Today I’m headed on a fellowship to Israel, where I’ll spend a couple weeks reporting on fascinating sciencey things. So far I’ve been in two different airports, and I still haven’t left the U.S. But I don’t mind. I’d forgotten how much I love airports, just sitting and observing—the calm amidst the chaos. It reminded me of a blog post I wrote almost seven years ago when I was about to embark on my first international adventure as an adult. For my nostalgia, and your entertainment:
Airports are the perfect oxymoron.
They are the harbingers of tears while at the same time couriers of joy. They are as structured as they are chaotic, as full of hope as despair. They are an end and a beginning simultaneously.
In an airport, all walks of life gather with great hope, with great faith that a thin sheath of metal will hold true and deliver them safely to those waiting on the ground. In an airport, as in life, everything is a gamble, and the only constant is the understanding that nothing is ever constant at all.
But among the comings and goings of thousands there is a distinct aura of budding potential, which is why, despite my usual lack of moxie, I wasn’t nervous when I found myself sitting in the terminal of SFO, waiting for my own end/beginning.
On Oct. 14, I will officially be a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, UK there to study geography. At around 3 p.m. that same day I’ll walk into my first class, of which I am the only member, prepared to argue the stance I took in a 2,500-word essay that my professor will expect to be without flaw.
I’ll be required to read dozens of books a week, and, consequently, I’ll make good friends with the research assistants at the Bodleian Library. My skin will probably get whiter — if that’s even possible — and I’ll develop an affinity for fish and chips as well as Yorkshire pudding. I’ll attend formal dinners dressed in traditional black robes and cheer on the rowing team when Oxford challenges Cambridge.
And there will be bad days: times when I’ll wonder why I traded a brilliantly sunny California for the wretchedly gloomy days of Oxford, times when I’ll question whether I can keep up with the intense workload plus the stress of being a foreigner.
Yet, even now, sitting on the plane, one train transfer and a short walk away from meeting my new home, I’m still not intimidated. In fact, I’m ready, ready for the essays, the reading, the new food — all of it.
Maybe I still have a touch of that airport optimism in me, but as far as I’m concerned, everything and everyone has potential, including me.
- Get famous Peruvian sandwiches (pavo con criollo) and fries (papas) from a local chain called La Lucha and eat them in Bosque Olivar, which is a really beautiful old park in San Isidro. You can then get coffee/tea and Peruvian cookies (alfajores) at my favorite bakery next door to the park called Casa Alfajores.
- Go to Madame Tusan for modern Peruvian-Chinese fusion, known as chifa. There are tons of regular chifas, but they’re very similar to the U.S. version of Chinese food.
- There are also Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurants called Nikkei. Our favorite is Ache. Maido is also very good.
- Try traditional Peruvian dishes. Those are ceviche, lomo saltado, aji de gallina, causa limena, arroz con pollo, ocopa. There’s also the famous pisco sour and lesser known maracuya sour. As for fruits, lucuma is Peruvian staple and we really enjoy desserts with chirimoya.
- The Plaza de Armas is the heart of the historic downtown. It’s worth a short stop and perhaps a meal. I’d suggest going around sunset.
- The best sight we’ve seen downtown is the San Francisco monastery because it has catacombs with a ton of bones.
- The main art museum is downtown and called MALI. I’m not sure what’s showing now, but I’d say you can skip it. The contemporary art museum (MAC) in Barranco is more interesting.
- Night tour of South America’s second oldest cemetery.
- Dinner overlooking Lima’s old ruins at Huaca Pucllana. This is the best food the Significant Other and I have had in Lima!
- Dinner at Astrid y Gaston. You need to make a reservation. It’s one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
- Make sure to order ceviche (Peru’s national dish) and a pisco sour (Peru’s national drink) at Punto Azul
- Cultural event like dance or opera or a musical (in English or Italian)
- Futbol game (our team isn’t great, but it’s fun to watch!)
- Going to Parque Kennedy, the main square, and eating picarones (a very Peruvian dessert), and getting juice (it’s a BIG thing here, going for juice!)
- Lima’s Magic Water Show (google it) is gorgeous, especially during the hot summer months
- Walking along the Malecon, Lima’s version of a boardwalk overlooking the ocean, and getting lunch at a bungalow (beware: don’t go during rush hour)
- Day trips to go see the Peruvian pyramids, sand boarding or the Nasca lines
I just moved back to the United States after living and reporting from Lima, Peru. Reacclimating has been tough. I miss reporting on topics I know are important. I miss the challenge of navigating Latin America. But, most of all, I miss my old world. It’s just weird to be on U.S. soil.
People rarely ask me about Peru, but when they do it’s mostly to reference Machu Picchu and rattle off some platitude about the joys of traveling. And that’s cool. Small talk is small talk. But it kind of wears on a gal, you know?
In the future, when you meet someone who’s just moved “home” after time away, keep the following tips in mind. It’ll make their (very stressful) transition oh-so much easier.
Stop calling it a journey, an adventure, a gap year, a fellowship or a “year off.”
This isn’t some “Eat, Pray, Love” bullshit. I didn’t run away from the first world so I could gofindmyself or embracemybody or discoverthemeaningoflife.
Also, an adventure is what little kids go on after their mothers have sufficiently smothered them in sunscreen and checked the backyard for snakes. Take note.
No, my parents didn’t fork over the big bucks so I could galavant across a continent.
No, I didn’t have an institution backing my work or paying my way.
No, I didn’t take a year off, but I did work my ass off.
Stop telling me, “Oh, I could never do that.”
You definitely can’t do it. You can’t do it, but not for the reasons you’re implying. You sigh and say, “Not everybody has as much spare income as you.” “Not everyone has so much time.” “Not everyone has so few responsibilities.”
