When I was seventeen years old I quit university in Kiev and moved to Sweden to study. That was halfway through the Bachelor program and the course I applied and got admitted to in Sweden was just a Swedish language course for one term. It wouldn’t be possible to count it as a part of any degree, it was just a preparatory course. At that moment the Swedish government was discussing the possibility of introducing education fees for foreign students coming from countries outside of the European union. No one knew how long it would take for them to introduce those fees, it could have been months or years but at that point in time university education was still free. If I got admitted to a Bachelor program rather than a single course I wouldn’t need to worry about not being able to pay for my education. As soon as you get admitted, even if the fees are introduced, you don’t have to pay them. Applying for that Swedish course was a risk. The motivation behind it was being able to later apply for a Bachelor program in Stockholm and there was not a single Bachelor program in Stockholm that was taught in English language. But I wanted to live in Stockholm and not taking that risk would make this impossible. After the first half a year I applied for the second single course in Swedish, my goal was to learn the language within eight months, pass the language test and get admitted to a university. Which I did despite the odds. While other students would usually take three semesters to learn Swedish, I had to cut that time to two. I didn’t have the financial security that most people had and I wouldn’t be able to pay for my university education should it not be free of charge anymore. In the end
I got admitted to a Civilekonomprogrammet (a four-year study program that is more than a Bachelor but less than a Master that magically becomes a Master degree when the title is translated into English). I was in my third year by the time the fees were introduced. During that year this program was also offered in English for foreign students, the first undergraduate degree ever offered in English in Stockholm. But I was already done. And fluent in Swedish.
After the first year of my undergraduate studies (after two years in Sweden) I went to work as au-pair in Switzerland. That summer was wonderful. Switzerland was in the middle of everything and I did a lot of travelling in central Europe. I lived with a really nice family with three cute kids and the parents in that family were alumni of St. Gallen University in Switzerland. I was young and inspired by their success and after doing some research on that university I decided I would get a Master degree from there. By that time I already had very good understanding of the Sweden, the Swedish society, I knew the language, I knew how people were thinking, I knew how things worked. I had always loved Sweden, it was my own choice to move here but after several years there was not much new here and it was getting boring. Also St. Gallen University had much better ranking that Stockholm University and in my view I had much better chances to stand out from the crowd of hundreds of Stockholm University graduates if I went to Switzerland and get my Master degree from St. Gallen. That decision was also a risk. Had I stayed in Stockholm I would have got my Civilekonom degree (that magically becomes a Master in English), but to even apply to St. Gallen I would need to first change to a Bachelor degree from Stockholm university (which meant changing the program without a possibility to change back). That had to be done before applying to St. Gallen and would I fail to get admitted to St. Gallen I would need to apply for a Master degree elsewhere, possibly losing a year but also forfeiting my chances of getting a Master degree in Sweden (remember those education fees? They were now in place and a Master program cost was about 24 kEUR - the money I didn’t have). Who knows what I would have done if I failed to get admitted to St. Gallen but I didn’t, and I moved to Switzerland a year later – to study there. That was another risk I took without blinking an eye.
A year later I was looking for an internship and let’s skip all the painful details of that process, I got an offer from UBS in Singapore. I’ll never forget the talk Victor and I had when I mentioned that “there was this perfect position at UBS in Singapore”. Neither of us knew what Singapore was or where it was located but Victor sensed it was very far away and I felt it wasn’t that far away. I needed that internship to be able to come back to Sweden and get a better job here, since my fancy St. Gallen degree was clearly not enough. I packed my things, bought a one-way ticket and moved to South-East Asia. Again, without blinking an eye.
I had always been like this, I had always been taking these risks, sacrificing the sure thing for a what-if-thing that potentially could turn out to be a much better thing. It has always worked, every single time. While other people would think over these huge steps and focus on every thing that could go wrong, I was taking a jump being totally focused on the potential of each opportunity rather than on the risks of failing. In retrospective it has paid off quite well.
Now I again have this huge decision before me. Now I again have an opportunity to make a jump. I am not just nervous and stressed out, I am freaking terrified. When did it get so tough? Is it my intuition telling me this is not the right thing or do or am I just becoming too old and way too comfortable and secure? And how do I tell the difference?