From Seattle to Stockholm (with a lot of stops in between)

I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington in the northwest of the United States. This was long before Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon had been created and before Seattle became a trendy (and expensive) place to live. I left Seattle the day I finished my undergraduate degree for Washington, DC with the plan to work for the federal government for a few years before returning. It was only later that I would learn that there is nothing as permanent as a temporary migration. While I have returned to Seattle often over the years, I have never lived there again.

I’m dating myself when I say that I first started working for the Soviet Branch of the U.S. Census Bureau which was located in suburban Maryland. There, we did economic, demographic, and geographic analysis of the then-Soviet Union. My interest in the Soviet Union began as an undergraduate because it was blank spot on the map, a closed society about which not much was known. Work at the U.S. Census Bureau became more interesting during the late Soviet period as the country began to publish a lot more data and information about the workings of its society and economy. It was during the 1980s that I made my first of many trips to the Russia/Soviet Union allowing me an interesting benchmark glance into the country before the rapid social, economic, and political changes of the 1990s.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union applied to join the World Bank but a funny thing happened while its application was being processed – the country broke apart into 15 successor states. The World Bank found itself with a need for expertise on the Russian economy, society, and statistics who also spoke Russian. Thus, myself and a number of others who worked at the U.S. Census Bureau literally migrated from suburban Maryland to downtown Washington, DC to work at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other institutions involved with development in Russia and the other successor states. I was able to travel extensively to many parts of Russia during this period, a true treat for a geographer. This included my first travels to my favorite region of Russia - the Arctic - which had long been an interest of mine. Much of my work at the World Bank focused on Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe but I also worked in Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, and Mongolia.

Upon leaving the World Bank, I worked for two year at Innocenti Research Centre United Nations Children’s Fund in Florence, Italy, doing analysis of children’s issues in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. I then returned to the U.S. in order to complete my PhD in geography. I continued work on migration and development issues in the Arctic supported by a number of grants and also as a consultant to a number of different international organizations. During this time, I made a migration for what demographers term ‘family reasons’ as I followed my wife to New York City where we lived for 7 years before migrating to Stockholm.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 11 times during their life. However, this average includes many people who make just a few moves over the course of their lives and people like me who had made so many than 11 moves that I long ago stopped counting. Stockholm and its lovely archipelago remind me very much of Seattle’s Puget Sound and all its gorgeous islands. Thus in some ways, this move to Nordregio and Stockholm feel like a return home.

Timothy Heleniak

Senior Research Fellow