Blogger Interviews: Abbie and Emilie

I’ve been really excited about writing this post for a while, because it doesn’t involve much writing on my part, and I get to feature two other blogger-friends of mine who have been on the other side of the world since this summer. When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I attended one of the Study Abroad fairs and grabbed several brochures and magazines for studying, volunteering, and sight-seeing in other countries through my university. Most of the information I picked up was for Egypt, South Africa, or Western Europe, since those are places I’ve always wanted to explore. Although I don’t think I would be able to do a whole semester in a different country (I’m too afraid of missing things), I wouldn’t have minded a two-week experience.

Abbie in Malawi, and Emilie in Istanbul

Abbie in Malawi and Emilie in Istanbul

I met Abbie, who worked as a Resident Assistant while she was in college, through my sister and her friends. She is currently in Malawi (in southeast Africa), teaching at a secondary school, and posts on her blog, Traveling and Teaching: Living and Learning. I got to know Emilie through all of our related activities and mutual friends while we were at YSU together, and got to work with her during my graduate internship. She is studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey (at the same school where Sarah spent last year’s fall semester!) and blogs at overandout while preparing to apply to graduate schools. I asked them a few questions about their experiences in their respective locations…

Abbie's Form 2 Students

Abbie’s Form 2 Students

1. What made you want to travel to this location?

Abbie: I wanted to come to Malawi because I already had such a strong connection to this community as I had previously traveled here in 2010. I’m back in the same part of Malawi and working with the same NGO (non-government organization) as before. This time instead of two weeks, I’m here for a year.

Emilie: I chose Turkey for a number of reasons. For one, Turkey is one of those mysterious countries that it seems no one really knows anything about, and this obviously attracted me. I wanted to meet the people, eat the food, find out for myself if those silly stereotypes that people believe about the middle east are true. A second reason is because Istanbul is quite literally the center of it all. Half of the city lies in Europe while the other half is in Asia. It’s a mix of people from all over the world, 15ish million of them, all living in this crazy, historic, fascinating city. This also makes it easy/quick to travel almost anywhere in the world, with the exception of North/South America, of course.

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

View from the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia

2. What has been one of your favorite experiences?

Emilie: One of my my favorite experiences so far has been having a HUGE traditional Turkish breakfast with a wonderful, sweet family I met here through some people at home. We had never met before I came to Turkey, but they welcomed Ed (the other YSU student here with me) and I into their home, showed us all over the European side of the city, and have been so generous and kind to us. A few weeks after we arrived, they invited Ed and I over to spend the day and eat with them. It was the most incredible breakfast I’ve ever had, quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. Not only because of the food, but the company also made it unforgettable. I only wish I would have taken my camera… rookie mistake, haha.

Abbie: One of my favorite experiences actually happened the first weekend I was here. One of the girls, Alice, who hangs around the lodge/NGO where I stay frequently asked to take me on a tour of the village. As we were walking she asked what my surname was and I told her. She started to smile and talk in Chitumbuka to the other girl walking with us. I asked her to explain and she told me that my surname is the name of her sponsors. What that meant was that my parents sponsor her education. On top of that, I am her math teacher at her secondary school! Alice took me to see her house that is made of mud and sticks and has a thatch roof. Her family welcomed me and offered me a seat on their front porch. Alice told her brother that my parents sponsor her education. Her brother began to tell me in broken English how grateful they were for the sponsorship because by bettering Alice’s life with an education, it’s also bettering her family’s life, as well as the village. Education here is the only way out and a lot of the times it’s not possible because of money.

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia

3. Have you had any trouble adjusting to anything?

Abbie: Everywhere I go I stick out like a sore thumb. When I go to the market, when I walk through the village, when I do my laundry in my back yard I am entertainment for most people. As I walk down the road, kids from everywhere will yell “Mzungu!” meaning, “white person.” I’m unable to be anonymous here and that has probably been the most difficult thing to adjust to.

Emilie: Ah, well, living in Istanbul has required quite a bit of adjusting. Not only is the culture overwhelmingly different, moving from small-town Ohio to one of the most overcrowded cities in the world was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The traffic, the pollution, the (not always reliable) public transportation, lack of greenery, it was all pretty frightening at first. Now, I appreciate all of the differences for what they are, I’ve stopped expecting Istanbul to be just like Ohio, and it’s finally starting to feel like home. I guess if I wanted everything to stay the same, I wouldn’t have come. But I definitely know now that I can’t live without nature, it’s just so depressing!

Cappadocia

Cappadocia

Check out Sarah’s post about her impromptu cave camping trip in Cappadocia!

