November 15, 2012
This week (November 12-16) celebrates International Education. Rather than discussing the topic, however I find myself musing on the encounters I’ve had within the course of a week, give or take a few days, which I’d like to share with you in this blog.
At the recent NAFSA Region I Conference in Tacoma, WA, it was impressive to see young entrepreneurs at the exhibit hall representing their nascent companies. They were just four or five years out of college, with study abroad experience under their belts and fluency in foreign languages like Mandarin. It suddenly occurred to me that unlike the 80’s, when I graduated from college, today’s college graduates are bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and are forging ahead with business projects of their own rather than working in corporate jobs. This could also be the sign of the times where with the employment market, changing and fewer corporate jobs available, college graduates are thinking and looking outside of the box.
A few nights ago, at a small birthday party for a Greek-American friend, we spoke of Greece and its economy against the din of traditional Greek music playing on the stereo and the image of the Acropolis with a flock of sheep grazing projected on a large screen. We wondered if the US was heading that way, given the on-going chatter about the “fiscal cliff.” This reminded me of a conversation I was having during the Conference Lunch in Tacoma with a graduate school administrator at a Seattle-based University. She told me that she had lived in Greece for many years and her children, now adults with families of their own, continue to live in Athens. She told me that one of her sons was seriously considering moving to Russia where he felt the job market for someone with his computer background was favorable.
At an intimate fundraising dinner last night for Whole Kids Foundation, sponsored by WholeFoods and hosted by Joe’s restaurant in Venice, I shared the table with friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while and met a couple of new people as well. One of the dinner guests who was 40 (he gave away his age) and owned a tech IT company, spoke of having had his US passport, laptop and all his cash stolen while he asleep on a train heading to Warsaw. Getting a new passport from the US Embassy turned out not to be so easy, but he finally managed to cobble together some cash, thanks to a trusting concierge at a hotel in Warsaw, who agreed to help him and he was able to pay the Embassy to issue him a new passport. He said that he traveled frequently, mostly to Brazil and Russia. I asked him if doing business in Russia was easy or fraught with red tape or graft. He said he enjoyed doing business in Russia for the mere fact that you don’t have to go through so many regulations and bureaucratic red tape. “You can just pay the person you’re dealing with instead of paying all the different fees needed to get a business off the ground,” is how he framed it.
A friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while spoke of her days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal and the long- lasting friendships she’s made to date. Her Peace Corps experience whetted her appetite for more travel, and as a TV and film producer she has enjoyed working in different countries. She recently married and has decided to take a couple of months off from producing films and prepare for her honeymoon in Ecuador and Peru in December.
A 30-something Turkish man with a marketing and PR business who had been invited to take photos of the dinner guests told us that he saw Turkey sliding slowly toward a theocracy, like the Islamic Republic of Iran. He didn’t want to have anything to do with a theocratic Turkey. The government, he said, was chipping away at the military’s authority, had complete control of the media, arrested writers and activists, or anyone who had a following on trumped up charges. “I don’t want to be there,” he said. He wanted to be in America to attend graduate school. I offered to help him at least with the evaluation of his academic credentials from Turkey should he want to look into studying in the US or apply for a work visa.
Thinking back at the conference in Tacoma, the birthday party, the fundraiser, and the various people I have met in less than a week, it is clear that international education had touched their lives in one form or another. Neither the young entrepreneurs at NAFSA, the former Peace Corps volunteer, nor job seekers who were un-phased by borders or languages seem to be hindered in pursuing their dreams despite challenges. Obstacles, if any, were seen as mountains to be climbed. All this reminds of the quote I’d read from the late actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says: “I’m possible!”
Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI