Getting Comfortable with City Lights

A blog dedicated to those from small towns, villages, or anyone who’s adjusting to a new environment. 

We had the opportunity to chat with the collegiate athlete, YouTuber, and entrepreneur Wallace Ungwiluk from Gambell, Alaska. 

Gambell, Alaska is located on St. Lawrence Island along the Bering Sea and is home to a mere 650 people. Only 50 nautical miles from the Chukchi Peninsula in Eastern Russia, Gambell is closer to Russia than the mainland of its own state. This is the hometown of Ungwiluk, who is currently living his childhood dreams of being a college basketball player in Portland, Oregon. In addition to basketball and school, his future plans include owning his own business dedicated to the outdoors and hunting. 

In moving to Oregon, Ungwiluk experienced some major culture shocks–getting acclimated to the city and networking with others has been a challenge for him. Living in Gambell means no cars, three TV channels, and limited choices for food; Ungwiluk’s way of life may be seen as ‘mind-boggling’ to those that grew up in major metropolitan areas. After experiencing and thriving after such a shift, we spoke with Wallace Ungwiluk about what it took to network with others and build community in a completely new environment.  



What steps did you take to get acclimated to networking and eventually acquiring job opportunities in the city?

Ungwiluk: The main thing was getting out of my comfort zone and asking for help. Growing up in a small community and being a first-generation college student, I didn’t know what to expect in a big city and college environment. A huge benefit was that, by joining a team, I was automatically part of a group as soon as I traveled here. The group consisted of my coaches, teammates, and athletic advisor. But, being part of a group does not promise success, it only makes your chances better. This “group” would be of no help to me if I wasn’t willing to reach out to them when I didn’t know what to do or where to go for certain things. I think most people will be surprised by the number of people that will help them if they just ask. Learning this lesson helped me later in life, feeling better about getting out of that comfort zone and being willing to reach out to others. 


What was the hardest part about branching out and learning to network?

Ungwiluk: The hardest part for me when it came to branching out and learning to network was learning how to communicate better. Coming out of high school, I was quieter and reserved. I didn’t know how to hold a conversation. My replies would be one-word responses that didn’t add to the conversation or keep the conversation going. I knew that this was an area that I wanted to improve in to be able to build relationships and community with the new people around me. So, anytime I found myself in a conversation with someone, I would challenge myself to add to the discussion and keep it going. This was uncomfortable at first, but with each conversation, I got a little better and it got easier each time.


What is one piece of advice you would give to people that come from a place as small as your hometown that want to pursue job opportunities in big cities?

Ungwiluk: The advice I would give is that you are capable of achieving anything that you set your mind to and work hard at, regardless of where you come from or the situation that you are in. As a kid from a small town–where I could count on one hand the number of people that have ever graduated from college and not one to ever play college sports–it would have been easy for me to think that playing college basketball was impossible. I had to hold on to my dream of playing in college when the doubts crept in and really believe in myself.

Another piece of advice I would give is to reach out for help. There are people whose job it is to help answer any questions you may have. If they don’t know the answer, they will send you to someone who does have the answers. No one reaches their goals without the help of others. And no one is expecting you to know what to do every step of the way.


What are your career plans and how have they changed since when you first came to the city?

Ungwiluk: I have had a lot of different career aspirations during my time in college. Living in a small rural village in Alaska, I have always had the aspiration of going to college to study business so that I can go back home to create more job opportunities. In playing college basketball and coaching basketball camps over the summers, I started picking up an interest to coach basketball collegiately. I later realized that if I pursued this career, I would not have the time to go back home and work with the people and youth there. My career plans right now are to go back to Gambell and create content around the lifestyle at home and to also work with the youth as a mentor. 


As an aspiring entrepreneur and driven collegiate athlete, what’s been your biggest takeaway or “Ah-ha” moment since coming to the Portland area?

Ungwiluk: The biggest takeaway that I have had since my time in big cities like Portland, OR and Spokane, WA has been the number of opportunities and possibilities that are available. Growing up in a small, isolated, rural village where there are not many job opportunities, and not many people “make it out,” it can be hard to dream of possibilities and to have career aspirations. Not many people “make it out” because of the huge culture shock that they experience when traveling to even a small city. So when I did leave home for college and to a big city like Portland, the opportunities and possibilities, that I only thought to be true in movies, became a reality. I often think that I have too many career aspirations because of this perception that my options are endless.


Utilizing resources, seizing opportunities, and doing your best to become the best version of yourself are just a few reasons that Wallace Ungwiluk has made the most of his circumstances and developed into a great athlete, entrepreneur, and community member. If you are someone who is getting adjusted to a new environment and struggling to network or build community, it’s easy to get discouraged–stick with it and it’ll pay off. Take advantage of the moment and use your resources and you’ll do just fine, as is evident by the example of Ungwiluk.