April 3, 2019 - 3:45pm
Matt Lerner has always wanted to travel the world. Growing up in Crofton, he dreamed of jumping on a plane and seeing how other people live their lives.
He got his wish after graduating from VIU with a Bachelor of Arts, Major in History, Minor in Political Studies, in January 2014. His first stop was teaching English in Georgia. Then he returned to Canada to do a master’s degree in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Carleton University, which took him to Kyrgyzstan to learn Russian, then back to Georgia for further research.
After finishing his master’s degree, he moved to Korea to teach and is now back in Canada working as an Associate Immigration Consultant for SYMY Immigration Consultants & Recruitment in Edmonton. He was happy to check in with his alma mater and share some stories of his journey so far.
Why is travelling and seeing the world important?
I think travelling is one of the key ways for people to learn new things. It allows you to broaden your understanding of how the world works, and does so in a way that can’t be properly understood in a classroom setting.
Any memorable moments from Georgia?
There are far too many moments from Georgia to list here, so I’ll just say that the people there were some of the most friendly I’ve ever met. I lived with a host family, and they took me in like their own immediately, as did the people in the village I stayed in. Living in a remote, mountainous village where there was no real road between it and the nearest town some 30 minutes away proved difficult at times, but the people made it a worthwhile experience.
What was your favourite part about living in Kyrgyzstan?
Kyrgyzstan is a very unique country. Its culture is quite distinct, and though it has been 25 years since the Soviet Union ended, there are still traces of its impact there. For example, Russian is the language of business, rather than Kyrgyz. The Kyrgyz people I met were welcoming and excited to meet an outsider willing to learn about their country. I experienced a part of the world many people don’t even realize exists. I plan to return.
What’s one significant thing you learned from your travels?
That people in general are willing to help each other out. Whether you are lost in a train station and don’t know how to get your ticket, or the only English speaker in a small village for four months, or even detained by the police (read on to learn more), I’ve always found someone willing to do what they can to help.
Have you ever been in a scary situation overseas?
During my time in Georgia in 2014, I went on a short road trip with friends down through Armenia and into Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that was fought over by Armenia and Azerbaijan, and is still an active war front-line. We went to a part of the region right on the front where foreigners aren’t supposed to be. Our guidebook suggested it was a really great place to see; it ultimately was. While there we ran into some soldiers, and on our way back we were detained by the Karabakh police for a few hours. Initially it was concerning, as the police captain didn’t speak English and we didn’t understand Armenian. But after he realized we were not a threat, and simply confused tourists, he was welcoming, offering us coffee, chocolate and cigarettes before letting us go and advising us not to visit the front again. It was a daunting experience at first, but became one of my favourite stories of the whole trip.
Any advice for current VIU students?
Engage with the people at VIU. By that I mean join clubs and talk to your professors. The clubs are a great way to meet like-minded people and have a lot of fun. Being in the VIU Model UN Club, I got to be in Washington when Obama was first elected and witness his final campaign speech. Also, talk to your professors, because they are a great resource. People at VIU don’t understand how unique it is to be on a first-name basis with your profs. Drop by their office, as they actually do enjoy having students there, and the help you receive from them can truly make your grades better. And for those looking to do more schooling, it really helps the profs write good recommendation letters when they know who you are and what you’re about.
Tags: Our Alumni