Oberlin Blogs

And After Graduation...

March 31, 2011

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

As you may or may not know, it's Spring Break, which can mean different things for different people. For Sophia, it means that she's wandering around in the wilds of North Carolina, trying not to get eaten by bears1. For me, it means that I'm at home, allegedly working on the first draft of my paper for Bioanalytical2. This hasn't really happened, though, because I've been working on other miscellaneous writing projects that needed to be taken care of first. Plus, whenever I sit down to write, I keep thinking, But the total number of days that I'm going to be spending at home after graduation is nine! I should be taking advantage of this time!

That's because of Shansi. I need to be in Indonesia by June 12th, and with graduation occurring on May 31st, that doesn't leave me a lot of time to do important things like pack and buy a motorcycle helmet3. Which is another reason that I'm home: I'm taking advantage of this time to do some of the other important preparatory tasks for heading overseas. This morning, I went to the eye doctor to get new glasses4 and earlier in the week I had another doctor's appointment.

Other than that, the week has been fairly quiet. I went to several ballet classes, which only served as a reminder of how out of shape I truly am; I visited the museum and made a cameo appearance on the energy show; and I got coffee with some of my friends and discussed things like their upcoming wedding5. I also, as one of those miscellaneous writing projects, typed up a statement for my church about Shansi and what I hope to gain from the experience.

This, understandably, got me thinking about the whole application process and all the thinking I did leading up to that. As someone spread decisively between the sciences and the humanities, what I'm going to do with myself after graduation has always been a subject of interest for other people, and for me as well6. And every time I answered the question, the undercurrent to my answer was I just don't know. Grad school was an obvious possibility, as was finding a job and working for a year, getting more lab experience. But I wasn't sure if I wanted to remain so heavily married to the sciences, at least in the immediate future.

Really, there was only one thing that I was sure of: I wanted to get out of the country. When I looked at colleges, I pretty seriously considered going to university in the United Kingdom7. Clearly that didn't happen. My Winter Term in Nicaragua, though, reminded me that I'd wanted to experience life from a different perspective. I had a fantastic time hanging out with kids, speaking a language I barely knew, and learning something about a community that--before going--I hadn't even known existed. My greatest disappointment with my Winter Term that year was that I had to leave so soon.

So that's where Shansi came in. As I've said, Oberlin Shansi's fellowships send graduating seniors to Asia for two years to teach English. It's about more than sending cheap English teachers, though. Shansi's goal is to foster meaningful connections between Asia and the United States. This means that my job is to completely immerse myself in the culture: to learn the language, to talk to people on the street, to find things to do with myself outside of the school and out in the community. Basically, Shansi is exactly what I wanted to be doing after graduation.

I applied, was interviewed, and was selected to go to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Yogyakarta wasn't my first choice of location8, but the more that I've learned about it, the more I think it should have been. From what I hear, it's a fascinating, vibrant city with many opportunities to explore the arts. I'm really excited to learn more about gamelan music and to learn new dance forms and keep practicing the ones I already know.

There's also the small matter of teaching, which, I'll admit, is probably the part that worries the most. I don't consider myself a natural-born teacher. Back in high school, when my best friend talked about teaching I said that it definitely wasn't for me, and she agreed. That said, I've had some experience with teaching anyway, and it hasn't been bad. I've taught ballet classes at my ballet school for several years. Whenever I teach the summer program for the younger girls, I always get really into lesson planning and have all these grand ideas about what they'll learn by the end of the week if I make each day connect with the next. Of course, teaching ballet is a bit different from teaching English.

I like to think that the work I did at the museum comes a bit closer. Yes, that was to audiences of people who I would never see again, so I didn't have to worry about any sort of accumulation of knowledge. Still, I was teaching people an academic subject, at least to a certain extent. But let's face it, getting the audience to yell the different types of energy to you when you point to pictures on the wall behind you is a far cry from teaching the nuances of a foreign language.

I guess we'll have to wait till I'm on the ground to see how well I do at that. The training I got over Winter Term will undoubtedly be amazingly helpful. However, I think--just like with ballet and the museum--the best way to learn is through doing. And I'm really excited to start doing.

1Meaning that she's backpacking in North Carolina. I don't actually know if they have bears there; I just know that there are bears in the Adirondacks. I also don't actually know if I'm supposed to be disclosing the details of Sophia's break online for all to read.
2This paper is supposed to be 3,000-5,000 words long. Mine is going to be about the use of Raman spectroscopy on mummies. Now you know as much about it as I do.
3I'm going to be driving a motorcycle in Indonesia. That's a scary thought. To tell the truth, I haven't spent a whole lot of time seriously thinking about it yet.
4And I will not be losing these glasses in any body of water, Pacific Ocean or otherwise.
5If discussing things like weddings doesn't make you feel like you're growing up, I don't know what will.
6Meaning I had no idea. Would I go to grad school? Would I find some chemical company to work for? Would I just bum around and make like I'm writing? Would I go back to the museum and beg them to give me a job?
7I chose this particular country because they speak English so I wouldn't have had to worry about trying to get by in, say, French.
8That would be Taigu, China.

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