In his first 30 years, Jess Grogan has visited more countries than most people will in a lifetime.
A North Forsyth High and North Georgia College & State University graduate, Grogan has put his bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs to good use, traveling to some 26 countries since 2004.
All that time abroad also helped Grogan land an internship with the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, which he’ll complete at the end of April.
His love of international travel began when he was chosen to study in Osaka, Japan, as one of 110 Freeman-Asia Scholars in the U.S. in 2005.
“Studying in Japan was a big turning point in my life,” he said. “That was the first time I left home for an extended period of time and it was a chance to study at a university with a truly international student body.”
During that time, he attended classes with students from England, Finland, Switzerland and Australia, among other countries. He also met his future wife, Manuela Proni, who hailed from Italy.
He and Proni married in 2007 and he moved to Italy, where he started his own business teaching English to working professionals in various companies and area airports.
He also completed his master’s degree at the University of Bologna.
Grogan said from 2007-10, he and his wife took many trips to European countries.
“It’s a lot easier to get around over there,” he said. “For example, we once got a flight from Barcelona [Spain] to Amsterdam [Netherlands] for 12 euros, which is about $15.”
Of all the places he’s been, his favorite is probably Barcelona.
“It’s on the sea, so there are a lot of beaches, and they have a really vibrant culture in that there’s always music and all the architecture is really, really nice,” he said. “It’s a really artistic city.”
Seeing Spain and other countries that have a greater focus on the arts than the U.S. inspired Grogan to change many aspects of his life.
“Traveling was a big influence to get me to stop playing video games and start painting,” he said. “It opened my eyes to so many new things like art and architecture.
“The arts in the U.S. are kind of at the bottom of the list, and that’s a shame because they do change people’s lives. They put color into your life.”
For Grogan’s parents, Jerry and Shirley Grogan, both lifelong Forsyth County residents, the reaction to their son’s travels has been mixed.
“I have to admit I am kind of jealous and I wish I’d gotten to go to all the places he’s been,” Jerry Grogan said. “But I’m glad he’s got to see a lot of the world that I probably won’t get to.”
Shirley Grogan said she’s “so proud” of her son, but missed him often, especially when he was living in Japan and Italy.
“We did we get to e-mail him a lot and saw him on [an Internet video-conferencing site],” she said.
Jerry Grogan said he was astonished to learn of their son’s internship at the United Nations.
“I was kind of flabbergasted by that,” he said. “Almost 400 people applied and just he and another girl were chosen.”
Shirley Grogan wasn’t quite as surprised.
“When he makes up his mind that he wants something, he pursues it until it gets it,” she said. “He’s always been like that.”
Jess Grogan said the internship has been a good experience, although he’s been confined to the New York office.
“We’re responsible for all the support and coordination efforts of all the economic and social business of the UN,” he said.
“The UN doesn’t pay for their interns to travel, so it’s all been here in the office.”
Since the internship is unpaid, Grogan hopes when it ends to find work for a nonprofit or government organization in the New York area.
That would fine with his mother, who said she’s happy to finally not be separated by an ocean from her son and daughter-in-law.
“I do wish they lived closer, but New York is only a couple of hours away by plane, as opposed to Italy, so they can stay there as long as they like,” she said.