July 3, 2008

Studying/Working Abroad

Posted in personal life tagged , , , , , at 4:21 pm by stephshimkooo

I more or less fell into working abroad. It started out as studying abroad. The first stamp on my passport came in July 2002 in Moscow, Russian Federation. I applied for and was accepted to the Moscow 4 + 5 program at the University of Pittsburgh. A professor came up to me and showed me the program, saying that she thought I would be a good candidate. It was an intensive language program designed to teach an entire year’s worth of college level Russian in 9 weeks, four spent at the University of Pittsburgh campus, and five spent at the Moscow Language Institute in Moscow, Russia. It was a price I could afford, and it meant I wouldn’t have to be gone too long if it turned out I didn’t like it. “I can do all this,” I said, “and all I have to do is learn Russian? I can do that.”

I knew there was something more out there. I knew there was more to life than the suburbs, part-time work, and dreams of “something different” that is largely pacified by Hollywood movies simply because they’re the most economical mode of escapism. I, like many people of my time, felt largely misunderstood by my parents, peers, and society at large, and I was especially mistrustful of the media. In a world of six billion people, why were the only ones I heard about the 300 million within the US? I decided that the best way to go about that was to go and see how other people lived.

I came back from Russia with the travel bug. I had to go abroad again. I was still in university at the time, so I arranged a study abroad semester for spring 2003 in London at the University of Westminster. I had an amazing time, but I also experienced my first and worst taste of anti-Americanism. This should hardly be surprising when I was living in London for the first half of 2003, when troops first entered Iraq (I will post more on this separately).

During my time in London, I took advantage of the spring break and long weekends to visit Europe, and one of my friends was gracious enough to invite me to her home in Germany for part of the summer. During my 6 months in the UK, I managed to visit Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the Spanish Island of Mallorca. As a testament to how much I liked the summer program at Pitt, I enrolled and went to Russia again with the same program in summer of 2004, and graduated college in August of that year. I would not travel abroad again until June 2005, but the circumstances requiring me to travel were much different.