He's blazed the powerful Rio Grande in a canoe and survived 40 miles of strike-blockaded roads to get to Machu Picchu. He's determined to impact the world positively, because the world has been good to him. Let's check him out.
Igor is a fellow Indiana University grad and a helluva guy. Once again, this series of Interview a Traveler is not just an outlet for me to gab about my friends; these people are worth mentioning because of their amazing character and ambition that spans continents for the purpose of learning and doing something they can stand behind.
His Bio: My name is Igor Kharitonenkov, and I'm 22 years-old, living in Boston. Born in Moscow, Russia, at the age of 4 my family relocated to Munich, Germany, where I spent my childhood years. To this day, I am a diehard FC Bayern Munich fan, and I still catch all their games on Saturday mornings.
When I was 9 years old we moved back to Moscow for a few months, where I actually attended a private school with current President Putin's daughter. Before my 10th birthday, we moved to Indianapolis. Again, I had to face the task of starting from scratch, learning a new language, and making new friends.
I love playing my guitar and occasionally writing a song, traveling and outdoor adventure, and in general I enjoy getting artsy. I recently left a Ph.D. program in Neuroscience at Boston University to save the world - slash - pursue my dream. I am excited to get involved in environmental sustainability and conservation, as I hope to spread environmental awareness around the globe.
You're among the brave few that reroute their life plans away from the secure in pursuit of doing what they love. What inspired your change of heart and mind about grad school?
I questioned my decision even before I entered graduate school. After all, a Ph.D. program in neuroscience is a 6+ year commitment. The mental drain that graduate school imposes on students becomes even more debilitating when you're disillusioned with your position and your place. After six months, I had no more energy, no more passion, no creativity, and I became lazy. I lost my motivation, my self-esteem, and my confidence. I found myself rotting at the age of 22.
In whatever spare time I had, I read up on environmental issues, adapted a green lifestyle, and occasionally attended roundtables focused on conservation and sustainability. I knew I wanted to get more involved, but all my time was devoted to biochemistry and neuroscience.
I finally cracked in the first week of March, the week after midterms. My body completely broke down. I was sick for a whole week, sicker than I’ve been in years! I refused to be a walking time bomb, and I wasn’t planning on starting an anti-depressant regimen any time soon. On March 19th, I withdrew. Leaving something is never easy, but it felt good - it felt right. I’m much happier now, and I have my confidence and motivation back again.
How has travel been a part of your life up to this point?
Thus far, I've been to Russia and much of Europe, to Peru and the Canary Islands, to Mexico and Big Bend National Park, hiking and skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire, to the Everglades, and all over the United States.
Traveling opens up the mind. It's peaceful. It brings me tranquility. It takes me down to the depths of my soul. Many people stress in a compromising situation away from home, but I find relaxation.
I love seeing, experiencing, adventuring, and meeting. Traveling uncovers new ways of life and new ways of thought. It exposes you to wonderful people from all over the globe. It builds appreciation of and respect for the world as a whole.
Describe your dream job or maybe just a day in your dream lifestyle.
My ultimate dream is to wake people up. I want people to take responsibility back into their own hands. I believe in grassroots, bottom-up change to the current environmental crisis. If we are going to curb climate change, it has to start with the people. So, if I wake up and see my neighbor start making decisions that reflect environmental sensibility...if I can get one more person to put down the car keys and take their bike to work, that would be a perfect day for me.
You're a big outdoor fanatic. Tell me about a particularly exciting and adventurous time out and about.
White-water canoeing 90 miles on the Rio Grande was absolutely fantastic. You are out there, way in the backcountry, the Chihuahuan desert - no civilization within 200 miles. We spotted bear tracks on a few occasions. One of us woke up with a tarantula in his sleeping bag, and we even accidentally spent a night huddled as a group under a mountain lion den!
The views are spectacular canoeing through a maze of cliffs and gorges, and at night I've never seen so many stars in the sky as I have out there in the desert. The challenge of navigating level III rapids in a two person canoe is a wonderful thrill and much harder than white-water rafting. And the camaraderie of the group defied my expectations. All in all, it was an exhausting, fantastic trip - only possibly rivaled by the 40 mile hike through strike-blockaded roads in the Andes of Peru.
What goes through your head while you're in the moment and documenting an experience? In other words, why document?
I believe photography can really bring out the emotion of a moment. Looking back at some of my pictures, I still get taken aback by the breathtaking drop of a gorge in a sprawling desert or a majestic Mediterranean sunset.
With writing, I find that traveling puts me in a state of such tranquility that my mind opens up, and I gain better perspective. When I’m taken away from normal civilization, I find that thoughts come together much easier, and life just makes more sense.
I see your applying for the Sierra Club internship! What excites you most?
Obviously, I am excited to strap on a camera and go on all sorts of wilderness adventures. I can’t wait to document and share with the public all that is wonderful about outdoor adventure: the mysterious beauty of the backcountry, the camaraderie that develops between teammates, and the challenge of the adventure.
I also believe that advertising outdoor trips and getting people outside is a great way to build appreciation of nature and a small step towards conservation. Overall, I think I’m a good fit for the Sierra Club, and even if I don’t get this internship, I could see myself eventually working for them.
It looks like you've been doing an awful lot online to prove your commitment to this opportunity. Is it more work than fun, or are you enjoying all the hours at the computer away from your beloved outdoors?
For starters, I actually enjoy what I’m doing, which is a big change from my experience in graduate school. When I wake up, I look forward to spending 8+ hours in front of the computer because it’s all part of the bigger picture.
What are some potential adventures on your Bucket or Life List?
In the short term, I want to explore the northeast United States. Coming from the plains of Indiana, I’ve been waiting all winter to hike the great trails nearby and hitting some rivers in Maine! In the long term, the world is my oyster. If I narrowed it down though, I would say Thailand and Nepal in the Far East and Mexico and Ecuador to the south.
Do you have any questions for Igor about the Sierra Club internship, environmental sustainability, or his adventures around the world? Leave a comment, and I'll have him respond!