Growing up with an English mother and a Californian father gave me an appreciation for all that is international – starting in my own home.
My father always had a curious nature, so a career in journalism was a natural for him. He worked as a newspaper reporter, photographer, and copy editor who would often take me out with him on interviews or photo shoots. Similarly, meeting and getting to know people from all over the world and being exposed to new experiences was always very important to my mother. When she was still pregnant with me, my mother went with my father when he interviewed a family who rescued rattlesnakes and gave the snakes (with poison sacs intact) the run of their home. My mother told me of having a pair of rattlesnakes crawl up onto her lap and carefully petting them.
My mother made sure that I was well-traveled (she had me flying on an airplane when I was less than a month old), and I was in elementary school the first time she took me to Europe. She bought an MG convertible, and we spent summers traipsing around the continent, Britain and Ireland, exploring museums, art galleries and whatever else took her fancy. My mother is well-educated and would entertain me with tales of monarchies long gone or impromptu lectures on Greek mythology or international politics. Along the way I picked up a smattering of German, and continued my travels, eventually on my own. I loved it all. Training for a future nine-to-five job in suburban America this was not.
After graduating from high school, I attended Sierra College. An excellent community college, it was somewhat unusual for a community college in that it had dormitory facilities, so attracted students from all over the world who wanted to live and study in America. Our dorm had a decidedly international flavor, and I remain friends to this day with some of my fellow students from other countries. After completing my basic studies, I transferred to the University of California at Davis to major in International Relations.
An internship in London at the investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman was a defining moment for me. I had visited London before, but now I was living and working in London. I felt like a local when I was able to answer questions or give directions to tourists who came up to me in Tube stations or on the street. In my job, I was exposed daily to the frenetic energy of the international financial markets. There are few other lines of work that involve such endless, unrelenting uncertainty as investing. I found myself interacting with many of the global participants I would read about in the press. I would be fielding a phone call from a Goldman Sachs employee in Zurich one moment and from a prominent financier calling from his villa in Monaco the next. I was in the capital of the world and an integral part of the process there. I decided that I had to return to London to get my advanced educational degree.
Unfortunately for me, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in International Relations in 2002 right into the post-tech-bubble and post-9/11 economic downturn. After graduating, I accepted a position with Liberty Mutual, a large, Boston-based insurance firm. I rose through the ranks to become one of the highest ranked managers in an office of several hundred employees, dedicated to handling the most complex and disastrous claims from large customers such as Sears or UPS – leading a team of attorneys and field investigators and fending off giant corporate clients hyper-sensitive about how their millions were being spent. I gave the job my best, but I was miserable.
It wasn’t the long hours or death threats from disgruntled litigants (one claim I handled, for example, involved members of the Russian mafia – my name was on the stationery, I must be the one to blame, right?); it was the thrumming frustration that corporate life engendered in me, even in a relatively unorthodox position as my own. I had no way of knowing if I would ever find a way to escape. I searched the faces of those around me in the office for solace and saw that most of my colleagues were diminished and oppressed by their work, which they disliked as much as they feared losing. Everyone was settling for the humdrum and embracing the routine, and I felt pressured to do the same.
I tried to maintain my connection to distant continents. I still traveled whenever possible and I took an international finance course at the University of California, Berkeley as part of an International Business program. However, just as I finished the course, the program was cut.
As time passed my thoughts focused on a truth as stark and chilling as the deepening winter around me: our days are numbered and our time runs out. Whether we succeed or fail in our professional or personal lives, our time runs out. I believe that in life, as in film or literature, there are climaxes, decisive moments that resolve our doubts and answer our questions, and that determine who we are and what we are worth. It was during this stretch of musing and searching that my fiancé broke up with me. Unexpectedly unattached, without debt or obligations, I suddenly found myself free. Rather than viewing this as a tragedy, I looked upon it as an opportunity. I drafted a “to do before I die” list of everything I wanted to achieve. Near the top of that list was continuing my education in my favorite city, a goal I had always wanted to attain. To pursue such an education would enable me to work and have a career in the global environment. Since then, it has been at the forefront of my mind.
I left the insurance company, determined to pursue this educational goal and not to allow myself to stagnate. I would like to start graduate school in the fall of 2008. In the meantime, I have been traveling again, and having as many adventures as possible.
Whether it be living in a primitive fishing village in Brazil, traveling through the Middle East (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, etc.) or visiting sub-Saharan Africa, learning to fly an airplane, hanging out with the homeless who congregate in the local library or simply continuing a hike to see what is around the next bend, my interest in travel and exploring has taken me in a number of directions and brought me to a number of amazing people and experiences…