It can be an exciting adventure, greeting the day in an exotic European locale no tourist has ever heard of. Sometimes, maybe too exciting.
As a United Nations observer in postwar Kosovo, Julie Woloshin '03 used to be jolted out of bed every morning by an angry phone call from the town mayor, threatening to launch an armed assault against his rivals.
It was 2008, and the Moon Township native was stationed in Viti, a town of about 59,000 in rural southeast Kosovo. At the time, nearly a decade had passed since NATO bombed Serbia to stop its army from crushing a rebellion in the breakaway province. U.N. workers like Woloshin were spread across Kosovo, trying to cool tensions between the ethnic majority Albanians and the minority Serbs, who consider Kosovo their historic homeland.
When Kosovo declared independence that February, things got even more tense. In Viti, Serb municipal workers blockaded themselves in their office in protest. The town's Albanian mayor fired them, but they ignored him. Armed local Serbs gathered around the office to "guard" it.
Suddenly, Viti threatened to become the next Balkan tinderbox. In the middle of it all was one U.N. worker who had only just learned to speak the language. And she was starting to get some rather unnerving phone calls.
"The municipality here really wanted to flex its muscles and occupy that building," says Woloshin. "My boss told me, 'You have to hold it until Serbia has its elections in May.' Every single day at 7:30, the mayor would be calling me, waking me up, screaming, 'We're going in the building today!'"
This was not the kind of morning the social sciences major had in mind when she signed up for the study abroad program. Woloshin was an accomplished hurdler who came to RMU on a track scholarship. She joined the honors program as a freshman, and started to think about a career in law.
But the daughter of a French Canadian mother and Russian- Cossack father also yearned to experience the world for herself. So Woloshin spent a semester in Paris her junior year, studying at Schiller International University. Her perspective shifted. "I realized there is more to life than working in an office. One learns that in Paris, when you're enjoying wine and cheese and spending time with people. At that time I realized I didn't want to get into the corporate world. I wanted to experience different cultures and meet people and travel."
After graduation, Woloshin went back to Schiller to earn a master's in international relations and diplomacy. She worked in Brussels for an international conflict resolution group, then was hired as a consultant by the government of Macedonia, Kosovo's neighbor to the south. A year later, she took the U.N. post in Viti.
And soon found herself shuttling back and forth between the town's Serbs and Albanians, trying to preserve a fragile truce.
First she persuaded the Serbs to release government property from the building, piece by piece – first official stamps, then computers, finally a school bus. She gummed up the mayor's plan to fire the Serbs, by arguing he hadn't given them the required three days' notice. Hurdle by hurdle, she helped Viti – and Kosovo – make it to the finish line. Moderates won the Serbian elections. The United States and most of Europe recognized Kosovo's independence, even if Serbia still formally won't. When it was over, Woloshin hung up her phone and took a three-week vacation to the seaside.
Now she is a senior democratization officer in Kosovo, overseeing the effort to promote good governance and human rights principles by supervising 11 international field teams that cover a territory with half a million residents. Her studies at RMU, Woloshin says, provided excellent career preparation for her leadership role. "One of the reasons I am the youngest person in this position is that I am able to communicate clearly and get my point across," she says. "My colleagues may be more experienced. But if it wasn’t for those communication skills that were drilled in at Robert Morris, I wouldn't be able to present my knowledge and experience as clearly and effectively."
When not working, Woloshin is usually traveling. Back home once a year, but usually to exotic, exciting destinations – Greece, Italy, Russia, Thailand. Africa is next on the calendar. All much more enjoyable when she doesn't have to take phone calls from the mayor.
But Woloshin has also come to love Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans. The generosity and hospitality of the people struck her immediately.
"People exhibit a passion for life regardless of their conditions. They spend more time living, dancing and singing, spending time with their families and friends. That's what's really nice. They deal with life differently, and that taught me a lot."