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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Burned Once, But Not Shy

Three years ago, Suzanne Dietrich, 27, left the lazy midwestern American college town of Bloomington, Indiana, to live and work in Moscow. She got a good job, worked hard and then watched her labors disappear into the back of a moving truck.


Dietrich was hired as accounts manager of a start-up company that provided computer training. But the investors in the project became involved in a typically Russian dispute over how much each of them should contribute. After about nine months, one disgruntled investor showed up with a truck and, brandishing his version of the contract, took all the computers away.


"We were so successful that someone decided he wanted to take it," said Dietrich. "I spent a month trying to get it back, talking to lawyers, meeting with the investor. But it's not even a matter of a piece of paper when someone shows up with a truck. In this city, it's a matter of who is bigger and stronger."


After that experience, many people would have packed up and gone home. Dietrich decided to keep on going. She approached another computer training company in Belgium and convinced it to let her have another try.


Today, Dietrich is the head of the Moscow office of Xylos, the Belgian-owned computer training company whose staff has grown from four to 12 under Dietrich's management. It offers computer training courses for employees of mostly Western companies and charges $380 per student for a two-day course in Lotus, WordPerfect or other programs. Clients in Russia, according to Dietrich, number over 100.


Dietrich's interest in Russia began when she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She took a survey course in comparative politics and was fascinated by the Soviet Union. "I'm of a generation that didn't have the fear of the Soviet Union," she said. "It seemed very interesting."


After graduating with a degree in business and spending a summer studying Russian in Estonia, she earned a master's degree in economics at Indiana University's Russian Institute.


"I feel lucky," she said. "I've been able to be here through the past three years of changes, and there have been some incredible changes."


One of these, she said, is the developing middle class, for whom the standard of living in Russia has greatly improved.


"For the pensioner, life is really rough here now," Dietrich said. "But overall, Moscow is getting better. People, my employees, my clients, want to see that they are accomplishing something, that they are earning a paycheck and can make a difference in where they're headed."