Sammie ’05 and Keoshia ’03 Walden, who met at ECU, live in Vaterstetten, Germany—a suburb of Munich—with their two children
Postcards from Abroad
Many students dream about living and working overseas after graduation.
We talk to some who had the pluck and courage to make that dream a reality.
By Spaine Stephens
Brandi Dudley ’05 hacks a bunch of bananas from its lush stalk on a farm in central Venezuela, she pauses under the weight of the fruit while a coworker snaps a photo. It’s a rare moment of relaxation for them on a normally bustling day.
|Who: Brandi Dudley ’05 International Studies
Lives in: Aguirre, Venezuela
Job: Runs a small citrus farm, and partners with a local university to reforest a nearby mountain to protect local drinking water supplies
On living overseas: “With good planning, the ride can be a very joyous and fulfilling one.”
Dudley runs a small citrus farm in Aguirre, a small town about 150 miles west of Caracas, the capital. She is among many ECU alumni who share a unique distinction: They live and work in other countries. Not only do many ECU alumni work abroad, but many of them practice professions with a worldwide impact—including sustainability practices, technology innovation, business ventures and environmental and peace projects.
When these graduates packed up their lives and headed overseas, they say they took along lessons from ECU that break down borders every day. Their lives and careers exemplify the university’s mission to provide an education that prepares graduates to be competitive in their respective fields but also to be open, tolerant and ready to embrace customs in other countries. “It provided me with a foundation to cross cultural borders, critically analyze and adapt to life abroad,” says Dudley of her degree.
After she earned a master of arts in international studies, Dudley worked in the student exchange program in ECU’s Office of International Affairs. In 2010 she received a Rotary International Cultural Ambassadorial Scholarship to study Spanish in Venezuela and decided to make the move permanent, confident that her experience at ECU had adequately prepared her.
“The MA in international studies gave me the tools I needed to succeed living outside the United States,” Dudley says. While her focus is to revitalize the abandoned farm—raising chickens and growing citrus fruits, plantains, bananas, coffee and avocados—the courses she took at ECU in conservation and rural development prepared the Aberdeen, N.C., native to improve her new homeland in other ways.
She works with a Venezuelan university to reforest a mountain close to the farm and protect the area’s water source. “It’s a project that is going to involve the entire community from planning to planting and caring for the trees,” she says. “Without everyone’s support, the project would ultimately fail after the first drought or fire that strikes the mountain.” From sustainability efforts to the sale of fresh produce, Dudley is creating solutions—mentally and physically—that have a positive bearing on her community.
|Who: Jeff Kaufman ’88 Construction Management
Lives in: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Job: Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Agency for International Development (also a CPA)
On living overseas: “Living abroad gives you perspective not only on the world outside of the U.S. but, in my view, a greater appreciation of the United States.”
Driven to help Haiti
Like Dudley, Jeff Kaufman ’88 was called abroad by a spirit of service, a hunger for travel and a craving for new experiences. Kaufman is a foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The construction management graduate lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, one of USAID’s high priority areas for providing assistance in the developing world.
Kaufman’s yearning to see the world was sparked when he was in Army ROTC during his ECU days. He joined the military after graduation and served in Germany, where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Over the past 10 years, he has worked for USAID in Israel; Iraq, where he embedded with the military as part of a combined mission during the 2007 surge; and Afghanistan, where he supported Marines’ efforts to re-establish Afghan governance. He also helped establish an organization designed to support USAID workers in more than 30 field locations.
Between those duties, he returned to Washington, D.C., to serve as financial controller for the agency’s Asia Near East Bureau and in the Iraq Support Office.
The variety of experiences shaped his sensitivity to other cultures and perspectives. “You try to gain perspective from the culture you are operating in and figure out how best you can support efforts there,” Kaufman says. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, we had to work hard not to try and develop an American solution but one that had the support and will of the host country government and its people.”
