Banner photo: Aaron Sundquist (center) with Peruvian government officials during an IMF mission to Lima.

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Aaron Sundquist with Peruvian diplomats

Alumnus Enjoys Being Ahead of the Curve

2007 Graduate Has Embraced His International Experience


By Holly Bowen
Reprinted with permission by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Aaron Sundquist hasn't had much downtime since he graduated from the University of Idaho in 2007, and he's still not quite yet ready for a break.

The 25-year-old - who triple-majored in international studies, economics and Spanish and finished all three degrees in four years - is a sort of case study for students who want to dive right into professional work after finishing their studies.

"The higher you aim, the less competition you have, because you have fewer people who are bold enough to do it," he said.

Sundquist spent the December before he graduated in Washington, D.C., networking with potential employers and checking out internships. He had already spent his sophomore year in Valparaíso, Chile, studying subjects like geography, economics and Spanish, and was ready for another journey out of Idaho.

Right away, Sundquist secured a post-graduation internship with the D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, where he spent 10 weeks during the summer of 2007 researching international drug policy and organizing a film and speaker series.

"I moved to D.C. three days after I graduated, which was an adventure in itself," Sundquist said Friday during a visit to Moscow. He spoke to international studies students at the UI's Martin Institute following his stop at the Daily News.

Sundquist said because he moved to Washington, D.C., so quickly, he had to spend his first week in a hostel while he found a more permanent residence.

When the 10-week internship was over, he landed a cost-benefit analysis job with the Urban Institute, which has nearly 400 employees and is a major nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C.

In March 2009, "I said, 'Thank you very much. I had a good time. And then I moved to Brazil,' " Sundquist said of his time at the Urban Institute.

He said he decided to spend six months in Brazil because he noticed it has fared relatively well during the global recession and is quickly becoming one of the world's major economies. He learned a little Portuguese before he left but intended to become a more fluent speaker by the time the six months were up. It also gave him an opportunity to practice his hobby, the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

"I thought, if I can get ahead of the curve on this and learn Portuguese, it would give me an advantage" later in his career, he said.

He said he returned to Washington, D.C., during a terrible 2009 winter, but fortune shined upon him again, and he was placed on contract with the International Monetary Fund. That three-month contract was later extended, and now he's working for the IMF through at least April 2011.

Sundquist said he can't publicly speak about much of what he does for the IMF, but he said it involves providing international support to countries that are looking to combat money laundering and, by extension, the funding of terrorism. He said he'll be traveling to Peru in a couple of weeks to work on a project there.

All this work means Sundquist has had to suspend what he called his "pet project," Language on Location. Restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses in Washington, D.C., hire Language on Location-contracted teachers to give English lessons on-site to their non-English-speaking employees.

Sundquist said he doesn't know yet how long he'll be with the IMF, but he said his present goal is to move to Brazil in May to get different types of private industry experience than the government-related positions he's taken so far.

"I'd like to see what there is to see before I get my master's degree," he said. He said because of the strength of the Brazilian economy, he thinks he has a better shot at being hired by an American company's Brazilian branch than he does at being hired by an American company in the United States.

"That (international) experience will be more and more important as the global market starts to change," he said.

Sundquist said Idaho is beautiful, and he has family in Moscow, but he said the state is "inherently incompatible" with his future goals. He described it as an "It's not you - it's me"-type situation.

He said his strategy in life so far is similar to a phrase spoken frequently in Jiu-Jitsu:

"Never oppose a force," he said. "Embrace it or deflect it."