A typical work day might include setting a budget for garbage pickup in Albania or explaining international financial reporting standards to the prime minister of an Eastern European country.
Two Champaign-Urbana women are helping Eastern European and Third World countries modernize their government and accounting systems.
Marilynne Davis of Champaign works for "another" UI – the Urban Institute, a 41-year-old analyzer of American city problems that offers technical assistance to more than 28 other countries.
Maureen Berry of Urbana is a freelance accountancy consultant who has worked for a variety of clients, including the Urban Institute.
Even though both have C-U roots stretching back decades, the women have only met once: Thanksgiving dinner last year in Tajikistan.
"The great thing about a think tank (like the institute) is they care more about what you know than your gender," says Davis, 67.
And if you're "high maintenance," Berry said, who explained that her foreign counterparts, chief accountants in the former Soviet Union republics, have been women.
"I've encountered more prejudice about my age than about being a woman," said Berry, who did not divulge her age. "When people get curious about my age, I just look them straight in the eye and say 'I'm 95.' At first, they took me seriously."
The News-Gazette's Lynda Zimmer spent time with Davis and Berry, capturing a glimpse at their lives.
URBANA – A native of Great Britain, Maureen Berry worked in the late 1940s at the Polish Relief Agency, helping Poles return home after World War II, and at the American Embassy before tackling her career in accountancy.
She traveled with her sister to Los Angeles where they both got jobs as tellers at the Bank of America.
"We decided California was a pretty good place to be," Berry said. "The U.S. in 1952 had a good cost of living and plenty of housing."
When she heard that bookkeepers earned more money than tellers, Berry began studying and working accounting.
After earning a doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles, Berry started her accountancy teaching career as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in 1974.
She taught graduate courses on how cultural differences affected accounting practices.
She was a Fulbright scholar in Poland in the mid-1980s, helping establish the UI's and University of Warsaw's joint master of business administration program. In 1988, she taught in China.
Berry attained associate professor emerita status in the mid-1990s but never retired from teaching around the world.
Her expertise in international accounting has put her in demand by former Soviet countries, Egypt and Israel.
"Sometimes I wonder, 'Is this really me, talking to the head of a Soviet country?'" she said.
Her clients have included the Urban Institute and audit, tax and advisory firms based in Washington, D.C.
She does not specify which agency sent her to which country because "accountants do not discuss their clients," she said.
In Eastern European countries, part of her work was teaching the chief accountants of commercial banks.
In 1999-2000, traveling among bases overseas, Washington and Illinois – where she was trying to remodel a house in Urbana and move out of a house in Champaign – made for an exhausting 15 months.
"I'd leave Washington at 2:30 on Friday afternoons to fly to Champaign-Urbana, then leave here Sunday afternoon to go back to Washington and either Macedonia, Armenia or Georgia," Berry said.
She quit working for one Washington firm and was home for only two weeks when a client asked, "Can you go to Kazakhstan next Sunday?"
"I've been traveling so much the last 15 years that I could go anywhere tomorrow," she said. "It's just getting over the jet lag that's hard."
After the Kazakhstan assignment, she made three trips to Jordan in 2000.
In her Armenian apartment building, which had gas and water tanks, a water tank once burst.
"I noticed the floor was getting wet, and when I opened the hall door, I was awash," Berry said. "I was pounding on doors and pointing to the hall because I could not speak the language."
She speaks Polish, German and French but uses a translator for her teaching in other languages.
During two years of work in Kabul, with trips home every three months, Berry at first wore a head scarf – a requirement for Muslim women.
"But it was hot and uncomfortable," she said. "I said to the men I was working with, 'I'm not one of you; would it bother you if I did not wear it?' They waited for their leader to speak. He finally agreed that I was not one of them and did not have to wear it. After that, I made many shopping trips with the men and became the chief chooser of gifts for their wives and girlfriends."
Getting to know Maureen Berry
Hometowns: Grew up in South London; came to Champaign-Urbana in 1974.
Family: Single; two nieces.
Education: California colleges, doctorate in information systems from University of California at Los Angeles, Fulbright scholar in Poland.
Early jobs: Polish Relief Agency and American Embassy, London; certified public accountant and auditor for U.S. Defense Department, California.
Post-doctorate jobs: University of Illinois assistant/associate professor, freelance international consulting for a variety of clients.
Countries worked in: 20, including Uzbekistan, Egypt, Israel, Poland, Estonia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Hungary and Indonesia.