That adaptation and consideration were fostered in Kaufman at East Carolina. “The major takeaways were that I didn’t stop learning once I stopped college, I should take calculated risks and adapt to my environment to achieve success,” he says. “I use those same concepts today.” Kaufman, who lived in Elizabeth City before enrolling at ECU, credits “an incredible college experience” for preparing him for life in general and submersion in cultures whose social norms he did not always agree with. Even then, he recognized himself as a guest in another country.
Living abroad has changed Kaufman in other ways. He has found himself in two war zones, a high-pressure environment in Israel and Hurricane Isaac in Haiti. He witnessed history and built memories with his wife and two children. He saw his daughter confirmed at the Upper Room in Jerusalem, rode horses at the Sea of Galilee, stood in Saddam Hussein’s reserved spot in a Baghdad stadium and walked through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
Still, he relishes the times when he reports back to Washington, D.C. “As a career officer, you go back and forth from D.C. for both visits and assignments there between assignments abroad,” he says. “I think it is important to come back to your roots periodically.” He made a point to return to the United States to vote in the presidential election.
With patriotic ties to his home country still strong, Kaufman is tackling projects that will improve the quality of life for Haitians. He is helping rehabilitate rural roads and addressing erosion and deforestation. It’s one way he can continue to learn and grow. “I think it’s important for people to gain a perspective of our global neighbors,” he says. “It will help in the business world, socially and in travel.”
‘My time at ECU prepared me’
|Who: Bryn Jones ’06 International Business
Lives in: London, United Kingdom
Job: European Sales Director for Data Centers, CommScope
On living overseas: “I have had so many fantastic experiences traveling the world, and this has made me who I am.”
For one international business graduate, that global view circles right back to North Carolina. Bryn Jones ’06 grew up in the United Kingdom and returned to London, where he works for CommScope, a company headquartered in Hickory, N.C. As European sales director for data centers, Jones collaborates with 75 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and conducts business in cities like Amsterdam, Istanbul and Moscow.
“It feels really good to know that I am working for a company headquartered in North Carolina,” Jones says. As a student, he studied abroad at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom and at the Universidad de Cantabria in Spain.
Employers appreciated that he was well traveled and had majored in international business, and he found himself returning to the United Kingdom with growing professional responsibilities. “My time at ECU prepared me for my career as I learned how to deliver presentations, create case studies and apply business management processes,” he says. “It also helped me broaden my knowledge and skill set for the real world.”
Stories like Jones’ are what College of Business administrators and professors expect for their graduates. The college—as do many other ECU colleges and schools—places heavy emphasis on international study and an understanding of a global economy. Courses integrate a global view of class topics, and the college offers an international business concentration, a summer study-abroad program each year and a global understanding course in business.
“Since business students particularly will work in the global marketplace, it is vital that our students are prepared to compete in that arena,” says Dr. Tope Bello, professor in the College of Business’ Department of Management. Bello’s research interests include international business. “It has been rewarding for us as a college to observe the positive effects of international exposure on our students both in and out of the classroom.”
The College of Business gives scholarships to students who participate in summer study abroad programs. It’s a way to recognize that additional facet of knowledge and cultural experience that more and more ECU students possess. The College of Business and other colleges also place emphasis on international experience for faculty, something Jones believes is beneficial to student success.
“Since the business world is a global environment, everything has to be viewed globally,” says Dr. Jim Westmoreland, associate dean of external affairs for the College of Business. “Students with much more of a world view tend to be open to new ideas.”
|Who: Dana Craig ’90 Mathematics
Lives in: Splits time between Milan, Italy, and Park City, Utah
Job: Founder and partner, Quickstone Software, L.L.C.
On living overseas: “Do it! Don’t second-guess yourself; don’t overthink things. Home will always be waiting for you if and when you decide to return.”
Appreciating new cultures
Dana Craig ’90 built on years of innovation and new ideas, prompting her to create Quickstone Software, LLC. Craig, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at ECU, is founder and partner of the business that provides clients software solutions that pair technological expertise with real-world experience.
