Long in Europe, Grad Returns to Canada

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

wilson balachandra and family

After spending more than 15 years in Europe, Wilson Balachandra (MAcc ’94) is pulling up stakes – and heading back to Canada. When he and his wife Agnes began pondering future directions, they considered other possibilities, but family ultimately tipped the scales. “It’s all about the baby!” Wilson happily explains, referring to daughter Sonja Mala, who arrived earlier this year. “It would be great for her to grow up in Canada, and be with my parents in Toronto and my extended family.”

Wilson’s sojourn in Central Europe was successful, and satisfying in many respects. “It’s an amazing place to visit, and a great place to live when you are young,” he reports. “ But as I’ve become middle-aged I miss the simple things we don’t have, such as being able to walk into a library or bookstore for English books, or enjoying international cuisine.” Too many years on the road and in the air also factored into the decision. “I’d love to live in a place where I won’t need a car,” he explains, “and where I can walk almost everywhere.”

Sense of adventure

Wilson graduated from Waterloo in 1994. “I had done my co-op terms with KPMG and went back there as a senior,” he recalls. “In 1995 I returned to Waterloo as a lecturer for a year.” At the end of his teaching stint he would find himself in Europe, with a brand-new job. Central Europe was opening up, and EY needed staff for its office in Hungary. 

Within a week they signed me up,” he recalls. “Before I knew it, I was landing in Budapest with two suitcases and a job contract! My main reason for moving there was a sense of adventure, and I’ve always loved European history. 

Wilson met Agnes soon after starting work; she was with EY at the time and still is today. Married in 2006, the couple currently live in Budapest. For a number of years Wilson was traveling weekly to Bucharest, Romania, and now he regularly commutes between Budapest and Belgrade, Serbia (he lauds Belgrade for its cosmopolitan flair). He covers Croatia too and maintains a company flat in Zagreb. Over the years he has served as Transactions Partner in Big Four firms, Regional Finance Controller of an accounting software firm, and Finance Director of a recycling firm.

Reflections on experience

Those years in Europe have given the UW alumnus much fodder for cross-cultural reflection. “Central Europe is not homogeneous. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work – much to the chagrin of many foreign investors,” he observes. 

We all look at the world through the lens of the culture we grew up in, and often we don’t realize this. For example, in Romania, I initially felt people were rude because they wouldn’t let you ease into traffic. After a while I learned they don’t expect to yield when you’re making an easy manoeuvre. But if you want to do a complicated one, they’ll do anything to give way to you!

Wilson, Agnes and Sonja Mala will begin exploring new opportunities – and maybe even some cross-cultural challenges – after they arrive in Canada a few months from now.

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