Morning Sun
  • SMALL WORLD: Following his heart

  • James Kirby isn’t like most international students. He didn’t necessarily come to America because of the education, nor did he come because of the lure of America.

    He came because of love.

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  • James Kirby isn’t like most international students. He didn’t necessarily come to America because of the education, nor did he come because of the lure of America.
    He came because of love.
    While in his home of London, Kirby met a woman in a London coffee shop.
    “I met this girl in London. She had just got headhunted to start a school for autism in Joplin,” he said. “I thought I’d follow my then-girlfriend, now-fiancee.
    “It was raining the first time we met. We had sat outside, and I gave her my coat. It was quite nice. We’d been together a year or so before I came out here.”
    Kirby’s fiancee, Jennifer Long, is the clinical director of Freeman Health System’s Ozark Center for Autism. The two live together in Joplin.
    Kirby is the only student at Pittsburg State from his home country of the United Kingdom. Roughly 40 countries are represented at Pittsburg State.
    Kirby got his degree from Bristol University in real estate. He worked in real estate for 12 years in England before coming to the states.
    “I was working as a fund manager for a European real estate trust,” Kirby said. “I was in charge of eight or nine factory outlets, managing them across mainland Europe. From London, I managed two in France, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Italy, one in the Netherlands, and a few more. It was all worth $1 billion or so. My career had reached the point I needed something else to string you above what I was making.”
    He is now working on his MBA at Pittsburg State and also working as a graduate assistant.
    One of the biggest changes for James was actually in his area of expertise — real estate.
    “Here, Jenn and I live in a two-bedroom, 800-square foot apartment,” he said. “In London, a one-bedroom, 400-square foot apartment could run you $500,000 a year.”
    In addition, Kirby is dealing with the nearly day-to-day fluctuations in the currency exchange rate between the pound and the dollar. Despite what many think, the dollar has actually strengthened against the pound lately.
    “In the last six weeks to two months, it’s been surprising,” he said. “I used to get $2 for every British pound. Now it’s down from $2 to more like $1.45 or $1.42.”
    It’s also a little different to go from one of the larger cities in the world, London, to Pittsburg.
    “I went from 7 million people to 30,000,” he said. “But everyone here is more friendly. I didn’t know my next-door neighbors in London. And there more opportunity to do things outdoors. Devil’s Den is right there in Arkansas.”
    James strikes a familiar chord with many international students by trumpeting the call for more public transportation in the area. He said London is far different.
    Page 2 of 2 - “In London, I never drove a car. Around here, you have to,” he said. “I’m actually surprised there is no train between Joplin and Pittsburg. If you don’t hae a car, you’re stuck. Also, there’s a lot more trucks here. We don’t have them in England.”
    Kirby said the transition has been easier for him because the United Kingdom shares so many things in common with the United States. That said, people do tend to love the British accent.
    “It’s just like moving to any new place, you don’t really know anyone,” he said. “But it was pretty easy. There were plenty of British-American jokes. It’s all good and great.
    “People don’t understand what I’m saying about half the time. I do get great service because people tell me they love my accent. They say they love my accent, and people just love to hear me talk.”
    “Oh, yeah,” interrupted a nearby student during the interview. “It’s really working for me.”
    James does not know his plans after he graduates in May. Jennifer will no doubt be in his plans no matter where he goes.
    “The world is our oyster, really,” Kirby said. “We could go back to England. I really don’t know where I’m going to be. Who knows? I could be around here.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.
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