Facing the WORLD in CHICAGO

Or “From IT to holistic in one week”

A brief description of World Chicago, my first steps as a fellow and a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Chicago has been warned.

One thing you should know before you start reading this text:

As of October 11, 2018, I will be going to Chicago as part of a professional exchange program brought to us by World Chicago, a truly amazing organization that does this kind of stuff twice a year.

I’ve never been to the states. I’ve trekked all over Europe, but the furthest I’ve ever been from it is Turkey’s Asian parts.

A bit of a background might be necessary on World Chicago itself, although my honest advice would be to go ahead to their website for some cool, hard info.

World Chicago is an organization dedicated to entrepreneurship and citizen diplomacy, building a community of global proportions in relation to one city. I may be a bit star-struck — they are doing such a good job it makes me feel mildly incompetent to even attempt to explain the depth of the lessons they teach.

In any case, I was introduced to the organization when they co-organized the Banja Luka Tech Summit in April 2018. They brought some program alumni and managed to convince me to apply for this fall exchange.

I was skeptical about my chances, since the alums seem to be uber-beings with three lifetimes worth of experience and dashing personalities. Much to my surprise, I actually got accepted. It was a beautiful shock, so I’ve been talking about it non-stop (as those of you that talk to me IRL know).

As a gentle introduction, all us new fellows (from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia) got the chance to spend a couple of days in Skopje, officially attending the “Doing business in data-driven society” business summit, unofficially getting to know the people we will be spending a lot of our careers with for the foreseeable future.

If I’m completely honest, I still find it difficult to see how I managed to land in such an awe-inspiring group.

We’ve got serial entrepreneurs, academic giants, business genii, technical gurus, travel wizards… And then there’s me. Not to brag, but I’m not that bad myself — and we make a group that could, potentially, shake up the future as we know it.

Some of the current fellows with Peggy Parfenoff (World Chicago President) in Skopje

Our first evening was dedicated to a group dinner, graciously funded by the US State Department and attended by World Chicago Fellows, Alumni, mentors and organizers.

There was talk, there was fun. I sat next to a woman that wrote for Game of Thrones, which was a huge moment for me. It took all of my self-control not to quote the show the whole night, which made my conversation with her mildly stilted (and I would like her to know I’m sorry about that).

The night finished off at a rooftop celebration, where I had to cut my party short in order to get some sleep.

Small side-note on the subject of Skopje: there are statues EVERYWHERE. I challenge you to walk down one of the main streets for longer than 3 minutes without running into one.

Least professional photo I could find of me in Skopje — featuring statue

The next two days of conferences and networking were a whirlwind of faces and experiences. Never have I ever been that overwhelmed with professional energy, and I’ve had my fair share of entrepreneurial spirit flung at me.

I found out that my host in Chicago is somebody I have every intention to emulate (but not in a creepy way) — Tom Alexander, former COO at 1871, current founder of Holistic, where I will be joining the team.

We’re already friends on social media. I’m guessing that won’t be different in reality.

So, I’m packed. I’m ready. I’m lugging over at least half of the allowed baggage weight in food and souvenirs for my hosts and friends-to-be. I’m leaving my people at WaySeven Technologies in the capable hands of a couple of interns that will attempt to emulate me while I’m gone (as if that’s possible) and I’m hoping to find the offices in one piece when I come back in 5 weeks.

My expectations are very high. Judging by those representatives from the Chicago entrepreneurial community that I’ve already met and the kind of work they do, I’m about to visit the perfect city.

I just hope it won’t be too cold.