In a faraway nation, Robert Mandell (JD 72) spoke French to a group of high school students.
And it certainly wasn’t perfect.
“I’m sure that my grammar wasn’t perfect and my vernacular wasn’t perfect,” Mandell said, “but I got the point across.”
After the Senate confirmed him as the newest U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg — a landlocked nation of castles and hills smaller than Rhode Island nestled between France, Belgium and Germany — Mandell’s former Winter Park world became a whirlwind of all things European.
Between meeting with the nation’s prime minister and visiting one of its steel factories, the ambassador sits for intense French classes 90 minutes twice a week to improve his fluency in the language he once learned at the University of Florida.
“I’m not fluent, but by the time I leave, I will be!” the ambassador said.
Mandell didn’t have much time to learn.
The former Central Florida real estate developer, who is now the top diplomat in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, had already moved halfway across the world two days after his swearing in Oct. 25.
“It was a very quick turnaround,” Mandell said of his move to this romantic redoubt, the last that still boasts a grand duke as head of state. “You move with your suitcases and hope your books and records get here.”
An ardent Democratic Party and President Barack Obama supporter and donor, the new ambassador’s prior diplomatic experience included a seat on the President’s Export Council, the nation’s top international trade advisory board, whose members include the CEOs of Boeing, Xerox and the Walt Disney Company.
Now he represents America’s interests before a full-fledged — albeit, tiny — member of NATO and the European Union.
Mandell said his lifelong experiences as a UF law student, a practicing attorney and an Orlando businessman prepared him for his diplomatic turn.
“It’s clearly the most interesting job I’ve ever had,” Mandell said.