IN A NUTSHELL
Future Goals, Plans
So, the big question that everyone and their mom is asking me and my fellow recent graduates: What are you going to do with your life? A liberal arts education means a somewhat broad education, and I worried about this somewhat. Then, I stumbled upon a quote by an unknown author: “Ignoring your passion is slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for. Mold your career around your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around your career.” This quote is so significant as I approach a major change in my life. My passions are numerous, but include: travel, photography, writing, education, and cultures. I have never pictured myself in one single career, but I know now that I have many possibilities.
My professional concentration area in International Studies is Media, Journalism, and Communication. My various classes in Journalism as well as cross-cultural communication have prepared me for a job that deals with interaction between cultures. An ultimate goal would be to be a travel photographer and writer, but until I further my experience in those two areas (photography and writing), I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
I do plan to begin my hopeful career of travel by joining the Peace Corps or a similar volunteer position that allows me to live abroad for an extended period of time and doesn’t take much money out of my nonexistent savings, hopefully within the next couple of years. I have just begun researching possible places I am interested in applying, and I hope to use my Swahili language education to be of service in East Africa. Language opens up so many doors and I firmly believe that to become fluent in a language, one needs to live in the place where that language is spoken for a long period of time. Peace Corps seems like the perfect combination of international work and cultural immersion that I am yearning for, and my time as an International Studies major has at least begun to prepare me for the cross-cultural experience of service with Peace Corps. While I have some reservations about the fact that the program is through the United States government and serving with them may further perpetuate the “savior-complex,” I think the fact that I am aware of this and know that I will be respectful of the community I am placed in, means I won’t be brainwashed into thinking I am “saving” anyone. Everyone makes their experience their own, and if I am lucky enough to be chosen to serve, then I will make sure my two years in another country will consist of respectful cultural exchange and cooperation with a community and not for a community.
After that, I am keeping my options open, which may seem irresponsible to some, but as long as I can make enough money to support myself at a basic level, I don’t need anything fancy. Currently, I am back in the Bay Area, working as a teacher with the YMCA after-school program, and saving up money for whatever my next adventure happens to be. In the future, I can see myself pursuing teaching, non-profit work, and travel journalism, among others.
I was having a conversation recently with some peers about international travel and perception and I heard a very interesting idea. The idea was that though there may be many issues with volunteerism and trips that function with the mission to “save” another group of people, the very act of visiting these other places opens the door for more learning and discussion that would not happen otherwise. That is exactly what happened to me, and I know it was the same for a few of my friends. Without those trips, people would sit in their own corner of the world and believe that what their life looks like is all there is. I have never understood how people can drive by struggling people in the streets of Mexico, and continue on to the 5-star resort that serves a completely Americanized experience and does next to nothing for the local people. But then, they have never met any of these struggling people, or visited their homes, or learned their stories. They may have been too afraid to visit places off-the-beaten-path, but volunteer trips help foster a new way of thinking about the world that I think is absolutely essential, especially for affluent Westerners who think they know it all (including myself at times!).
There is an underlying theme that I have realized while learning both in classrooms and through travel experiences, and that is the idea of a “savior complex” among Westerners for places that look different than their own, socially, politically, and culturally. This complex is used for justification, defense of actions, and to hit that emotional chord in unsuspecting public. Have you seen those commercials of dirty, sad, and beautiful African children followed by a celebrity encouraging you to give money? While the human capacity to care should not be criticized, there should definitely be a closer look at the effects of painting places in Africa with a single story, one of helplessness that refuses to acknowledge the local actors and positive changes being made without Western influence.
Thinking about my time in Europe and my time spent in Kenya, I realized that while these experiences were so completely different, both added equally to my passion for travel. In Kenya, I was there for a short period of time and focused primarily on volunteerism. There, I had less time to truly get to know people in another culture, but was struck by the differences and dealt with a lot of depression and culture shock in the aftermath of the trip. By the time I went to London, I had dealt with a lot of those thoughts about unfair poverty gaps and development, but I was also traveling to another Western country somewhat similar to my own. I used to think that the only ethically right way to travel is to be helping people, that it was selfish to travel solely for personal enjoyment. I thought that because I came from an affluent background and had never experienced the gripping poverty that I saw in Kenya, that I had to feel completely guilty about any other type of travel. After studying abroad and traveling for education and exploration, my view has shifted. I think feelings of guilt will always be somewhat present in my mind, but I also think that simply experiencing new cultures and connecting with people on a meaningful level is the most important aspect of travel in any context. I plan to spend the rest of my life learning, living, and connecting with people throughout the world. This type of interaction, in my opinion, opens up communication and fosters real solutions to social, economic, and political issues around the world.