Networked Journalism Education

Archive for December, 2013

Advice to an educator

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Working at a university is interesting. One spends a great deal of time with people who never age. To counter the angst this can occasionally cause, and to remind myself that I’ve arrived where I am by choice, not accident, I’ve written the following letter from my young self to my present self. (Thanks to this month’s Carnival of Journalism for inspiring this reflective moment.)

Park G├╝ell, Barcelona, 2002.

It’s Christmas, 1977. I’m a junior in college and still haven’t chosen a major. My strategy has been to take classes that sound interesting. My father gives me another lecture and pulls out the latest Berkeley catalog. He tells me to write down every course I’ve taken and figure out which major will get me the closest to graduating. It takes me a number of hours to work through by hand all the possibilities but I finally figure it out: Political Economy of Natural Resources. The following semester I declare my major in a subject I don’t even understand and by May, 1978 I’ve graduated.

Now it’s Christmas, 1980, and I’ve nearly finished my master’s degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from George Washington University, another degree I only partially understand. I am facing a choice: do I stay in Washington DC and look for the perfect DC career job? Or do I move back to California, my family and a boyfriend I’ve been breaking up with for years? A professional job in an exciting town or a friendship I need closure on?

I decide I can find a job anywhere if I try hard enough; finding what would make me happy might be harder. So I choose California, heading back west where my parents and grandparents also made their way.

Within two months I am engaged. The boyfriend turned out to be even better than I remembered. But now we face a choice together: do we look for career jobs and figure out where to settle down? Or do we take this chance to do something crazy?

We go for crazy. We work temp jobs for the Forest Service. I drive a garbage truck called the Maggot Wagon. I work as a temporary clerical worker at Pier 39 in SF. We save all our money and decide to marry on the sixth anniversary of our first kiss.

By Christmas, 1981 we are in New Zealand. We eat strawberries and play tennis. In April we fly to Australia. We spend two months working temp jobs in Sydney. We spend a week on the Great Barrier Reef. We drive across the outback and break down.

In August we fly to Bali, totally unprepared for life in a foreign language. We figure it out and spend my birthday at an archeological site on Java. After a month we go to Singapore, another month in Malaysia. We find our way to a baby elephant training camp in Thailand and spend time in Chiang Mai. In October, we land in Calcutta, seasoned travelers.

We trek for a month in Nepal and eat our Thanksgiving turkey in Kathmandu. By Christmas we are in Delhi and we spend sunrise on New Year’s Day at the Taj Mahal. We ride camels in Rajastan and tour a toothpaste factory in Bombay. In the spring we head for Europe, luxuriating in a tiny pension in Rome and a cooking for a Servas host in Paris. We skip Frankfurt but land in London with a sister for a month.

And then it’s over. We return to California, broke, happy, together. We find jobs at a non-profit in Marin County. We decide to go back to graduate school and have children at the same time. We spend seven years living in a 500-square foot apartment in Berkeley, have three children, live on the cheap, scrape by.

As your younger self, I want you to remember other Christmas’s too. The one in Strasbourg, France, when you took the kids to Europe for seven months and taught in Spain. The year you spent New Year’s with your son in Patagonia. The Christmas just a few years ago when all five of you drove from Rome to Switzerland in an old van and went skiing. The years you spent holidays playing bunco with friends in the Bay area.

Remember? And now, now I see into the future — it’s Christmas, 2013. You are worried that you’re not productive enough. You think you never spent enough time working as a professional journalist. You never won any prizes. You haven’t landed any big grants. You didn’t submit any conference papers this fall. You know you need to be writing more research articles for publication. You need to grade faster and answer all your email. You think you should have paid more attention to your career and achieved more.

I’m writing this letter to remind you that you made some really good choices back then. You know what? You just celebrated your 32nd wedding anniversary. Your children are happy and doing their own crazy things. Your students will get over waiting for grades. You can still write something worth reading. You’ll dump all your email and no one will suffer.

So … here’s my advice to my older self: Own your choices. Remember what’s important long term and remind your students. Live your values and don’t get caught up in comparisons. Don’t play it safe. Keep making those risky choices you made when you were 21, and when you’re 90, you’ll be really glad you were wild in your 50s.

Written by Donica

December 21st, 2013 at 11:20 pm