4. What is one thing you wish you could bring home with you?

Emilie: The one thing I wish I could bring home is the incredibly cheap produce. Seriously, the fruits and veggies and fresh bread are sooooo cheap here, and the quality is so good (assuming you know what you’re looking for). There are bazaars all over the city every day of the week full of vendors selling fish, produce, cheese, just about anything you could ever need. The bazaars and the produce are something I’m really going to miss.

Abbie: One thing I wish I could bring home with me is the kitten I recently got for my house! She is ADORABLE! Her name is Kim Jong Kitten and she eats all the nasty critters that lurk in the corners of my house. (she was named by a PCV friend). Also, I want to bring home ALL THE BABIES!!!!! They are soooo cuuuuute!

 

I wish I could share all the gorgeous pictures these girls have taken. I’m so jealous of each of their journeys and I hope they both continue enjoying themselves. I can’t wait to read more about them! Thank you, Emilie and Abbie! 🙂

Love, happiness, marriage…AKA…Am I really that old?!

I admit it.

I’m a romantic at heart.

I love love.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of what my perfect wedding would look like.

I imagined the dress (strapless, or with cap sleeves; ball gown; veil; white), the shoes (low heels, same color as my dress or matching the bridesmaid dresses), the bridal party (a compilation of family and friends from different parts of my fiance and I’s lives). I could see my parents walking me down the aisle. I could hear a close friend or family member performing the readings on the altar (with this being one of them).

And, I could even taste the plethora of cookies that would undoubtedly be making a statement at the reception. Mmm.

But not just yet…right? I mean, I’m only 23. I’m a little too young for that. I have enough trouble keeping track of myself, how could I be expected to keep track of someone else?!

And yet, within the past few months, a lot of people I’ve known have gotten engaged. In fact, two of my close friends are in the process of planning each of their weddings!

It’s a wonderful time. A happy time. And a…

FRIGHTENING TIME!

Despite all the excitement over a friend’s engagement, it quickly brings up thoughts about my own relationship status.

Me? Single (and searching).

My initial thought on hearing of someone’s engagement is something along the lines of, “YAY!!!! I’m SO excited and happy for you!” While my internal thought process goes something like this, “Seriously, another one?!? Are we really that old? Is that what I should be doing now? I guess I’m just going to become a cat lady for the rest of my life!”

It’s amazing to think how things related to marriage have changed over the years. For example, in 1980 the median age of men at first marriage was 24.7 and the median age of women was 22.0. In 2010, the median age of men increased to 28.7 and for women it was 26.7. (Good news-I’m only 23, so I still have some time!)

The point is, when I see my friends getting engaged, it scares me. I think about how I’m only 23 and still have to finish my master’s degree. And then I remember, I’m probably going to spend another 4-6 years obtaining my PhD. Which means I’ll be pushing 30 by the time I finish school (eek!) and get a job. Then hopefully (assuming someone will put up with my shenanigans) I will get married and start having kids (immediately…before I’m 40)!

Has anyone else ever had this feeling? Maybe not about the marriage thing, but just about getting older? Where you or your peers begin to do things that you think should be done by someone older? The thought I have is, “Wow. We’ve reached the age where this is what happens and is the expectation.”

When I was younger (i.e., high school and younger), I used to think that people in their 20s were mature and would be ready to take on grownup experiences (take that as you will). Now that I am that age, I think about how wrong I was. Although many of my peers may be ready for these things, I’m not…or am I? I don’t feel old…but does doing any of these things mean I have to be old? I only feel 23 (whatever that means).

It’s like all of a sudden, it hits you.

You. Are. A. Grown-Up.

You are ready to open the doors to so many opportunities that you never had access to before. You may not have the opportunity just yet, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not ready.

So, what’s the point of this ramble? Well, here’s one:

And, holy cow! I better get a move on =)

Just kidding. In reality, know that you can do your own thing. Weddings bring weddings, but they have to be for the right reason. There is no rush. There is no hurry.

…(but if you happen to know someone, feel free to send him my way 😉

Paying It Forward: The World Needs a Little More Kindness

Note: This is part one of a double post (the posts, though, are unrelated and do not have to be read in order).

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I wasn’t planning on writing two posts tonight. I was simply going to come home, write up my review of the lemon cake mix cookies and go find something else to do. But my plans changed after something I saw tonight, something I decided that I had to share with you.

I went to dinner tonight with my Mom at O’Charley’s. (If you don’t know what O’Charley’s is, its a chain restaurant like Applebee’s.) Anyway, we were sitting at a table in the bar area, so space was tight and it was very hard not to be aware of what was going on at tables near you.

