Class of 2015
While sailing as part of the crew of a 34-foot competitive sailboat, on an excursion to the Port of Algarrobo near Santiago, Chile, Nikolai Kozak got a chance to test his will against the notoriously treacherous southern Pacific. A storm hit just as the last rays of sun were retreating over the horizon. It was pitch black when the main sail was ripped by high winds, and the remaining forward sail was too large and light to be of use in such a storm. The responsibility fell to Nikolai, as the ship's bowman, to change out the forward sail for a smaller jib.
So began what Nikolai calls "the most adventurous thing I ever did." Carrying the 50-kilogram bag that contained the jib, he hooked his harness to the boat's windward lifeline. He says, "I began what sailors refer to as 'the march of death'—the trip to a boat's bow during a storm." As he worked quickly to situate and unfurl the sail, Nikolai realized that, if he fell, the darkness and roaring wind would prevent his crewmates from noticing.
A few minutes later, once the sail was up and the boat was hastening for port, Nikolai sat facing the bow, desperately trying to wrap his mind around what he had just accomplished. "I had stood on the edge and made it through," he says, recalling that "one phrase rang in my mind long after we had docked: 'this is what I live for—those experiences that seem to reaffirm life while taking you to the edge of it.'"
Living in Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Chile, three countries with spectacular and treacherous natural landscapes, has inspired Nikolai to be a risk taker, both physically and intellectually.
"In most of the places I've lived, the only way to see the horizon was from a summit. Somewhere along the line this reality began to permeate more than just the physical world: I began to think of challenges, of interests, and of knowledge as mountains," he says.
And he lives to this metaphor, believing that the higher he climbs a peak, the more clearly he sees his surroundings. He says, "A few minutes reading Othello might turn into hours spent considering the implications of the Dada Manifesto" or "a night studying for a physics lab might turn into a week exploring 3d computer rendering."
His habit of constantly exploring the next summit has led Nikolai to serve as vice president of student council, treasurer of the National Honor Society, and secretary general of his school's Model UN Program, the last of which enabled him to attend conferences in New York, Panama, and The Hague. He was also a finalist in Chile's nationwide catamaran sailing championship race.
Nikolai's energy and thirst for adventure has now brought him to NYU Abu Dhabi to study political science. "My drive is fairly simple: a profound love of discovery and self-improvement, which I believe is translatable to a global scale," he says.
Characteristically, Nikolai is already thinking ahead to the next peak. Ever since he was young he has wanted to take part in the Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month, around-the-world race that many refer to as the "Everest of Sailing."
"Abu Dhabi will be hosting a team in 2014," he says, "so there's always hope of being part of the effort."