Sitting in the famous Chicago Steppenwolf Theater and watching the excellent show, Our Great Tchaikovsky, performed by Hershey Felder, I found that sometimes life hits you in the face when you least expect it. At some point in the show, after a rich musical and compositional legacy is made clear, we realize that Tchaikovsky might be gay. That fact not only influenced his life but probably caused his death.
That engaging dramatic and musical performance, as well as the theatre’s intense atmosphere, portray the city of Chicago in the best fashion. But first, let me tell you my Chicago story from the beginning...
It was a rainy autumn morning, and I was preparing for my day at work when I received an interesting email from a colleague inviting people to apply for a World Chicago program. At that time, I knew little about the World Chicago organization, only that my colleague, the email sender, was part of the program a few years ago. I was curious enough to start digging deeper. Realizing that the program offers interesting opportunities for professional growth, business potential, and a vibrant cultural experience I chose to apply. Additionally, I felt it could validate my professional achievements in a real-world scenario because the organization chooses candidates based on their skills, accomplishments and potential impact on their community.
World Chicago is a State Department-funded non-profit organization dedicated to promoting citizen diplomacy through programs that connect the Chicago community with the world. The program I was applying for is geared to leaders in entrepreneurship and technology.
After completing the application, which incidentally took much effort, and the interview with World Chicago staff - I received the email starting with:
"Congratulations! You have been selected to participate in the Spring 2018 WorldChicago Tech Entrepreneurship, Innovation, & Education Fellowship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Professional Fellows Program."
Whoa! Finally! All of my fears and all of my doubts evaporated. I was given the opportunity to live and work with the best in Chicago for 5 weeks. That overwhelming feeling of happiness and satisfaction gave the reason to push the envelope, to be better, but also presented an obligation for hard work to accomplish goals that will benefit my parent company Perpetuum, World Chicago, and my professional growth.
The city of Chicago, work and life
Three months after my acceptance email, we arrived in Chicago. By "we" I mean the fellows that were also accepted in the program. In total, there are 16 fellows from 4 countries - Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
Immediately, we started to devour the rich and vibrant Chicago culture, architecture and life. Our hunger for new experiences couldn't be relieved. We wanted more, and more, and more...and Chicago provided, endlessly.
However, the real test for my fellows and me were the companies, organizations, or universities that were assigned to us—meaning that each person will work for their assigned company, organization or university for the duration of the program. My appointment is to a company called Evolve Security that resides in the 1871 tech incubator. Evolve Security offers a full range of Cyber Security services and training. They provide enterprise training and are the #1 security boot camp in the world. The company has their own development team, and my role is to help them create the user interface of the enterprise-grade web app. The CTO of Evolve Security, Sam Harris, serves as my mentor. He’s an extraordinary person with rich entrepreneurial and technical background, and he introduced me with all the needed information regarding the project. Fast learner as I am (not bragging right now :D), I delivered the results in a fast and highly professional manner!
Other important components of our Chicago expedition are professional events and networking. Being located in the 1871 incubator, one of the best tech incubators in the world, gives me the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with a variety of professionals almost every day. The 1871 ecosystem is huge–from 400 early-stage, high-growth digital start-ups, to satellite offices of major Chicago's universities, tech talent schools and a number of Chicago based VC's.
So far, I have also had an opportunity to attend tons of events like:
- NFTE: Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, where I was a judge for several pitches of high-school student projects
- DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center's Purpose Pitch Competition
- Social Venture Partner Chicago’s Fast Pitch Showcase for Non-Profits - where I had an interesting conversation with a senior manager of an industrial analytics company called Uptake - Alex Buck. Even though the Uptake employs more than 700 people, they still consider themselves as a start-up.
- Meeting with Croatian Consul in Chicago, where we learned that there are over 100.000 -Croatians living in Chicago metropolitan area
- Google IO Extended – The event organized in spaces of the company called Nerdery presented new Google’s technologies, aside from that, a very friendly place to meet interesting people that you can easily relate with
- Visit to Google – Google office in Chicago is the smallest office in US, however, they have more than 900 employees. Also, the place with the best coffee in the city J
- Scaling Vue with Micro Frontends - show how Uptake - https://www.uptake.com/ has used Vue and the Vue ecosystem to build out an application strategy that allows theirs’s development teams to build, publish, compose and integrate quickly and autonomously.
- Spring Diplomacy Luncheon – one of the most important events for WorldChicago organization where the highlights of the organization are being presented and where the fundraising is performed. I had the opportunity to sit at the table and speak with Boeing management and discuss about the impact that WorldChicago programme is having on fellow’s professional career.
- And a variety of tech. workshops
Volunteering in America is deeply embedded in the core of US culture. Many Americans today are exposed to volunteering through religious groups or non-profit organizations, and many large companies arrange volunteering opportunities for their employees. WorldChicago wanted from us, fellows, to experience volunteerism, so we were invited to help with aiding the walk for Autism Speaks organization.
Autism Speaks Walk is the world’s largest autism fundraising event dedicated to improving the lives of people with autism. Powered by the love of parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, relatives, and supporters, the funds raised help to ensure people of all abilities have access to the tools needed to lead ‘their best lives’.
The homestay hosts
And last, but not least, during the program, we lived in the homes of chosen homestay hosts. Homestay hosts are individuals or families who have opened their houses to the fellows voluntarily and that is a truly unique way to learn about Chicago and life in the US.
If I was to choose, I couldn't have chosen better hosts than Susan and Mark, their beautiful home and neighbourhood. They are to blame that it felt like home :) They are also too blame for all that quality time we spent together like at the Botanic Garden of Chicago, an art event, a Sunday church service, the SVP Fast Pitch, car crashes(!), breakfasts, lunches, dinners, an historical tour of Frances E. Willard's house, and much more...
But their biggest responsibility was to take me to the breath-taking show, Our Great Tchaikovsky, which really left me both speechless and amazed, but also sad at the same time. The same as how I feel about Chicago for the magnificent architecture, vibrant culture, wealthy avenues, but also for the poverty that is hiding in the shadows of great buildings.
Everyone should feel Chicago vibes, and I feel privileged that my journey continues for some time on, but now in Washington DC — stay tuned!