As we were eating dinner, I noticed that the couple at the table next to me were paying their bill, but the strange part was that their food hadn’t even come yet and the amount the lady gave the waitress ($20) was probably not enough to cover both her and her companion’s meals. This mystery was soon resolved though. Next to the couple, there was an elderly gentleman sitting by himself eating. When the waitress (the same one we and the couple next to us had) came over to remove his plate, she told him that he didn’t have a bill tonight. The man was obviously confused (I would have been too!), but after a few minutes, he accepted what the waitress was telling him, left his tip, and departed.

It soon became clear that the couple next to us had payed for his meal, just because. Just to be nice. The waitress came over and gushed how sweet it was that they had done so and that it had made her day. I was smiling inside too, but didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I knew what the couple had done.

When my Mom and I were getting ready to leave, the waitress came over to the couple’s table and asked if they were ready for their check. When the woman said they were, the waitress told them that there was no check for them tonight. When the waitress told the manager about what they had done, he bought their dinner.

These acts of kindness made an impression on me. So, I’m paying it forward tonight. Through the charity website DonorsChoose.org, I donated $25 to a Tuscon, Arizona 8th grade class who are looking to buy books to increase literacy rates and students’ interest in reading. Luckily, Chase Financial and Clear Channel communications are running a donation-matching promotion, so my $25 donation became $50.

So, I’ve paid it forward.

How will you make magic in someone else’s life?

Why Being Realistic is Not Being Defeatist: Applying to Grad School in 2012

Jeannette’s post last week, in which she discussed her 2011 and mentioned the ups and downs of applying to graduate school, got me thinking…

About graduate school in general, particularly the application process, and what it means to be a grad school applicant in 2012.

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What is the difference between keeping yourself open to opportunities/being realistic and being “defeatist?”

I have always thought (and still do) that those things were very different.

I think that the former is an outlook that is essential today, in 2012, in the world and economy that we live in.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a dreamer. I’m always coming up with crazy schemes, unrealistic plans, wild and grandiose adventures. But, at the same time, I always leave my mind open to all the possibilities available to me, whether they’re possibilities in the short term, the long term, or the very very long term.

I think this is something that you have to be willing to do today, because nothing, particularly in the job market, is guaranteed.

We, as young people in the 21st century, do not have the luxury of easily finding a job with good pay and benefits, in the location we want, with the hours we want, and on top of that have the security of knowing we can continue in that job until we retire. Life, unfortunately, doesn’t work like that anymore.

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Three weeks ago, I attended a conference in Washington, DC where I was an exhibitor promoting the latest issue of one of the academic journals that I work for. On my first day there, another exhibitor was perusing the different booths when she came up and started to talk to me. She asked where I was from, etc. and in the course of our conversation I told her that I was a graduate student applying to PhD programs.  Then she asked me what I planned to do after I got my PhD. I told her that my plan was to secure a university job if possible, but that I was remaining open to all opportunities and “being realistic” about the state of the academic job market and the number of faculty positions available in history versus the number of history PhDs out there.

Her response caught me off guard: “Well, that’s a little defeatist, isn’t it?”

Defeatist?

I don’t really remember how I responded, but our conversation ended soon after and I didn’t give it much thought the rest of the day. But, that night, I started worrying. I had said something similar on the PhD applications that I had already submitted by then — regarding my career goals and my “openness” to different kinds of jobs within the history market.

I thought I had been making myself marketable — demonstrating that I was aware of the limitations inherent within the field I study and hope to work in.

I didn’t, and don’t, think I was being defeatist.

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Unfortunately, I just don’t think that some people understand the pressure that students in this country are under to succeed today. They don’t understand what it means to be a member of the Millennial Generation — simultaneously praised and vilified for intelligence and eccentricity, command of technology and laziness. Yes. We do things differently, but we are a product of past generations, generations that have brought us to this time and place.

A place and time where the need to succeed, to be the best, seems to be more important today than it ever has. There are more college graduates in the United States today than ever before, and the number of people applying to and attending some form of graduate school is also on the rise. Jobs that used to require Bachelor’s degrees are now requiring Master’s degrees, and the jobs themselves are scarce to begin with.

Expectations are also high for workers. To be the first one in and the last one to leave, to be the best, the brightest, and to not complain when economic realities necessitate the elimination of staff, the combination of duties, and a lack of raises.

Applying to graduate school is a lot like the job market. It’s also a lot like politics. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to get partisan – which is one of our rules here on Dames Who Dish.)

I could list all the things that I think are wrong with the grad school application process — like the bogus-ness of the GRE, the unfairness of the preference given to graduates of Ivy League schools, and the ambiguous application directions that some schools supply to applicants, but I won’t.

Instead, I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Don’t let anyone belittle or criticize your decision to attend graduate school, whether you’re doing so because you can’t find a job, or because you love school, or because it’s simply one more step towards a larger goal. It is your decision and being a nerd, or seeking new opportunities is nothing to be ashamed of. You know that applying to grad school and attending grad school is not easy. Don’t let others assume that it is.

