Sharon Lee Cowan, UN Food & Agriculture Organization

  • 14 Nov 2014 11:00 AM
Sharon Lee Cowan, UN Food & Agriculture Organization
A U.S. national, originally from Cape Cod, Sharon Lee studied Russian language and literature at Dartmouth College.

After a stint in community newspapering in the Boston area, she moved to Italy where she developed campaigns and exhibitions for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Today she heads communication in Europe and Central Asia from FAO’s regional office in Budapest.

1. When did you arrive in Hungary and what brought you here?
My daughter and I arrived just a few days before Christmas in 2013. For me, this was a work-related transfer.

2. Have you ever been an expatriate elsewhere?
Oh yes – I lived for many years in Rome, Italy before relocating to Budapest.

3. What surprised you most about Hungary?
I noticed right away how easy it is to move around and take advantage of cultural opportunities here in the capital. We wanted to see the European ice skating championships, for example – something that would have been a major headache to do in Rome. We found it was easy to get tickets, easy to get directions, easy to get to the venue, easy to get to our seats – a pleasant experience from start to finish. We also love going to the opera here . . .

4. Friends are in Budapest for a weekend - what must they absolutely see and do?
Since many of my friends are vegetarians like me, I often propose dinner at Napfényes Étterem on Rozsa utca. And of course a few hours in the public baths.

5. What is your favourite Hungarian food?
Traditional Hungarian cuisine was not developed with vegetarians in mind, but I do find myself cooking more and more with ingredients like sour cream, onion, dill and paprika.

6. What is never missing from your refrigerator?
Kefir. Sparkling water. Fresh fruit and vegetables.

7. What is your favourite Hungarian word?
As a Russian speaker, I love it when I come across the odd word with a recognizable Slavic root – like konyv, medve, or maybe even utca.

8. What do you miss most from home?
I’m originally from Cape Cod in the US, and I’m always missing fresh cranberries. But I also lived many years in Italy, so now I find myself craving pesto Genovese. What I miss most, though, is family members and close friends.

9. What career other than yours would you love to pursue?
I love variety. At different times in my life I’ve been a farm labourer, a sales clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue, a newspaper editor, general manager of operations for a publishing company, advertising copywriter, waitress, bartender, English teacher, caseworker with Jewish families leaving the Soviet Union . . . I have a great respect for journalists and the work they do. If I had it to do over again, I might have continued in journalism. Today I do communication work for UN agency, and honestly, there’s never a dull moment.

10. What's a job you would definitely never want?

11. Where did you spend your last vacation?
With family and friends in Massachusetts. There’s no place like home.

12. Where do you hope to spend your next holiday?
Prague for a few days at Christmastime. We want to explore this part of Europe while we’re living here.

13. Apart from temptation what can't you resist?
Books. We consume so much culture through our computers, mobile phones, Kindles . . . but there’s something really delicious about curling up on the sofa with a Paul Auster novel in my hands . . .

14. What was your favourite band, film, or hobby as a teen?
I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz at least a hundred times, and I can do a pretty good imitation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Just ask my daughter.

15. Red wine or white?
Sparkling water. Smoothies.

16. Book or movie?
Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a masterpiece that I recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. For film, a great favourite of mine is Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast.

17. Morning person or night person?
Morning, for sure. Lately in the evenings I’ve been trying to listen to Robert Greenberg’s 7-part lecture series on Mozart’s Cosi’ fan tutte. Greenberg is absolutely brilliant, but I fall asleep half-way through every time!

18. Which social issue do you feel most strongly about?
For much of my career, I have been involved in one of humanity’s all-time biggest undertakings: the elimination of hunger on Earth. I feel pretty strongly that if we can land on a comet, we can solve this problem of 800 million people in all parts of the world still living in chronic hunger.

19. Buda or Pest side?
I live and work in Pest, but my daughter goes to school in Buda and would like to move there. She imagines that if we moved to the third district, we would automatically have a dog.

20. What would you say is your personal motto?
As a manager and team leader, I’ve always followed the immortal advice of 3M’s William McKnight: “Hire good people, and leave them alone.” As a private individual, just trying to live a good life, I guess I’d have to go with, “One day at a time.”

Photo: ©FAO / Nora Toth

  • How does this interview make you feel?