Shawn Marston received his bachelor's degree in psychology from Christopher Newport University and his master's degree in education and human development from George Washington University.
Then he embarked on a professional career that included being chief operations officer with the Peninsula Institute for Community Health, a non-profit organization, to director of human resources for Inomedic Health Applications, which specialized in aerospace medicine, environmental and wellness programs.
While he has found all his jobs challenging and rewarding, his dream was to become the director of human resources for an international scientific organization, located in Europe. The Great Recession provided this opportunity. He lost his job, due to the cancellation of government contracts, and set out to fulfill his dream.
He secured the position of head of human resources with the Central European Institute of Technology, a newly established scientific institute located in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. It is the site of more than a half-dozen institutions of higher education, with almost 85,000 students from all over the world.
CEITEC is a consortium that is funded also by the European Commission. Thus, employment contracts and labor laws are quite different from the ones Marston was used to deal with in the United States.
"It was definitely a learning experience for me," he said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette.
He noticed the difference right away.
"About 30 percent of my monthly income was taken out to cover local taxes, social security/pension and health insurance," he said. "But going to a primary doctor when you need it is easy. I had a serious cough and cold. A went to the doctor, showed my health insurance card, and that was it. There were no co-payments, no deductibles to meet. And most prescriptions are covered at 100 percent."
The healthcare program there has some advantages and disadvantages, he said. "For example, if I had a continuous pain in my shoulder, my doctor in the U.S. would order an X-ray for me on my first visit. In Brno, I would be sent to physical therapy for two weeks for rehabilitation. It would include sauna, hot tub and therapeutic massages. And if the doctor writes a script and I don't go to work for two weeks, there is no loss of salary."
Reflecting on the year he has spent in the Czech Republic, Marston said, "All I can say is life is very different in Central Europe. People definitively live for the day. Our accounting manager came into my office and informed me that I would lose some vacation days if I don't use them shortly. My first response was, 'Who is going to cover my responsibilities while I am gone.' But my boss said, 'Not to worry. Just reschedule your appointments and pick up your workload when you return from your vacation."
Marston, as head of human resources, soon learned not to question all those amenities, like 30 days of vacation leave per year, not to mention 14 national holidays, that were part of the employment contracts he was writing.
"I am not saying that Europeans don't work hard," he said. "They just live life differently."
His job at CEITEC fulfilled his life-long dream of working for an international scientific institution located in Europe. But his family could not relocate for another two years.
"I missed my home, family and friends in the United States," he said. "At the end of the day, you are alone. Skype is a wonderful tool, but only to a point."
Marston didn't renew his employment contract. He returned to the United States, accepting the position of director of human resources with a healthcare organization in Hampton Roads.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va, and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.