2. Ask lots of different people for lots of advice — but come to your own conclusion. Don’t take everything everyone tells you about graduate school as the absolute truth. Remember, that the people giving you advice about grad school (particularly professors and others in academia) have all had different experiences and may not be up to speed on the latest grad school goings-on. Listen to them, think about what they say, but in the end, come to your own conclusion about where you’re applying, what you want, etc.

3. Identify a confidant.  Applying to grad school is stressful. Not only do you want to ask for people’s advice, but you’re going to need someone to talk things out with. Someone who will go to bat for you and who understands/acknowledges your own personal interests and desires.

4. Don’t limit your interests too narrowly. While I can’t speak for all disciplines, in history it is important to not limit yourself to a very narrow research interest. Be focused, but be broad in that focus. You’ll appeal to more programs, more professors, and be more marketable as a job candidate later.

5. Don’t assume that you’re going to be accepted. Have a Plan B. When I applied to graduate school as a college senior, I was confident I’d be accepted to a specific program. I wasn’t. I was lucky though, I had another program to fall back on. Graduate school is incredibly competitive and often for the hundreds of applicants that a program receives, only a couple dozen applicants are accepted. Often, that number is even less. Know what you’re going to do if you’re not accepted to where you want to go.

6. Don’t let rejection be the end of the world. Yes, I’ve been rejected before. But, in some ways, those rejections have ended up being good things. I thought, as a senior in undergraduate, that I was ready to apply to PhD programs. I wasn’t. I simply didn’t yet know enough about what I wanted to do. Getting a Master’s degree at my current university was exactly what I needed to do. It gave me time to grow, to focus. It gave me things to add to my CV. It has made me a better applicant this time around — regardless of what the outcome of my applications are.

7. “It’s not who you know, it’s who you get to know.” I majored in Political Science as well as history as an undergrad, and this phrase, care of Chris Matthew’s book Hardball, is one of the most important things I learned. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do — grad school, job, etc — but you need to introduce yourself to people. Get to know people — especially those professors, students, and others who are working with you at your university or in your field. They’ll be the ones who write your letters of recommendation, be on your thesis committee, give you advice. They’ll introduce you to their friends and colleagues, who may read your book proposal, offer you a job, award you a grant, etc. It’s a cycle. One you can’t benefit from if you stand silently on the sidelines.

8. So you went to a State School… Don’t. Worry. About. It. Just like I said when you shouldn’t let anyone belittle your decision to go to grad school, so too should you not let anyone criticize the place you received your education. So, you didn’t go to Harvard. Neither did I. I went to a state school and I worked hard. I earned my degree, just like you did, just like everyone else does. Yes. You might not get all the perks that other attendees at “prestigious” schools receive. You’ll have to work harder, longer, and better to prove yourself. You’ll have to show you’re tough, that you can succeed. Remember, others may look down on you. But that’s their loss. Their ignorance. Don’t look down on yourself.

9. Professors are people too, don’t be afraid of them. When applying to grad school, it is very helpful to contact professors that you are interested in studying with. Don’t be afraid to do this. If they don’t respond, don’t be discouraged. But when they do respond, remember you’re talking to a real person. They like to hear you’re interested in their work, but they’re also interested to see that you’re a real person too who is not so involved in their academic interests that they can’t hold a real conversation.

10. Keep your options open. If things don’t go your way, don’t give up. I am a firm believer in the idea that things happen for a reason. There are so many things that you can do with any given degree, whether it’s a Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate, JD, MD, etc. Yes, you are more than welcome to have a dream/preferred job — but don’t rule out opportunities that come your way. Never say never. For example, although I never thought this would be a possibility or something I’d even be interested in, my grad assistantship has provided me with copious amounts of academic publishing experience, which opens a whole other avenue of possible (even if not preferred) career opportunities to me. You never know what might fall into your lap.

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I believe that the world today is a place where diversity is key. The more things you know, are able to do, are able to say about yourself, are the key to your success.

Don’t rule anything out. Explore opportunities. You don’t know where they might take you.

Embrace rejection. Don’t let it defeat you.

Being realistic is not being defeatist. Being realistic does not mean you don’t dream, hope, and plan.

You just keep reality in the back of your mind. Have a little back-up plan.

Know that you’re worth is defined by more than acceptance rates, standardized test scores, and what others think of you.

Yeah, applying to graduate school is scary as hell. It’s the fear of the unknown. Of someone else holding your fate in their hands.

But don’t worry too much. I’m not.

For right now I’m going to…

Don’t stress too much.

It’s better to have fun.

🙂