Lost Girl of the Week: Katie Aune

Lost Girl of the Week — By on November 23, 2011 at 6:00 am

This week’s lost girl, Katie Aune, is a Minnesota native who is a sports fanatic, running enthusiast, recovering attorney and, of course, obsessed with travel. She recently quit her job in nonprofit fundraising to spend a year volunteering and traveling through the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union.

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One of my favorite past times as a kid was playing with my globe, making lists of every country, sea and river I could find – sometimes capital cities too.  My dad traveled a lot for his job, visiting places like Italy, South Africa, Brazil and Singapore, so world travel always seemed appealing, and foreign cultures and people always fascinated me. As a result, I majored in Russian & East European Studies in college, learned both Spanish and Russian, and got a certificate in International Business.

I went to law school straight out of college, with visions of using my legal education to get a job in international relations. In my application essays, I wrote about my plans to work at a U.S. embassy overseas. Even when the high salary of a large Chicago law firm lured me away from the public sector, I liked the idea of working on international business deals and thought I could eventually swing a stint in an office overseas.

None of that became a reality.  After six years, I said goodbye to the practice of law, moving tenuously into a new career in alumni relations and development for a Chicago law school. But while I was embarking on a career path that I thought better suited my personality, skills and interests, I couldn’t get travel out of my head.  I always took full advantage of my vacation time, taking at least one international trip a year,  and I enjoyed researching and planning my trips almost as much as the travel itself.

Suddenly, one New Year’s Day, I found myself glued to Google, searching for information about how to start my own travel planning business.  At the time it seemed like too much of a stretch to make it happen, but the idea stayed with me.

As the next few years passed, I became increasingly dissatisfied with everything about my life – my job, my social life, my love life. I knew needed to make a change. An initial thought to move back home to Minnesota gradually became a plan to take a year off to travel. Given my background and interest in Russia and Eastern Europe, developing a route traveling through the former Soviet Union made perfect sense to me.

As I saved and planned for my current trip, I realized that I wanted it to be more than just months of sightseeing. I wanted to experience the local cultures, give something back to the communities I visited and use the time to figure out a way to combine my love for travel with a career I enjoy. For those reasons, I am trying to volunteer along the way. In Russia, I spent time living with local families and tutoring them in English and volunteered with an environmental organization. This spring, I will spend a month volunteering in Armenia and I am pursuing other opportunities in Central Asia for early summer.

At the end of the day, when my trip is over, I hope I will have a clearer vision for my future path. I can still see myself going in a number of different directions – starting my own travel business or otherwise working in travel or tourism, working with an international nonprofit organization or foreign service, or even going back to work at a law school in a different capacity.  Or I might end up doing something I haven’t even considered yet.  Right now, I feel the possibilities are endless!

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