BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High School alumnus Nathan Wiegman needed a job, but only for a year.
He hoped to earn some extra cash and take a short pause in between completing his undergraduate degree earlier this year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and starting work on a master’s degree. It didn’t sound too tough, especially with a fresh degree in electrical engineering and computer science.
And yet, he had trouble finding employment. Most companies didn’t want to hire him for a short period of time. So he decided to broaden his search a little. Well, a lot.
“I always like to travel and increase my cultural awareness,” Wiegman said.
So when he saw a posting for a position teaching English in China, he applied and was hired. He was one of 30 Americans heading to orientation when he left home on Sunday, Aug. 23; half will stay in the same city as him.
One day before leaving, he was pretty sure they’d be living together, though not entirely certain.
“It’s a little nerve-racking,” he admitted with a laugh. The traveling would be a breeze, he said, but not knowing exactly what lay at the end of the journey made Wiegman a bit nervous. He has never taught before.
It certainly won’t be his first time visiting a foreign place. He lived in the Netherlands for a year when he was 4 years old, and his sister, Anna, was born there.
During high school, his father took a sabbatical from his engineering job and the two traveled together, including a stop in Hong Kong. And in college, Wiegman worked on a two-month project in Denmark, where he and his team measured air pollutants.
Wiegman’s ultimate goal is to work in sustainable energy, an interest that began in Niskayuna. His earth science teacher at the high school, Paul Scott, led an environmental studies team as an after-school activity. The group constructed their own solar array, a project that Wiegman took to naturally after growing up with an engineer father.
Later, during the summer of 2010, Scott took Wiegman and a friend to Greenland to meet academics and scientists and tour an ice sheet, and Wiegman became fascinated with protecting the environment.
“He really encouraged us, as students, to explore,” Wiegman said of his former teacher.
Since then he’s pushed his comfort zone to include so many other parts of the world, that Wiegman said he’s not feeling anxious about spending time in China.
“I think it’s kind of exciting,” he said. ”I’m excited about the food and the language.
“Learning Mandarin is a huge motivation,” he added.
One challenge he’s sure to face is the added difficulty of applying to master’s degree programs from a country where Internet access is much more limited than the United States. He can’t search for information on Google or ask a question on Facebook, because those things are unavailable in China.
Still, he’s confident the application process will go smoothly. He hopes to study in Europe.
“I kind of fell in love with Denmark while I was there,” he said.
That would give him barely any time to relax between his return to Niskayuna in July 2016 and the beginning of his degree program in August the same year. But for Wiegman, it’s just another adventure.