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Global Nomads

By Emily Yaghmour

Katja Kozel
After attending George Mason for a couple of years, Katja Kozel became restless, and she was seriously considering transferring to a university in Germany. Her experience growing up was vastly different from that of most of the people she had met at Mason, and she wanted to go somewhere where she might find others who had lived in different cultures as a child, who had said goodbye forever to so many people, who had been forced to learn new languages and adapt to vastly different situations. Then one day, Kozel attended a campus lecture by a woman named Norma McCaig, who had organized a nonprofit organization called Global Nomads International.

"Finally, I felt like I'd come home," says Kozel. As a result, in part, of discovering this organization and the possibility of forming a George Mason chapter, Kozel decided to stay at the university. She and two other students, Brian Lenius and Tim Nutter, organized a Global Nomads chapter at George Mason, the first university to host such a group.

Kozel's Czech parents were living in Tanzania when she was born, where her father worked as an irrigation and water sanitation specialist through a government exchange program. Fleeing the socialist Czech government, the family emigrated to Germany, then moved to the United States when Kozel's father began working for the World Bank. From age 5 to 10, Kozel lived in Fairfax County until her father's work carried them to Sri Lanka, where they lived until Kozel was 13 before returning to Northern Virginia.

In 1992, shortly after receiving her degree in social psychology from George Mason, Kozel left for Prague to star in a film. The deal fell through after she arrived, but Kozel has no regrets. She stayed in Prague and started an upper-level management training school that sends teachers to client sites to teach languages. The company already has grown from 3 teachers to 40.

Kozel admits to the same restlessness that characterizes so many global nomads, and she recently succumbed to it: in July, she sold part of her company and has taken a leave of absence. "I haven't decided which country I want to be in. I've hit my six-year itch; I've been here (in the Czech Republic) for six years, and it's time for me to move on. . . . But, then again, who knows?"

Tim Nutter
Tim Nutter, who graduated from Mason in 1994, lives and works in London, where his wife, Julie, is a diplomat at the American Embassy. The son of missionaries, Nutter lived in many countries as a child. He spent two years in France, two years in Mali, and eight years in Benin. After 12 years of missionary work, Nutter's parents returned to West Virginia, where Nutter went to high school.

Apparently, one of the most common disadvantages to living as a global nomad is the isolation you feel when you return home. Nutter writes that he was unable to "carry on conversations with people in the states about 80 percent of what people talk about (e.g., sports, music, movies, TV, cars, 'rites of passage')." However, the isolation he felt did help him become more self-sufficient¬although even self- sufficiency can be a handicap in ways, he points out.

"My experience made me want to study something that I could go back into developing countries to practice," says Nutter. "So I studied international relations and environmental management." His wife, whom he met in Nigeria when he was in the Marine Corps and she was a foreign service officer in Lagos, shared his desire to work in the developing world, so the two of them made plans to go to Cambodia as soon as Nutter earned his degree. In the meantime, however, his oldest daughter developed a seizure disorder that prevents them from moving to a developing country, which may be unequipped to meet her medical needs.

"I guess many of the decisions I made at Mason were with the understanding that I would be doing something that is now not possible," writes Nutter. "I am now re-evaluating things to figure out how I can do something that is similar in the United States. I find that if I think of the United States as just another foreign country that . . . it is easier."

Since he grew up in the developing world, Nutter says he feels very much at home there. The adventure of life in the developing world is also an attraction, he admits. Now that he has children, however, his priorities are different. "Their livelihoods become much more important than any desire to fjord deep rivers and chase ostriches in Land Rovers."

Mia Britel
Mia Britel credits the language skills she acquired as a global nomad for the opportunity to work on a two-and-a-half-year project in Paris. Andersen Consulting, the company for which she works as a designer of computer systems, offered her the opportunity to work on the project even though there were others with greater technical skills than she possessed at the time. She admits the experience was very gratifying. Britel, whose father is a Moroccan diplomat and whose mother is American, speaks three languages fluently: Arabic, French, and English. She received her degree from George Mason in accounting and decision sciences in 1992.

For the past two years, Britel has been working at a client site in Washington, D.C. Even on this project, she explains, her experience as a global nomad pays off because she works with people from all over the world, "so cultural issues are very much present." But even putting aside cultural and language issues, the experience assists her in the work she does. It is her job to help clients improve the ways they do their jobs. Because of the many changes throughout her life, Britel says she can be more empathetic with customers who are having difficulty making changes at work. She can better anticipate their fears and concerns.

Britel concedes that her nomadic experience has caused her to develop one characteristic that sometimes hinders her: she becomes bored easily. "I get restless if I'm not moving every year," she says. Having lived in the D.C. area for two years, "I'm reaching my limit here." Not all global nomads develop this restlessness, she adds. Some develop an unusually powerful need to stay put. But for those who do crave change, Britel says, Andersen Consulting is an ideal place of employment because it offers constant variety.

Brian Lenius
Brian Lenius grew up in a military family. "Our hometown was basically a military base, though not one in particular since we moved about every three years." Like Kozel, Lenius was happy to discover Global Nomads International. "It's amazing how much fun it is to go out with people who don't think you're bragging when you tell your best stories," he says. On top of that, it was at a Washington area Global Nomads meeting that Brian met his future wife, whom he married in 1995.

Lenius, who graduated from Mason in 1996 with a master's degree that combined the studies of organizational learning, conflict resolution, and telecommunications, now works in University Computing and Information Systems (UCIS) at George Mason, providing campuswide computer and telecommunications support. Often, Americans become frustrated and even annoyed when working with people who speak with foreign accents because they can be difficult to understand. But for Lenius, "when people call [UCIS] who have an accent, that to me is kind of a fun thing. . . . When they have a difficult time with it, I can empathize and remember when I was living abroad."

Lenius is a believer in the value of the global nomad experience. "Both my wife and I would like to have children and give them the globally nomadic life that was an important part of our development."

In January of last year, Lenius designed the Global Nomad Virtual Village website ( He hopes that, eventually, the site can become a kind of forwarding address for other global nomads.

"Global nomads come to George Mason with the intercultural skills and global awareness that other people go to school to learn in order to be competitive in the global marketplace," says Norma McCaig, now the coordinator of George Mason's Global Nomad Programs and Services (within the Office of Inter-national Programs and Services). As a result of President Merten's push to better prepare Mason students for a global economy, George Mason recognizes the value of its global nomad students and alumni, says McCaig. At the same time, McCaig is helping the university serve the needs of its global nomads. She works with various departments on campus, including the Counseling Center and the Office of Admissions, to help them better identify and serve students with a global nomad background.

McCaig invites all global nomad alumni to contact her and volunteer as mentors for Mason students. She can be reached by phone at (703) 993-2899 or by e-mail at

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