When it came time for college, my mom had her ideas of what I should do. I should play tennis, I should get a scholarship. And my dad was like, “You should explore and think about other things.” So I was a double major in German and international affairs, and I studied in Germany and loved being in a different culture, in a different setting, learning about different countries. I studied abroad in Germany my junior year, and I changed majors because I was a business major and when I came back, I was really interested in East-Central European history and political and economic development. One of my history professors encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright.
He was very strategic about it because he knew it was very difficult for undergraduates to get. Especially—I went to a public university so I didn’t have the private, elite school kind of credentials. So he said, “Well you don’t want to go back to Germany because that is really difficult. You should think of a place that is maybe less popular.” And so Turkey had a lot of English speaking universities, and it was really a great place for me to be because I was interested in political and economic development. So I applied for a Fulbright there to a university in Istanbul.
I didn’t end up getting the Fulbright but the university there had encouraged for me to come anyway. So I said, “Okay, well maybe I’ll go for a year.” I ended up staying for two years and writing my thesis and getting my degree there, so that’s how that worked out. From there I guess what was missing was the feeling that I had good skills in doing actual research. So I went to graduate school with the idea of being in a place where I could really develop that.
I really hoped that that would be true because I had never known anybody who was a professor. It just wasn’t a career path that I was familiar with at all, and I always felt like I didn’t quite know what I should be doing to be successful. I had really good research skills, and there were a bunch of people who dropped out of my program that went on to find jobs in the private sector or with government agencies, so I wasn’t really worried that I wouldn’t find a job, but I wasn’t sure about whether I would be somewhere where I wanted to be. You take whatever job you can get. The market back then was also very bad, so the idea of being a professor in the middle of Kansas or something didn’t sound very appealing to me. Hard work and persistence paid off.