Craig splits her time between Park City, Utah, and Milan, Italy. A child of a military family, she lived in Dunoon, Scotland, for two years, and always hoped to return. During her senior year at ECU, she studied at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, near Dunoon, and explored other European countries.
Even with such a worldly background, Craig was surprised when she found herself living in Australia at the reference of a former colleague, trying to rejuvenate a business’ slumping software project. Life abroad took off from there, and Craig continues to enjoy the give-and-take of living in another country with diverse customs.
“In order to happily survive, and hopefully thrive, in a different culture, I have had to look hard at my own motivations and habits,” she says. “Things that I used to think were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to do things, under analysis, are often just the way I was brought up to do things.” Observing other ways of working, managing time and even driving a car have helped her to appreciate a variety of perspectives.
Craig took advantage of that type of opportunity for growth during her tenure at East Carolina. “A university’s best gift is to encourage and support curiosity and resourcefulness,” she says. “I had confidence that I could succeed if I was willing to work hard. I also had confidence that I could figure things out on my own while still having the support of a larger community.”
|Who: Sammie Walden ’05, German and Chemistry and Keoshia Walden ’03, Communication
Live in: Vaterstetten, Germany
Jobs: He is a global account manager for Oracle Corp.; she is a program manager for Cisco Systems
On living overseas: Sammie: “My coming to ECU was, in a way, the pursuit of studying abroad.” Keoshia: “It is extremely hard and overwhelming to pack up…on a moment’s notice, but it was the best decision of our careers and lives.”
‘Best decision of our careers’
Sammie ’05 and Keoshia ’03 Walden prospered as part of the ECU family as well. The couple, who have lived in Vaterstetten, Germany—a suburb of Munich—for the last year, met at ECU. Sammie, who spent most of his formative years in Germany, fulfilled his dream of playing American football when he walked on ECU’s team, and Keoshia competed on the Pirates’ women’s track team. Sammie earned degrees in German and chemistry while Keoshia received her BA in communication with a concentration in public relations.
They both work for major companies and are raising a son and daughter. “It is extremely hard and overwhelming to pack up and ship your entire life to another country on a moment’s notice,” says Keoshia Walden, “but it was the best decision of our careers and lives.”
Sammie Walden was offered a position as global account manager for Oracle Corp., a multinational company for which he is responsible for global corporate activities for Nokia Siemens Networks and Siemens AG.
Keoshia, from Mooresville, N.C., is a program manager at Cisco Systems, specifically the Cisco Technical Knowledge Library, helping reduce the learning curve on Cisco products and technologies.
Living and working overseas has magnified both their outlooks on a global village. “On any given day, I can give a training session with an internal Cisco team in Bangalore or Beijing, then 30 minutes later hop on a tele-presence meeting with a company in South Africa that is being hosted by a director in Australia,” Keoshia Walden says. “The company that I work for is the very definition of inclusion and diversity. It has allowed me to become someone that I never envisioned myself as.”
That’s not unlike her experience at ECU, she says. “(ECU) has students that represent so many different nations,” Walden says. “During your time on campus, you will have gone to class with, studied with or befriended someone from a different country.”
That exposure is a key factor of East Carolina’s strength in preparing graduates to compete on a worldwide level, says Dr. Jim Gehlhar, associate vice chancellor for international affairs. “Everyone in this global economy is mixed together with people from other countries and of other nationalities,” he says. “Graduates can boast that they’ve had that background and are prepared to work in the world professionally.”
By attracting students from abroad and sending students on international adventures, East Carolina is sending a message of cross-cultural communication and life beyond the edges of campus and eastern North Carolina. Students are encouraged to study abroad, and some scholarship programs, including the flagship EC Scholars program, require and pay for a semester abroad.
Also spurring students to pursue overseas opportunities are the very popular courses taught in ECU’s global classroom. The courses involve real-time interaction with students in many different countries, placing faces and voices with customs and beliefs different from students’ own.
