´s first bank in Hong Kong, Banco Security. Currently he is Chile´s Consul General in the New Yorkoffice, which is responsible for attending the needs of the more than 60,000 Chileans who live, work or study in 10 states of the northeast. He frequently teaches courses and writes on International Relations, Asia Pacific, China for several Chilean and foreign universities, including the Universidad de Chile and his alma mater, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. He has served as vice president of the Chilean Foreign Service´s Staff Association and is currently the president of its Ethics Committee.

This year he received an award from the Confucius Institute of Chile´s Universidad Santo Tomás, for his contribution towards fostering closer Chile-China relations. He is a columnist specializing on International Affairs in El Mostrador, Chile´s oldest online newsfeed. He has been married for 25 years to María Alejandra Zuñiga Schultz and they are parents of Xaviera, who is currently in her final LLM exams at Fordham University in New York, after studying Law in Bristol University in the UK. Mario is a Second Lieutenant in the Chilean Navy Reserve, an officer of the Ocean Patrol Vessel "Cabo Odger", based in Chile´s northern port of Iquique. He has been awarded decorations for service in the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as for service in the Navy, including the Chilean Navy´s Bicentennial Medal.

What have you done since graduating from Prep?

Few at Prep actually know why I returned to Chile after having lived in the United States between 1964 (I arrived in DC being a month old) and 1969, and then from 1973 until September 1982. My parents divorced while I was a sophomore, not a nice breakup for sure, and things didn't quite go well inside for me from then on. I kind of went on a spiral. I laughed, I made friends, but I was always struggling to study, to concentrate, to do my best. I wasn´t centered, focused nor driven. I really feel that my years at Prep became days and months where I could let go of uncomfortable situations, where I had difficulty communicating what was going inside myself but enjoying learning, especially History with Steve Ochs. As such, without the grades, even though I did AP History and was relatively good public speaker and reader, having no financial support to enter a university in the United States which my parents could afford, the choice I had was to find work, or go to Canada, where I simply didn't think I would be able to hack the winters, or return to a family I little knew about in Chile, but that I enjoyed being a part of when going back for vacation. Turns out, Chile was also quite a challenge! Just getting through the fast-speaking Spanish and learning to maneuver in a country that was under a Military regime with protests in the street was a completely new learning experience for someone who arrived there with relatively long hair and Nike´s.

I do believe that Prep instilled well within me certain values, principles and strengths which allowed me to survive. Chile wasn't Bethesda or Potomac, and I did have to modify attitudes, have my feet firm on the ground, learn to thrive in a completely new environment, all from scratch. I didn't even know words or terminology to go around without being noticed as a foreigner in my own country. I had to completely reset. The story from studying journalism to today has had its obvious curves, ups and profound downs but all in all, I am a happy and grateful man. I have had a life full of rich experiences, having traveled throughout the world, ridden in combat aircraft, submarines, seen revolutions and wars upfront (I was in Kuwait and Iraq for Operation Desert Storm), had to sing in the street, appeared in television commercials (when I was way thinner), worked in hotels as a bellboy, washing cars, serving tables, been a radio and television commentator, met people from all walks of life, men and women who have left profound lessons within me, from presidents to ministers, from world record setters to men and women who have sworn to die getting their gear prepared for another mission. It has been quite a ride for which I am grateful, but do obviously carry many errors for which I try to amend through my work for others, starting always at home. Today, in New York, most specially with the challenges posed by Covid-19, I have had to step up to the plate serving others. I have learnt firsthand, the sorrows of poverty, desolation, sickness and death, as well as the hardships endured by many Chileans who are undocumented in the United States. We have had to respond to the needs of families of more than 48 Chileans who have died since March 2020. First and foremost, I am now someone who is committed to my community. Without those lifelong lessons I carry well within myself, I would not be able to deliver. In this equation, my wife and my daughter are not just fundamental, they are a source of tranquility and true inspiration.

What was one of your favorite memories during your time at Prep?

One of my favorite memories during my time at Prep was having the opportunity to audition and be selected to be on stage for a Prep play. I remember singing solo in front of a then, tremendous crowd and after the final curtain, enthusiastically celebrating with members of the cast, crew and obviously with Mr. Barry, who took so much care in organizing and looking after us when under his wings. I also remember and value the opportunity to have been part of a community which at that time, was opening up to new nationalities, races, creeds. I remember classmates from faraway places like Iran, Singapore and Thailand as well as closer to my Latin American roots such as Colombia and Venezuela. It was another Prep, another era of Americana, one where you had to sometimes endure being pointed out by a few for being foreign, when at all times I just felt human, a part of a whole. I always wonder how they must, or have they, evolved in a country where diversity is more than just part of an equation. It's a Must.

How did Prep prepare you for your career as Consul General of Chile in New York?

Be resourceful. Patience pays off. Value the time you have today. Those are probably the most important lessons learnt during my years at Prep which I still value as Consul General, responsible for tens of thousands of compatriots from all types of walks of life, backgrounds, experiences, ambitions, truths. Prep also allowed me to concentrate on what is important and, with my age, I have learnt that love is spelled out in many ways, sometimes, in actions that one rarely ever expects to occur. I am someone who is grateful to have learned to love and to give rather than expect, want, now. The cream is always on top of the coffee. Don´t rush its preparation.

What impact did Georgetown Prep have on you?

This question is one I have learned to value well into my fifties. Prep made me feel proud of being part of a community. Every time I visited the United States before I was posted to New York, I made time to visit the campus, to walk the grounds, to breathe, to remember classmates, the bell, lunch, the bus. I am part of Georgetown Prep´s history and am committed to its today and to its future. When I am able to visit DC, I take Alejandra and Xaviera for them to know a bit more about me by walking through the halls, seeing portraits, looking at the grounds. It makes me feel alive when I am able to share with whom I most love and value, the years being part of a community which I should have maybe never physically left, as experiences made me be apart from the United States for more than 30 years, but whenever I have had the opportunity to speak of, is highly spoken of. Prep gave me a sense of belonging which I lost for quite some time but am trying once again to find, regain, nurture. Life does sometimes come around full circle.

What advice do you have for current Prep students?

The most important advice is be true to yourself. Just be you. You don't fail others when you are you. The gifts you have to give others blossom when they must, not when you or others want them to give light. And light you shall find over time. Trust your heart. Your head sometimes doesn't feel, and feel you must in these times. Don't be scared or feel less if you have to ask for help. I didn´t. My mistake. Do. It´s never late to do so. And don´t wait for the final minute. Travel. Visit the world. All of it. It´s just Great to know that one is so small in the larger scheme of things. God is everywhere and within everyone. We are all people, we are One. Believe. Read. Newspapers every day. Listen to the radio. Let go the phone for a week. Try. It's not about the cardboard with pretty seals you have hanging on your wall. In the end, it's about what you have been able to achieve when not in a classroom or under stress responding a test. Work, volunteer, serve, be kind. Gain experience being humble. Do whatever others don´t care to do or believe that it's for those who look or speak differently. It's amazing what one can gain from those we sometimes look down upon, and we do, who in turn make us better by understanding and seeing the world from their point of view or life's experience. Be a friend. A true one. Run, sing, dance, laugh, don´t be put off when it comes to celebrating life. Live by what you preach. Be an example to those around you. Now, that´s a challenge! Love. It takes a bit of work, every day, but it may be one of the last and most important words you may well say before closing your eyes. Forever.