Since graduating in 1994 from the University of Utah, Christopher Dwan BA'94 has taken his geography degree all over the map--sometimes at a moment's notice, and always to unforeseen destinations. His motive: "There is a lot to see and do in that world out there."
Dwan's post-graduation travels began his first year out of college, when he didn't really know what he wanted to do. "So I applied to the Peace Corps," says Dwan, suggesting the decision was comparable to choosing between a hotdog or a cheeseburger for lunch. He spent seven months in Shkoder, Albania, teaching English to high school students before medical problems forced him to return to the United States.
A family tradition may be in the making; Dwan's father, John, public affairs director for the U Health Sciences Center, joined the Peace Corps in the '60s and served in Bolivia.
Back in his hometown, Salt Lake City, he worked "average-joe jobs" including parking cars for a valet service. "These jobs were definitely not what I wanted to be doing; there was nothing available in Salt Lake that was along the lines of what I wanted," Dwan says. More out of curiosity and the desire for a path out of Utah than for his interest in domestic affairs, Dwan applied for and received a White House internship through the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. For the next six months Dwan worked in the White House's Office of Speech Writing and Commu-nications. Averaging 60-hour weeks as the assistant to the director of speech writing, Dwan acted as a liaison with other government offices to keep abreast of national issues. His research contributed to the President's State of the Union Address and 1996 inaugural speech.
"Chris is an extremely hard worker. It wasn't unusual to see him in the office by 7:30 a.m. and he would stay until 9 or 10 p.m.," says Laura Capps, Dwan's boss at the White House. "He is an honest, straight-forward guy, who kept our office intact during an exceptionally hectic time."
"It was really strange having your own son give you a tour of the White House" says his father John, recalling the family's visit to Washington, D.C. He chuckles, "Chris called and said, "Hey Dad, the president is going to be out, so I can give you a tour of the West Wing.' "
As a result of the internship, Dwan's sense of what he wanted to do began to take form. "I definitely wanted a serious full-time job doing meaningful work instead of no-brainer parking-cars-kind-of-jobs."
"Life immersed in another culture changes your view forever, especially your view of America," says the younger Dwan reflecting on his return. The grounds were more fertile in Washington, D.C., for international job opportunities, so Dwan decided to stay put once his internship came to an end. But once again, he found himself toiling away at meaningless work, all the while anxious and ready to pounce on the first alluring job prospect. While working at the U.S. Department of Education in an "over-rated secretarial position," Dwan's patience threatened to snap. "I couldn't stand working there. Each day I was on the verge of quitting," he says. Finally, the day came when he knew he couldn't tolerate even one more minute of "twiddling his thumbs." "I was literally reciting in my head how I was going to go in to my boss' office and quit cold--without any advance notice," says Dwan. "I felt terrible about it, but the boredom had to end."
One day, the telephone rang, interrupting Dwan's mental pep-talk on quitting. It was the State Department and the caller wanted to know if he was interested in a position as an election observer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). If yes, he would leave for Serbia in five days. "Hell yes, I'll go," Dwan laughs, reviving some of the enthusiasm he felt. "There was my excuse to walk out of there."
A week later, Dwan was sitting in Belgrade where he was being briefed on Serbian electoral laws. For five weeks, he traveled back and forth from Belgrade to the troubled Serbian province of Kosovo, observing Serbians voting and recording any violations such as ballot stuffing. Another member of OSCE and a driver/interpreter accompanied Dwan. He was one of five Americans observing the democratic election throughout the country and one of about 100 OSCE members. He caught one man ballot-stuffing and called him on it, only to have the man threaten to harm Dwan if he interfered. "We are basically there as witnesses. All we can do is report what we see and present it to the rest of the world," explains Dwan. OSCE acts as a watchdog of sorts for countries trying to hold democratic elections.
Three weeks after returning to Washington from Serbia, Dwan was called to Bosnia to observe another election. "This election was more tightly run," says Dwan. OSCE provided all the necessities for the election--ballot boxes, registration, and methods for handling complaints. Local officials counted the ballots and kept track of who voted. "I saw a lot of the country and a lot of the destruction from the war," recalls Dwan. "I also got to know the people because I was constantly interacting with them. They were incredibly hospitable, always inviting me to dinner or sightseeing.
"I think the locals are very grateful for the international assistance," Dwan says. "They are trying to democratize and get back on their feet after this war." After 12 days, he returned to America craving heat. "Winter in Salt Lake City is warm compared to Bosnia, where there's little indoor heating." He also returned with a new-found sense of who Bosnians are. "They're normal folks over there [they're] just trying to move on with the rest of the world."
Dwan is back in Washington working temporary jobs while remaining on call as an OSCE election observer. His recent overseas experiences have further shaped and refined his objectives for future employment. "It's fun working with other countries and learning from their input and ideas and cooperating with them," notes Dwan. "I want to help other countries that are less fortunate than we are." He is confident a job that will fit this desire is in the wings. He rattles off three employment prospects: a State Department position in Croatia, and two other jobs with non-governmental organizations working overseas to promote human rights and provide aid.
After his passport is a bit more dog-eared, Dwan's considering graduate school, possibly law. But right now, he's quite comfortable waiting for the next unexpected travel opportunity. "I'm not in a hurry to lock myself into a conventional job or plan," says the young graduate. "The way I see it, it is like speeding while you're driving. I'll get to the stoplight the same time everybody else does, I just won't have to wait as long." Dwan stretches out his legs and crosses them at the ankles, "I'll get to where I'm going soon enough."
--Peta Owens is an editor in the office of University Communications.
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