International Educator - May/June 2012 - 86
THOMaS H. TRUETlER, PhD
Founder and ceo, Flyclinic
To say Thomas Truetler grew up in a sheltered world may be quite an understatement. That phrase, after all, is normally reserved for those whose childhoods were spent in small towns or poor areas. Truetler’s hometown makes some of those locations look positively metropolitan. Truetler spent his growing-up years behind the Iron Curtain; he grew up in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And spending one’s formative years in a city physically cut off from the rest of the world means there aren’t a lot of opportunities to consider how everybody else lives. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and by 1994, Truetler was immersed in graduate studies at the Universitat Leipzig in Germany. That year, he applied for and won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to study in Cleveland, Ohio, for three months. There, he jumped into language and cultural studies, and realized he had a taste for living in other countries. “This scholarship opened the world to me,” he says. One year later, he self-financed six months in the United Kingdom, studying physics, marketing, and software development, and completing an internship at the same time. Some of the things he learned on those trips were more than eye-opening. “I realized how wrong the things were we learned about the U.S. in school in East Germany,” he says. “I also realized how innocent I was when I came to the U.S. My first weekend, I went bicycling in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Cleveland. I learned that when I came back!” The trips also opened his eyes to the diversity of the rest of the world; he met students from all over in Cleveland and learned about more cultures
InternatIonal educator M AY + J U N E . 12
Thomas H. Treutler, a native of Germany, now lives in Colombia. He holds a PhD in natural sciences from the University of Leipzig in Germany as well as a diploma in physics and bachelor’s degree from the same institution. He has worked in England, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United States, and since founding his company, Colombia.
courtesy of thomas t. truetler
than American, and opened his mind to possibilities he’d never considered before. “Growing up in a ‘monocultural’ country made me very critical and always distrustful of anyone, individual or government, was trying to tell me,” he says. His Cleveland education abroad experience changed that. He returned to Germany to finish his studies and again traveled to school, to the UK. Once he earned his degrees, he traveled frequently to visit friends he’d made in his study abroad programs. After earning his doctorate degree in natural sciences in 2002, Truetler worked in sales for Daimler Chrysler and Nissan in Germany, Madrid, and Tokyo. By 2009 he’d relocated his family to Medellin, Colombia, and launched FlyClinic, an online medical tourism portal, offering information to patients wanting to receive healthcare services in South America. Such “medical tourism” has become increasingly popular with those who can’t afford care in their home countries or who hope to receive better care overseas than they would at home. The site offers information on specific procedures in specific countries allowing patients to research both hospitals or clinics and doctors before booking their trips. Truetler also teaches intercultural negotiation skills at EAFIT University, Medellin, Colombia, making the most of his skills in four languages (German, English, Spanish, and Russian) and the things he said he first learned while traveling abroad as a student. His education abroad experiences, he says, absolutely influenced his decision to launch the company. “I met many people who helped me understand how the economy really works,” he says. “These were highly entrepreneurial people that I am lucky to call friends. The experience changed me completely from a somewhat innocent bystander in communist East Germany to an expressed libertarian.” It also made him more open to the idea of launching his own business to begin with. “It made me accept risks in a way I had never actually experienced before,” he says. “Did it change my career path? I do not know because I do not know the alternative timeline I evaded by opening myself up and going abroad. It certainly changed me. This was a first step in a direction where continuous experiences opened my eyes and let me see and experience that I as an individual determine my future.”