This post was originally published in November 2013. Since I’ve gotten some questions about and interest in my career story recently, I thought I’d update and repost the series. Click here for part 1.
In Part 1 of my career story I shared what I’m currently doing. I mentioned that I’ve pretty much always liked the jobs I’ve held but I REALLY like what I’m doing now. The location-independent lifestyle, being an entrepreneur, combining higher ed, K-12, and business – this is what I’ve been working towards since college.
So, how did I get from college to here?
My story starts when I was 16…actually, earlier than that. I have always been interested in languages and cultures. I can’t remember not being fascinated by them.
As a kid I checked out every language learning book/cassette tape combo from our public library over and over and over (you know, Learn Swedish in 30 Days and Zulu for Beginners), just so I could look at and listen to lots of languages.
I was super jealous of my bilingual grade school friend’s “secret language” that she spoke with her Spanish-speaking siblings on the playground. I remember being really mad that I only knew one language! I’m positive that if there had been an exchange program in Kindergarten, I would have been the first to sign up.
My biggest dream was to go abroad, but back then, in the late 80s, I’d only met a handful of people who’d ever been on an international flight. My cousin spent several weeks in France while in high school and I remember thinking that would be the coolest thing ever.
When I got to high school I could have gone to France with my French teacher for a few weeks in the summer but the trip was too expensive for my family to afford, and I wanted to spend more than a few weeks abroad.
I knew I’d have to get creative.
To this day I can still so clearly remember standing in my guidance counselor’s office (probably while I was supposed to be in math class) and saying “So…I want to go to abroad for as long as I can but I can’t really pay for it…”
Long story short, my guidance counselor found a scholarship that would send me to Germany for a year, all expenses paid (thank you, Mr. Rutledge!). As I wrote my application essays, I watched the Berlin Wall crumble on TV. The following summer I boarded my first international flight and and spent my senior year of high school in Germany.
My exchange year in Germany was a defining moment in my life and solidified my career path. Not only did I have a front-row seat to German reunification, I was fascinated by my language acquisition process. I made recordings of German and American accents and kept notes about everything I noticed about the languages and cultures around me. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life but I knew it would involve language, culture, and travel.
In college I started out studying journalism, simply because that was the career that had always sounded the most interesting. I enjoyed interviewing people and writing, and I assumed that journalists didn’t spend their days chained to a desk.
But a couple years into the journalism program I realized that while I enjoyed aspects of the profession, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending my first few years out of college writing obituaries in a dark newsroom basement as I paid my dues. I didn’t see myself becoming a hard-hitting news reporter and I didn’t want to write articles about things I had little interest in. I wanted my career to have a more direct connection with language, culture, and travel.
I’d started college with the plan to spend my junior year in Germany and was dead set on going abroad again. I remember having to get very creative with my finances in order to swing that year abroad but in the end I made it work (yay, student loans). I decided to major in German, simply because I wanted to study abroad more than I cared what my major was. That’s probably not the best way to choose your major.
When I graduated from college in 1995 I had an honors German BA, two years abroad, pretty good German language skills, and a mountain of student loans. At the time I had a boyfriend, who I’d met while studying in Germany, who had the same degree and his own mountain of student loans. So we did the most logical thing – we bought one-way plane tickets to a town in eastern Germany where we knew exactly one person and had one job lead…