“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s 2006. I’m devouring ahi tuna and salmon sashimi with my father using my fingers because I’m too clumsy with chopsticks. My father, noticing my sticky fingers and insatiable desire for the foreign food, turns to me with wide, concerned eyes and says “you have got to learn how to use chopsticks. Otherwise, one day, when you’re an international business woman eating a gourmet sushi dinner with a group of high-powered Japanese business men, they’re going to look at you eating sushi with your fingers and say ‘well, she’s smart, but she doesn’t know how to use chopsticks!’.”
I’ve been a master chopstick-user ever since. Before college, I planned to be an International Business major. The travel bug had bitten me and I thought it would be cool to be that international business woman my father referred to. I imagined myself draped in Chanel suits, globe-trotting across the world, breaking barriers as I persevered in the male-dominated, global corporate business world. While my desire for the Chanel suits has faded, I think that conversation represented both my father’s hopes and my own dreams for the future.
As the oldest daughter of now five children, my father has always shared the importance of finding and succeeding in a career before I got married (and that’s not to happen until I’m 30). He’s supported my constant desire to travel for years and always reminded me of the importance of my own independence. He never is happy to see me go.
I entered college an International Business major. The thought was, dominate the world, kick ass as a female businesswoman and look good doing it. However, when I arrived at the business school at the University of Wisconsin to sign up for classes, I realized that Accounting was just not something I was ready to do. I couldn’t wait for my next International Economic Development course with my favorite professor, but I could already imagine the naps I would be taking instead of going to Finance. Business could wait.
I chose instead to focus on majors that were tailored to my immediate interests: International Studies, Latin American Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. I spent three years focused on exploring global issues of economic development, health care and education. I spent a year abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina diving into the local (and specifically, Jewish) community to fully grasp another country’s history, local politics and social culture.
Granted, anyone with any non-creative humanities-based major is not likely using their degree. I didn’t graduate college and go to work for an international think-tank, to teach abroad or go work for an NGO. Instead, I chose to join the widely-known, domestic teaching force in the United States, Teach For America. I was drawn to the prestige of the program, but fell victim to the idea of better understanding a community in my own country that was suffering similar stories to countries that I’d spent the past few years studying.
Teaching fifth grade to a few groups of rowdy, brilliant, and loving ten-year-olds in the Fifth Ward of Houston, has shaped the way I view the world. It’s helped me understand my personal values and my own drive for making an impact on the world around me. It’s opened me up to my own limitations and it challenged everything I knew up until that point.
I’ll be applying to business school in the Fall. As I enter this next phase of my life journey, I’ll be bringing my daily experiences from the Fifth Ward coupled with the past two years of Chicago-based education non-profit work with me. I’m hoping to deepen my authentic understanding of the world we inhabit.
Back to the chopsticks and my father’s solid notion that to be independent as a woman is most important. I’m starting to see all of the pieces and decisions that I’ve made come together. I believe that the next year of solo female travel will be a formative experience for the next phase of my life. As I travel over the next year on my own, Il’l (hopefully) learn to thrive in countries where I don’t speak the language, make friends with strangers without a safety net, and discover the true meaning of female independence. I’m excited to challenge what I know once again and to be reminded, daily for a year, that the world is so much greater than my lovely, but limited perspective of life in Chicago.
I almost applied last year. I took the GMAT, picked out my schools and was ready to go. But I didn’t do it and I knew deep down that not having yet had a long-term solo travel trip was holding me back. With massive loans, I wouldn’t be able (nearly as easily) to pick up and go for months on end. I also don’t think I’d want to after having just spent two years getting ready for the next phase of my life.
I see the next year as an introductory year to my MBA. It’s the requirement to developing a truly global, people-focused mindset before I learn the economics of the world. I’ll have this next year of traveling, connecting with cultures, people and new places, as the fundamental skills necessary for my graduate degree. Here’s to my three-year mba: traveling including.
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