Your Neighbor – Zach George
After traveling the globe, he comes back home
Zach George isn’t scared to admit he didn’t quite know what he wanted to be when he grew up. But, he wasn’t hesitant to try until he found out what would fuel his passions: meeting and understanding different people and their cultures, and acquiring a love for nature.
Having grown up in Clemmons, Zach’s parents encouraged an active lifestyle. “Growing up, my family and I used to go for walks along a trail that led from the first neighborhood we lived in (off Lasater Road) to Camp Merriwood Christian Camp. Those walks were extremely influential in my love of nature as a kid, as well as living an active lifestyle.”
Zach was able to immerse himself in various cultures thanks to his Dad, Mike George, whose profession was as a pilot for then Piedmont Airlines (now US Airways). “Our family was fortunate to be able go on summer vacations to Belize and Costa Rica for example” recalls Zach fondly. “Going to places that don’t speak English opens up your mind.”
After graduating from West Forsyth High School in 1996, Zach set off for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G). He had no idea what he wanted to study and muses, “I could have turned into the guy from Into the Wild. I even considered taking a year off to do something completely different, like go to Alaska.” Zach, however, spent 2 years at UNC-G before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). There, Zach focused his studies on anthropology and geography, eventually narrowing in his focus on archaeology.
He often refers to his mom, Sharon, as the “glue” of their family. His father’s work schedule left most of the day-to-day parenting duties of he and his brother, Clay George, up to Sharon. She instilled in him an outgoing personality and a strong desire to meet new people. That ultimately led to Zach’s interest in studying abroad, which he did the summer after his junior year. He spent his time in northern Peru, studying the Moche civilization. To make some extra money for his adventures while at UNC-CH, Zach became a Laboratory Research Assistant at UNC’s Research Laboratories in Archaeology, analyzing archaeological data for graduate student dissertation research. Zach was also a permanent fixture at the Pi Beta Phi sorority house. He was the headwaiter, which had some perks other than just a paycheck: free groceries and a steady line of dates.
Upon graduating Zach took a road trip with some friends “across pretty much the entirety of the U.S. and southern Canada,” as he put it. He spent the remainder of that summer working as an Archaeological Field Instructor for UNC-CH wherein he helped survey archaeological site boundaries and artifact locations for Peruvian National Heritage Sites. Once back from Peru, Zach began circulating his resume and in January 2001, he took an offer with a civil engineering firm in Washington, D.C. He spent the next two years conducting archaeological surveys and acquiring geospatial data for government and private contractors.
Zach couldn’t suppress his love to be outdoors and the position in D.C. afforded him that opportunity . “I like being outside all the time,” he notes about himself. However, traffic and a thirst for the unknown demanded a serious change. Thus, Zach sold everything that he owned except for some clothes, a backpack and some camping gear. He returned home to Clemmons briefly to say goodbye to his parents before jumping on a plane to Chile. “I had no idea where exactly I was going. I read 2 travel books on the flight there. I also, at the time, didn’t speak Spanish,” remembers Zach with a grin. Zach got off the bus in the pouring rain in Pucón, a Chilean city known for its tourism and the active volcano that shadows it. While sitting on a bus station bench gathering his bearings, Zach was approached by a man speaking broken English who offered him a ride, and subsequently, a job as an interpreter at a hostel. Zach spent the next year-and-a-half working at 2 different hostels drumming up interest in the respective lodging accommodations and working on the side for a tourism company guiding hiking trips, horseback rides, and ascensions of the volcano. Zach had learned very quickly how to speak Spanish and fully utilized his newly acquired skills.
In 2004 Zach moved back to Clemmons for just short of a year. He needed an injection of U.S. dollars in order to help pay for what would become the next chapter in his Chilean life. Once back in Chile he took a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification course and ended up moving to Concepción. For almost 4 years, Zach was an English Instructor for Berlitz and Program Manager at a private K-12 school. He taught English to university students and business professionals, developed educational programs, and traveled throughout as much of Chile and Argentina that his bank account enabled him. Eventually though Zach realized that his time abroad should come to a close. Once again, he sold all of his personal effects and moved to another country. In this case though it was back to the U.S.
Zach had been living in Washington, D.C. on 9/11 and was actually working at Andrews Air Force that day. It was an experience that “changed my perception of the world,” as he put it. That experience was part of what sent him to Chile in the first place. “When I decided that my time in Chile was at its end I wanted to do something that ‘mattered,’” he emphasizes. He circulated his resume throughout the government and landed back in Washington, D.C. For a short while he stayed with a good buddy of his who had also graduated from West Forsyth, Justin Hayes. During this time, Zach was offered a job with Kid Power, which allowed him to design an environmental sciences curriculum in after school programs for inner-city youth. He also worked at a comedy club doing their lighting and sound for shows. And he eventually became a fulltime bartender at one of the top bars in Arlington, V.A. just across the Potomac River from D.C.
In 2005 fate would come knocking around this time for Zach though in both his personal life and professional life. After nearly a year of mutual prodding by Zach and one of his co-workers at the bar, he finally got the coworker to bring her roommate, Irma Perez, out one night. Zach lights up as he says, “We knew immediately. After 2 dates, we both said, ‘This is it’.” And after just a month, Zach and Irma were married. It was also at this time that they found out that they were expecting a little girl, Daniela. A few months later Zach received a job offer from one of the federal government jobs that he had applied to dealing with security enforcement. He quickly realized that his new job would require him to travel frequently and he would not be able to spend as much time with his family as he had hoped. But his sense of duty was pervasive. Due to the training demands of Zach’s new job, he was only allotted two days off when Daniela was born to enjoy time with her. Eventually Zach completed his training and he and the family moved to New York.
Zach remained at his government job for over 4 years. “I felt like I was part of a mission. I was doing something positive in this world,” Zach states when describing why he endured the long days, constant travel, and extended commitment away from his family. However, his newly formed family and strong North Carolinian roots were tugging at him. Although he enjoyed working in security issues, he wanted to share with Daniela and Irma what he loved most — being home. Irma and Daniela moved to Clemmons in August 2014 and waited for Zach to complete his assignment with the government, which ended in April 2015. Presently, they live near Tanglewood, which reminds Zach of his childhood. “Growing up, we frequented Tanglewood. We spent a lot of time walking around and playing various sports there. I am grateful to have it available for Daniela.”
Zach is also hoping to be able to buy a plot of land to do farming, just as his father had done during his youth. Zach is very interested in raising Daniela in a similar environment. In the meantime, you can find Zach at the tasting room at Foothills Brewery. He enjoys talking with people daily about his passion for craft beer and no doubt, where they call home.
Our neighbor has enjoyed traveling all over the world. However, you can see for him, home is where the heart is.
“Your Neighbor” is a feature by Jill Osborn. If you have a neighbor everybody should know, reach Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow her blog on parenting at MuchAdoAboutMothering.com/