UNC Around the World
Entrepreneurs, social workers, teachers, actors and volunteers are among the 800-plus UNC alumni living and working abroad. Ten graduates share their stories following their life-changing decisions to take their talents to countries spanning the globe.
Adventures of a Traveling Artist
Krysten Koehn lives for adventure.
She runs marathons, even if she questions her sanity for doing so. She climbs mountains, calling an overnight snowfall that left her tent roof crunchy and cold “a wonderful surprise.” When she returned home to Colorado for a few days in the summer, she regretfully missed a few close friends because she climbed four fourteeners in two days.
But her toughest challenge yet may have also been her greatest adventure. Since she graduated from UNC in 2007, she’s lived in two diverse parts of the world, including one that couldn’t be more different than the state she used to call home.
After she graduated, she spent two years traveling the Middle East, with most of that time as an art teacher in Kuwait.
She calls the time frustrating and challenging, but it affected her so profoundly that almost all of her work as an artist is still based on those two years.
“It definitely turned my life upside down and backwards and inside out,” Koehn says. “I always say that I’m really glad I did it, and I’m really glad I’m not doing it anymore.”
It was her first teaching job, after all, in a culture “180 degrees” from what she was used to, she says. She had to cover most of her body in a suffocating heat, and if she ate or drank in public during holidays such as Ramadan, she risked being arrested.
She came away impressed with the women who live there. They had a community, she says, and were more powerful than most probably realize. Just their eyes, Koehn says, could wrap an Arab man around their finger.
Koehn also loved Switzerland, where she lived after Kuwait. The kids she taught art to there embraced each other despite being from all over the world, she says. Switzerland was far different than Kuwait, of course, and also different than the U.S.
She grew to appreciate the residents in the ski village, where she stayed, as they closed their shops at 6 p.m. daily and on weekends to spend time with their families.
She didn’t want to leave, but she came back to the U.S. because she was accepted by Yale’s graduate program in the School of Art. She hopes someday to live in France as an artist.
It will be another adventure, and for her, that’s all she needs to know. NV
—Dan England is a Greeley journalist.