When Kira Kuhnert, ’16, interviewed for an internship this past summer with Global Consulting Group, USA, (GCG) the position at the newly formed company was not clearly defined. “They were interested in my ability to translate, and anticipated I might do some administrative tasks, but beyond that, they couldn’t describe it,” she said.

Most students might be afraid of the unknown, but Kuhnert, a political science major who plans to attend law school, embraced it. “This opportunity was as flexible as my interests; it was political, it was legal, it would allow me to use my language skills,” she said.  

As it turns out, her open ended job description was only the first surprise in store for Kuhnert at GCG. While she knew the firm was working in Cuba, she certainly didn’t expect to find herself there, as the only woman around a large table, translating business negotiations between the Cuban government and the company’s German client. “It was definitely not in my job description,” she said.

As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to improve, Global Consulting Group was founded to consult with and advise American and international businesses about opportunities in Cuba. Kuhnert spent the first several weeks of her internship conducting background research to brief her bosses on the current business environment in Cuba, and to develop a list of potential client leads for the firm to approach. But she was quick to point out that, “despite all the research I did on Cuba, I was not prepared for what I saw when I got there.”

Through her research, Kuhnert saw photos of how Havana used to look. “It was the cultural center of Latin America,” she said. Now, Old Havana is crumbling and the paint is coming off the walls. “If you close your eyes, you can envision the street you are on and compare it to the pictures,” she said. “It makes you able to still marvel at the beauty and want it to be beautiful again.”

In addition to the crumbling buildings and the lack of infrastructure, Kuhnert came to understand the corruption that goes hand in hand with working with the Cuban government. “The corruption was what made the visit the most difficult. You’re so starkly faced with it,” she said.

But she and her bosses chose to take a long view and work with the government despite its corruption. They feel it’s the only way to make change for the future. “Whether an official is corrupt or not, they all want to improve the current situation in Cuba,” she said. “That’s what’s going to be the driving force: people wanting to see change.”

While in Cuba, Kuhnert and her bosses were working to get their German client distribution rights for Cuban cigars in Azerbaijan. While she wasn’t directly negotiating, she was the only person who spoke both German and Spanish, so she had to translate for the entire group, including translating cultural differences in the way business is conducted in Germany versus Cuba.

She admits she felt a bit out of her league. “I was at least 20 years younger than most of the people there and I was the only woman. I felt like ‘who am I, sitting here at this negotiating table when I don’t even have a bachelor’s degree?’” she said. “It was a little intimidating, but a fantastic learning experience.”

One of Kuhnert’s largest takeaways from her internship is that, “right now, in Cuba, nothing is guaranteed.” Negotiations take a considerable amount of time, and terms of contracts are constantly changing. She continues to work part time for GCG, translating and negotiating on behalf of the German client she worked with this summer.

And while economic reform in Cuba may be slow to take hold, Kuhnert is grateful to have had the chance to see the country on the brink of change, and is excited for what the future may hold. “I think there’s a big change in the air in the government, in terms of generational change. I would love to go back in about five years, and see what change that has come about,” she said.

About Kira Kuhnert

Hometown: Raised in Dusseldorf, Germany and Miami, Fla.

Major: Political Science

Minor: Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies; German Studies

Activities: Women’s Golf Team; president, Student Athlete Advisory Committee; president, Pi Sigma Alpha; founder, Timmy and Friends, a nonprofit honoring her brother that raises money to support organizations that facilitate accessibility for people with disabilities.