North Rowan grad becomes a world citizen

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2011

GRANITE QUARRY — Pete Crowther’s expansive formal education lies in the research and development side of biomechanics, from institutions such as Wake Forest and Texas Christian universities.
But over the past decade, Crowther has earned a working degree in world travel.
As an information management specialist for the U.S. State Department, Crowther and his family have lived during two- and three-year assignments in Trinidad, Russia, Argentina and now Australia.
“When you sign up, you have to agree to worldwide service,” Crowther said during a recent visit with his mother, Louise, in Granite Quarry. “I really haven’t regretted it at all. It has been great.”
Though he’s not a diplomat, Crowther sort of lives a diplomat’s life. At each stop, he has worked out of the U.S. embassy, making sure all the communications systems — from computers to telephones — are up and running.
Needing computer support help in other places, the State Department sometimes sends him on short visits away from his home base at the embassy.
In Australia, for example, he travels from the capital in Canberra to cities such as Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. He also will be sent to Cambodia in July.
The job has its perks. While the salary might be less than what he could earn in the private sector, the State Department pays for the lodging and utilities in each country and makes the arrangements so transitions from country to country are pretty seamless.
Crowther says he and his family — wife Kendra, 12-year-old Sean and 10-year-old Sydney — have arrived in new places with their car already in the driveway and groceries in the refrigerator.
The State Department also provides for cost-of-living increases in salary, if necessary. The cost-of-living adjustment in Moscow was 40 percent, for example.
The accommodations vary greatly, depending on the country. The family’s quarters in Moscow were part of a complex — a pretty standard three-bedroom apartment whose cost, nonetheless, was exorbitant.
In Argentina, the family lived in a four-story house with a swimming pool that was just down the street from the president’s mansion.
For the first time in Australia, Sean and Sydney are attending a local school, not one set up primarily for visiting Americans and other English-speaking students. As part of their school uniform, they must wear hats to shield them from the Australian sun.
They take U.S. history every Friday at the embassy.
The family has lived in Port of Spain, Trinidad, for two years, Moscow for two years and Buenos Aires, Argentina, for three years before moving to Canberra, Australia, in September 2010.
“They’ve all had their pluses and minuses,” Crowther says, though he thinks his children have benefited greatly from becoming, in a way, world citizens. “They’re learning all these different cultures.”
Sean has become fluent in three languages. On vacations, the family has traveled to places such as Egypt, South Africa and Kenya.
Another side benefit is that family often comes to visit them in these faraway places. Louise and her late husband, Milton, once a research chemist for National Starch, were able to travel to Trinidad and Russia during their son’s assignments there.
“He was a wonderful person,” Louise says of Milton, who died in 2009, “and he encouraged his children to get out in the world.”
Pete Crowther, 46, graduated as valedictorian of North Rowan High School’s Class of 1983. He then majored in health and sports science at Wake Forest, earned his master’s in biomechanics at TCU and was going for his doctorate before that career path began losing its appeal.
Always interested in computers, Crowther took a job with a computer support company in Dallas, liked it and moved on to positions with EDS and Microsoft.
“There was so much opportunity to move up,” he says.
But when things began tapering off and Crowther saw he was only making lateral moves, he started looking for other career opportunities. At a job fair in Dallas, he walked up to the only booth without a line — the Foreign Service branch of the U.S. State Department.
Crowther enjoyed travel. He backpacked through Europe in his younger days and had gone to China and Thailand with some school friends. Not knowing what would come of it, he applied to the State Department for a computer support position.
It took a year before he was called to Washington in August 2002 for an interview. After he passed written and oral tests, the State Department placed him in its next class. By February 2003, he was on his first assignment to Trinidad, having survived all the background checks.
During his foreign service, Crowther says his wife has had the tougher job, trying to adapt their family to each new country.
She grew up as a missionary’s daughter, spending many years in West Africa. While she was used to living in foreign lands, she was never used to the diplomatic-like lifestyle that came with Crowther’s State Department job.
“She has fit in well,”‘ Crowther says. “She has had to deal with the changes of foreign life more than I have.”
The job also has allowed the Crowther family to meet some important people, such as both the Bush presidents, plenty of congressmen and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Crowther knows he’ll be assigned to Australia until September 2013, but his next world stop has yet to be decided. As he gains tenure, he is able to bid on the openings presented to him by the State Department.
In between assignments, State Department employees are given a two-month break. For some of those days, the Crowthers must stay in Washington while Pete sits in on more training. Otherwise, they spend time with family in North Carolina, Kansas and Texas,
Pete and his brother Joe, a Lutheran minister in Kansas, took time to hike Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
At the top, Pete spread some of the ashes of his father, Milton, the man who had always encouraged him to get out in the world.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@