Editor's note: This begins a new weekly column centered on residents of the Forest City.
Within minutes of starting a conversation with Adam Nikolich, 24, a 2008 graduate of Wesleyan University, one feels optimistic and energized.
Nikolich, who is from a small town in Massachusetts, earned his degree in economics from Wesleyan, and then set his mind to making it rich in the corporate world. He applied for jobs in New York City, Los Angeles and Middletown — eventually settling on Middletown, taking a position as a recruiter with a Broad Street technology firm in November 2009.
"I am just a young man trying to find my way in the world,” Nikolich explained.
He and his girlfriend Jess settled into an apartment on Pearl Street in the former St. Luke’s Home, and, together, they built a life in Middletown. With his characteristic energy and positive energy, Nikolich takes great joy in exploring his adopted hometown. He marvels at how many great places there are to visit and explore within a short drive from the city.
He stumbled upon the Wadsworth Mansion and returned again and again to tour the house and grounds and traipse through the adjoining woods. He and his girlfriend "found a dam I think was used to generate power and concrete pipes, as big around as your waist, that were sticking out of the ground."
Other area trips were made to the brownstone quarries, Gillette’s Castle, and Yale’s Contemporary Museum of Art.
Nikolich says some of the more sheltered Wesleyan students "see Middletown as the 'hood,” and are sometimes afraid to walk downtown, even during the day. Others students get involved in community service through programs at the soup kitchen or doing drug-resistance outreach. Nikolich learned more about Middletown through his crew team, which connected him with local policemen to deliver presents to low-income families and with Middletown High School students at the boathouse.
Nikolich enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans in 2005. He arrived in August for orientation before school opened. When Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 23, he spent six days at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, a five-star hotel connected to the Superdome. The education he received in those six days showed him a new reality about the world and his fortunate place in it.
Tulane shut down and Nikolich was a visiting student at Harvard University for the first semester until the New Orleans university reopened for spring semester. He hoped to finish his college education at Harvard, but was "prohibited under Harvard’s visiting student policy." So he applied for a transfer to Wesleyan for his sophomore year.
His hurricane experience and its aftermath influenced Nikolich's world view. This February, he decided that working long days in the corporate world might not be the best place for him. The money he could earn didn’t seem worth it, he says. He valued the folks he worked with at the the technology firm, but made the decision to explore other career paths.
He isn't working now, saying he's "in a plan of finding a plan."
Nikolich is looking into many options, including an historic preservation fellowship dor job opportunities overseas in places like Singapore.
"I've applied for a range of positions, anywhere from a VP secretary to a business analyst, although I'm not looking for a specific job. I'm interested in a country that speaks four national languages," (English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil), Nikolich says.
One think he'll miss about Middletown, Nikolich says, is, "Neon Deli. They have the most awesome sandwiches."
All joking aside, "I went from a university student to really feeling like [Middletown is] home. I'll miss the sense of community, definately, and its ... cultural mixture."