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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Oleg Grachev on living in Russia and the U.S.
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-03-30

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Ever since Oleg Grachev was 10 years old, he had a dream of working on Wall Street. He has fulfulled that dream as J.P. Morgan's new investment banking analyst.

Grachev's journey to Wall Street began in his Russian hometown Blagoveshchensk, which borders China.

"I was graduating fourth grade and we had to write an essay to ourselves twenty years in the future," said Grachev. "At that point, I would watch news covering a lot of finance. I did not know what it all meant yet, but the dynamic and speed with which the markets moved seemed fascinating. I wanted to be one of those people in suits so I wrote about living in New York City, and working on Wall Street."

When Grachev started school, his goal was to succeed academically so he participated in academic Olympiads covering many subjects and the U.S. State Department Future Leaders Exchange Program ( FLEX ) competition where he won a scholarship during his junior year in high school.

A week after winning the scholarship, Grachev broke his neck at the end of a swimming practice. Doctors told his mom he might be paralyzed from the neck down. That did not stop him from recovering over a four-month period however, and a week after he was back on his feet, he boarded a plane to the United States.

Winning the FLEX scholarship allowed Grachev to spend his senior year as an exchange student living with a host family in Paw Paw, Illinois.

"That ended up being one of the most memorable and eye-opening experiences in my life," said Grachev. "Seeing what life is like beyond the big cities helped me understand a different side of America that I could not read about or see in the news."

After high school, Grachev said he was able to fulfill his dream of attending college in the United States due to a merit-based scholarship that cut tuition in half. He chose NIU because of its proximity to his host-family's town and the friends he made in high school.

In 2015, Grachev created a peer-mentor program at NIU to help other international students adjust to life in the United States. This stemmed from an interaction he had with another international student in college who was having trouble assimilating into American culture.

"The program will continue through the International Students and Faculty Office on campus," said Grachev. "This program created a tangible impact on campus bridging the gap between two communities further teaching how to appreciate different cultures and the differences between each other."

Coming to this country gave Grachev the ability to live his truth as an out gay man.

"Growing up in Russia, I always knew I was gay, but accepting that part of me was not easy in that social climate," said Grachev. "I was sorry for not being perfect, I was afraid that none of my dreams would ever come true, I was scared for my life and quite frankly, at that time I thought I was alone in this world. The possibility of me coming out was one of the reasons why I moved to the U.S. and was something I could not imagine doing in Russia."

Grachev came out to his host family and friends during his freshman year at NIU, and at the end of the first semester to his mom. He noted that since then it has been a work in progress for her to fully accept that he is gay.

On campus, he quickly got involved with Out for Undergrad ( O4U ). O4U focuses on advancing high-achieving undergraduate LGBTQ leaders in their professional lives. The group holds four annual conferences that guide students in industry-specific skills, coaching relationships and discussion about being LGBTQ-identified in the workplace.

"Involvement in O4U was instrumental in shaping me as an individual and a professional," said Grachev. "I remember in my first year ( 2015 ) I needed to find inspiration to be myself, gain friends among the LGBTQ community and build my professional network. O4U has given me that and so much more—it gave me family. It gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and inspired me to honestly stand for what I believe in. That is why in my second year I became a campus ambassador—extending this opportunity to students on campus who needed it. Recently, I organized and hosted a happy hour for O4U alumni in Chicago and plan on further giving back to the organization as I embark on my career."

Due to Grachev's involvement with O4U, he learned about J.P. Morgan's Proud to Be program.

"This event, which takes place annually at J.P. Morgan's headquarters in New York City, gives students an opportunity to meet some of company's LGBTQ leaders, learn more about the firm and interview for one of the company's internship programs," said Grachev. "The interview process was an eye-opening experience that led to an internship in the Investment Banking Division, and consequently a full-time offer. The program connected me with the family of open and proud professionals, both junior and senior, from the Pride resource group that have became role models and mentors."


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