Yearning for 'big adventure' to lead couple to Ukraine

Published January 19, 2005

You never know what grows inside of people.

Eric and Sandy Jacobs were typical young professionals working through the ranks of corporate America. Sandy, 28, was an assistant vice president at Citigroup. Eric, 32, was a senior manager in the information technology department at Eckerd corporate headquarters.

"We had a thing going for about four years," Eric said. "Sandy would get a raise and jump over me and then I would get a raise and jump over her."

If you saw them walking down Bayshore Boulevard or windo w shopping at Hyde Park Village, you wouldn't be able to discern they had worldly ideas brewing in their hearts.

But Eric's mother knew. Before she succumbed to cancer in September 2003, Teresa Sturgill told her son and daughter-in-law to stop holding back.

Sandy remembers Sturgill's words: "You guys need to make sure you go have your big adventure. I've been seeing it in your eyes for a long time and you need to go do it."

When Eckerd announced it was looking to sell in early 2004, Eric decided it was time to seriously discuss what had long been rooted inside of them.

"I brought the idea up of the Peace Corps and said, "Why don't we try it?' " Eric said. "Sandy waited about 30 seconds and said, "Okay.' "

The sales pitch was easy because both have the souls of explorers. During college, Sandy lived in Italy for nine months. Eric spent a month in Costa Rica while in graduate school. Together, they have traveled extensively in western Europe and Canada, and they spent a summer working at a Glacier National Park resort in Montana.

Still, for many people those excursions wouldn't add up to being Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine.

The trip has been a year in the making, but in March, the Jacobses will give up everything for 27 months: leisure days in their Hyde Park apartment, dinners at St. Bart's Island House, whipping up their own meals at home.

You see, Eric developed into quite a cook while growing up in Spring Hill. He didn't exactly trade recipes with his fellow Springstead High football players, but he did manage to take family meals beyond the crock pot.

Now, while he toils in Ukraine, the cookbook he and Sandy wrote will hit the shelves. The Florida Bounty will feature recipes generic to the state and narratives on the culture.

Most of their cooking utensils are in storage now, and they'll eat like the natives while overseas. Still, there's hardly a hint of disappointment. They figure the Peace Corps will quench their desire to give back and their longing to serve the United States.

"There's a lot of frustration with the U.S. in other countries," Sandy said. "For me, one of the best ways you can make a positive impact in presenting America is to go and live somewhere and work within a community."

Initially the Jacobses were told they would be stationed in sub-Saharan Africa, despite requesting Eastern Europe. When news finally came in November they were going to Ukraine, they were elated - at least initially.

"The day I gave my notice at Citigroup, everybody was like, "Where are you going? Ukraine? Where is that?' " Sandy said. "That night, all of the elections fiasco broke on the news. All of sudden, everybody knew where it was."

Pro-Western leader Viktor Yushchenko won the second Ukraine election and the turmoil has tempered slightly. Now Eric and Sandy are looking forward to helping develop businesses, but first there will be three months of intensive language, cultural and security training while they live with a native family.

They will be expected to live, work and travel like the natives.

No more salary competitions.

"But if it was just about the money, the seed would have never been there in the first place," Eric said.

All of us probably have some kind of seed inside, but few ever bother to nurture it. Maybe moving from Florida to Ukraine sounds crazy to you, but it's inspiring to me.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com