The concept of a course for global understanding was first explored in 2003 by Dr. Rosina Chia, assistant vice chancellor for global academic initiatives, and Dr. Elmer Poe, assistant vice chancellor for academic outreach. Through the courses, students discuss family, school, relationships, religion, customs, food and even climate change. Many colleges and schools, including the College of Human Ecology, are using similar video and distance education strategies to expand their students’ reach.
Faculty also contribute to a clearer world view for students, Gehlhar points out. The university makes a conscious effort to recruit faculty who have lived abroad or are engaged internationally. “The topics they choose for their classes develop in their students an interest in other cultures,” he says.
Sammie Walden’s desire to return to Germany reflects this campus experience. “Much of my career has been focused on global companies and has exposed me to much of the world,” he says. “We are living in an increasingly smaller—yet more complex—world, and I have been seeking opportunities to leave my mark in a positive manner on this rock.”
Perhaps his most compelling motivation for a global life is a little closer to home. “The most important reason I have pursued opportunities globally is to provide my children the opportunity to grow up multicultural and bilingual,” he says, “and with open minds in this increasingly connected world.”
Relating to people with respect
|Who: Kimberly Stein ’11, English
Lives in: Gunsan, South Korea
Job: English teacher
On living overseas: “I got hired right away to teach and I have always wanted to travel, so I signed the contract and away I went!”
|Who: Kristin Day ’06 Communication
Lives in: Bundang, South Korea
Job: Taught English in a private school known as a hagwon
On living overseas: “My entire outlook on life and how I want to live it is completely foreign to any idea I had before I left.”
Kimberly Stein ’11 and Kristin Day ’06 moved to South Korea to have a similar impact on children’s minds and language capabilities. Both decided to teach English in private schools known as hagwons.
Stein, a Wake Forest native who earned a BA in English, decided to move abroad because of bleak job prospects in the U.S. She has lived in Gunsan for more than a year, teaching English and providing students with games and other learning activities that cross cultural lines. Stein says her eyes have been opened to new customs—taking off your shoes before entering buildings, getting used to new bathroom styles, bowing to greet others, and almost always being in close proximity to people.
She learned to be flexible and open to different ways of doing things. “I feel like I am capable of doing anything back in the States now,” she says. “I have been exposed to cultures and people from all over the world. The experience and exposure is invaluable.”
Day, a native of Sunset Beach who graduated with a BA in communication, worked at The Daily Reflector in Greenville for five years, but felt compelled to explore a new career path. When the search for a new beginning grew frustrating, Day decided to pursue life abroad. A friend, also an ECU graduate, already lived in South Korea, and Day felt more comfortable living close to someone she knew. She lived in Bundang, a suburb of Seoul, for a year, where she taught English, music, art, social studies, math and logics.
Growing accustomed to changes and challenges in the workplace and beyond, Day realized that while she had been well educated and sensitive to other cultures before her journey overseas, there was so much more beyond the surface. “Now that I have been elsewhere, I feel like I knew absolutely nothing before,” she says. East Carolina, however, did prepare her for the experience. “I appreciate that ECU is doing so much to get students out into the world,” she says. “I now realize how much being submersed in another culture can change your life.”
Traces of purple and gold still managed to catch her eye in a faraway land. At dinner one night, she spotted a familiar reminder of home. “There was one night I saw a guy walk by the restaurant I was in wearing a Pirate shirt,” she says. “If I wasn’t stuck behind the table, I would’ve run after him.”
From spotting fellow Pirates to learning new languages, exploring new religions and balancing career and family, countless ECU alumni are building their lives in communities all over the world. They are making a difference through business, technology, teaching, farming, military, service and new and emerging industries. Regardless of profession, these graduates can claim East Carolina roots that helped foster open minds and global possibilities. “ECU taught me how to relate to people with respect and unity,” Day says, “and that is something that’s understood internationally.