Kostadina “Kossi” Nacheva ’08 sees it every time she tells someone about her post-graduation plans. There is a moment of hesitation, a searching look, because Nacheva, an economics and mathematics major who spent a year at the London School of Economics, has taken a job with the French bank BNP Paribas.
In Sofia, Bulgaria.
Nacheva is going home.
“They’re trying to decide whether to be happy for me,” she said. “For a second, they’re [thinking], ‘Oh. Should I congratulate you or not?’”
Nacheva is one of the few economics majors among the international students at Colby to take a job at home after graduation last spring, she said. Most are bound for Boston, Wall Street, or London, but she interned at the bank in Sofia last summer and decided both the bank and Sofia were a good fit.
“There is this nostalgia that is growing and growing,” she said. “By the end of the four years you’re just worn out from living out of a suitcase, unpacking and packing all the time, moving your life from here to there.”
That friends and acquaintances both at Colby and at home aren’t sure how to react to Nacheva’s plans is indicative of the pressures international students feel as they study abroad.
While no two international students have the same experience, they often grapple with issues that are very different from those considered by their American counterparts.
Kostadina Nacheva ’08 said she got odd reactions when she told friends she was returning home to Sofia, Bulgaria, to work in a bank after graduation. After four years abroad, it was time to go home, she said.
As international students, should they aim to stay in the United States or return home? Should they major in humanities or potentially more lucrative sciences or economics? If they do return home after as many as six years abroad, will they still fit in there? How do they balance their intellectual needs with the expectations of their families and cultures?
“A lot of times it’s very dichotomous,” said Annelene Fisher ’08, from Cape Town, South Africa. “Our lives here at Colby and in North America are very different from our realities in South Africa or wherever you’re from in the world, especially if you’re from a developing country.”
Fisher arrived at Colby after two years at Pearson United World College in British Columbia and a gap year spent teaching in Canada’s Northwest Territories and in Uganda. A jazz singer who performed in Cape Town clubs, she decided to major in music at Colby.
“I got a lot of flack for starting as a music major,” Fisher said. “‘What are you going to do with a music major?’ If not pressure from communities or families, there’s just this need to succeed. … Because of the opportunities you’ve been granted and the sense of the community that you belong to, you want to be able to give back.”
Now majoring in international studies with a minor in economics, Fisher already sends money from her campus-job earnings home to her father, a carpenter who is retired due to health problems.
“There’s just the expectation that you’re going to keep doing that,” she said. “So I know for both myself and my family, I need to be able to get a good job. I need to be able to provide for both myself and them, should the need arise.”
For Fisher, music was at one end of the spectrum and investment banking was at the other. She found a middle ground, working as an intern for two summers in Washington, D.C., for an international public-health non-governmental organization. She was headed back there after graduation, though she did not have a job offer in hand.
“I feel that I could do what inspires me and what I’m passionate about and still be able to mediate the need to support myself and contribute to my family when needed,” Fisher said. “Eventually you have to make those difficult decisions. Focusing on myself is not necessarily turning my back on my responsibilities or my commitment to community and family and giving back to them.”