It’s the fall of 2009, and I’m hard at work on my undergraduate thesis in a private library carrell when my alarm goes off. I’ve never been that great at transitions, but this one comes easy; I power down my laptop, stuff everything into my library locker, and ride my bike down the hill to my favorite bar in town where I crack open my first Sam Adams Oktoberfest of the season and settle in to enjoy some live music with my friends. The difference between this outing and any other in this, my senior year of college, is that I’m not avoiding my school work, I’m doing it. I’m a student in yoked course sections of Literary Journalism and Photojournalism, and I’m here at the Hour Glass for the final show of the semester for Earthman Embassy, a Colgate University indie rock-
pop band who have agreed to be the subjects of the profile piece I’m working on for my final course project. The photos, quotes, and notes I obtain at this show will play a key part in the narrative I will construct in this final project, a 32-page handbound booklet I will title, “Who Doesn’t Want to be a Rockstar?” This night will also be the first of many that feels too good to be true, that makes me wonder if working can really be this enjoyable and fulfilling; it’s the first time I realize that I want to -- and can -- be a writer.
I didn’t always know I wanted to teach, but I’ve always wanted to read and learn. From the time I could speak I would grab a book and take it to my mom and command, “Mama, read!” While I explored a lot of interests during my primary and secondary education in the small town of Homer City, PA, I gravitated towards reading and writing, regularly reading books beyond my grade level and writing stories twice as long as the required page maximum. In college, my struggles in science and math, and strengths in the social sciences and humanities, helped to steer me towards a BA in Political Science and History, with
cluster courses in Education. After my experiences my senior year in my literary and photojournalism courses, I knew I would one day go to graduate school for creative writing, but wanted to get “real world” work experience first.
After college, I moved to New York City, where I slowly but surely tested my wings and grew professionally and personally. While working for an international NGO, I was afforded the opportunity to travel abroad and engage with my global colleagues and members of their local communities in Ghana, Brazil, and Morocco. During this time I became very passionate about learning languages, and ultimately left the NGO to work at a foreign language school for adults. There, I studied Arabic, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and continued learning about cultures other than my own. After five years, though, I finally realized it was time to shift career paths and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing.
It’s April 2017, just a few weeks before I’ll graduate from Naropa University with an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. There’s a lot going on -- I’m getting yelled at by the software place next door for burning my students’ papers in the driveway I didn’t know was theirs, I’m realizing my trash can isn’t nearly as fireproof as I had presumed when I brought it to class that morning, and I’m trying to facilitate an exercise in catharsis and release of the research papers they recently completed. I fought hard to keep this, my first, class, after receiving word at the start of the semester that it would be canceled due to low enrollment. After utilizing my rhetorical skills to somehow convince the administration to let me keep a class with only six students in it, I knew I had to make it worth all of our time. It’s for this course that I first crafted the core approaches that are still present in my teaching vision today. I’ve used everything I’ve
learned up to this point, especially from taking and then co-teaching Naropa’s graduate Writing Pedagogy course, but it’s really here, in section E of CORE 115, “Writing Seminar II: The Art of the Scholar,” that I experience what it means to embody one’s pedagogy, that how we teach is what we teach, or at least, it should be. There’s no going back after this; I’m a teacher now.
It’s my second-to-last day volunteering with youth who live in a refugee camp in Greece. I’ve seen many young people come and go during my five months there helping to facilitate a drop-in psychosocial support space for youth, and I’ve seen just as many who haven’t been afforded the opportunity to leave. I’ve led a photojournalism project, made more friendship bracelets than I had in my entire life before, and conducted exquisite corpse poetry assignments. I’ve made bilingual jenga and magnetic poetry sets and taught a crash course in making comic strips. On this day, as on many, a youth is playing pop music on the bluetooth speaker donated to the youth space. Another youth strums the only guitar left with strings,
and yet another grabs the drum and mimics the beat. I join in, picking up the flimsy plastic container for a game of Set cards and wapping it against my thigh on every downbeat. We go 5 or 6 songs like this, singing, strumming, drumming, and wapping. The next day a new youth makes my smiling face out of cloves stuck into an orange. On the flight home, I listen to all the songs we listened to together in that space, seeing their faces and feeling the welts in my thigh where I had wapped too hard.
After returning to the U.S., I work another semester teaching at Naropa, waitressing and cleaning apartments to get by while I look for full time jobs that improbably combine my passions for teaching, writing, and working with refugee youth. I submit more applications than I have in my life and rack up a just as many rejections. I move back to my hometown to restabilize, find the CAL program at IUP, and realize that the path to combining all of my passions brought me here,where, I can finally envision a near future in which I’m a writer, researcher, and teacher, working to elevate refugee youth voices. I’m as filled with wonder as I was as a kid, handing my mom a book, eager to turn the page and find out what happens next.