I would like to point out that I am white, and my parents are proud members of the U.S. middle class, which means I have WAY more opportunities than most people in the world. But you, naysayer, aren’t referring to that.
Stop implying that I have money to burn—I’m a freelance reporter. Stop suggesting I spent a year in the lap of luxury—see this post. Stop insinuating that I had no one to answer to—I have personal goals, financial demands, editors, family and face societal pressures just like everyone else.
Maybe you can’t do it because you’re not willing to throw yourself into the unknown without a safety net. Maybe you’re not a fan of literally chasing down sources? Maybe you want to avoid tear gas? Or, maybe international reporting just isn’t your thing. And that’s fine, but please stop with the nudges and winks already.
Stop saying, “Oh, that must have been so much fun!”
Because, most of the time, it wasn’t.
Most of the time the simple act of eating was a battle because everything that went into my mouth came out. Most of the time I was fighting people who wanted to screw me over. Most of the time I was grappling with the cultural barrier. Most of the time I was cold or sick or scared or a lovely combo of all three.
<rant>Do you know how difficult it is to pitch stories about Latin America? GOOD stories? Stories that take history into account, that don’t whitewash, that don’t gloss over culture? Do you know how much mansplaining I had to endure with editors back home? how much ignorance and apathy there was in regard to anything that wasn’t U.S.- or Europe-related?</rant>
Yes, you went to Machu Picchu. Yes, you went on a reporting trip to the Amazon. No, it is not the same thing as living and reporting in the country. That is called “parachuting in.”
So, yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
I’ve been an editor, and I’ve been a freelancer so I know how pitches work from both sides of the table. Here’s some advice from what I’ve gleaned over the years. Let me know if you have questions!
Do Your Homework
Before pitching make sure you’re talking to the right person. There’s nothing worse than getting pitches about dog food promos when my bio clearly states I’m into neurology.
Google the story to make sure it hasn’t been covered extensively—or by the publication you’re pitching. Oftentimes, a pub won’t want to cover the topic if their competitor has already touched on it. You’ll need to make sure your angle is sufficiently different and interesting enough to warrant another article.
Job hunting is insuperably splendiferous.
There are lots of articles along the lines of “how to make job hunting suck less” and “how to not go crazy while searching for work,” but I haven’t seen any “silver lining” stories pop up on the world wide web. While I certainly understand the downside of looking for gigs, there are plenty of reasons why job hunting is oh-so wonderful:
Meet new people
It’s all about who you know. The more people who have your name at the forefront of their brains, the more successful you’ll be with your job hunt. Even if you don’t land the gig, you have the potential to get a freelancing assignment out of it. Plus, everyone in the journalism biz hops around all.the.time. You might not work for the company now, but there’s a high likelihood you’ll end up on a future team with someone from the organization.
Scope out the field
When else do you get to chit chat with the Editor in Chief? ask about the publication’s biggest successes—and failures? When will you have another opportunity to discuss the company’s editorial direction? the short-term and long-term goals?
Job hunting is a perfect time to scope out the field and learn more about your industry.
Learn about yourself
Nobody likes introspection, but everybody needs a healthy dose of it. You can’t apply for everysinglejobopportunityever so you have to pick and choose. Job hunting forces you to think deeply (and realistically) about your dreams and goals. What makes you tick? What makes you happy? What qualities do you consider important? What is a work-life balance, anyway? How will you reconcile the need for money with the need for workplace satisfaction? What are your long-term goals?
Searching for gainful employment also gives you the opportunity to learn how you can improve. Maybe there’s a coding class you need to take. Perhaps a time-management workshop would be helpful. Or, it’s possible that you just need to up your self-confidence and improve your self-promotion skills. Whatever the case, job hunting gives you the perfect excuse to tackle that self-improvement project.
Find your friends
Notice how I didn’t title this “Why Job Hunting is Fun.” Looking for work isn’t exactly high up on the list of ways I’d like to spend my time. And, let’s be honest here, sometimes it just suckslikeawholebunch. But when the chips are down, your true friends will come out of the woodwork.
There’s the friend who will listen to your rants about howawfulthejobmarketisrightnow and whyamIeveninthisindustryanway and provide the necessary support. Friends who will buy beers after a particularly stressful interview. Friends who will send you job openings, articles on how to perfect your resume and little words of encouragement every once in a while. And then there are those saints who will offer to edit your cover letter.
These people are golden. Make sure to return the favor when they’re in the same boat.
Job hunting engenders a fascinating array of emotions—fear, surprise, sadness, embarrassment, excitement, joy, etc. It’s amazing how the pursuit of gainful employment holds so much power over our lives. Looking for work can be exhilarating and uplifting as well as totally and completely soul-crushing.
I’m on a cross-country road trip with the Significant Other, traveling from D.C. to San Francisco and back. Throughout the trip, I’ve been applying for jobs: typing follow-up emails in the car, practicing for interviews in 7-11 bathroom mirrors and penning cover letters in tents. But I don’t just want a job, I want the job. When you’re spending the majority of your life moving heaven and earth on a boss’s whim, it better damn well be worth it.
So how do I go about finding that elusive gig? You know, the one that makes working late nights and weekends oddly satisfying? I did what any journo would do when seeking answers—I interviewed people across America.
This interview has been lightly edited and paraphrased.
Here’s advice from Kat Flanigan, a cannabis property acquisitions specialist:
PORTLAND—I’m a commercial broker, and I help people lease property to be used for medicinal and recreational marijuana. I got into it by accident. I was in real estate for years, and the market crashed. Then I found people who needed help. My job is a job—it segued into activism.
Don’t live to work. If you’re starting out and looking for the surest thing, it’s find your passion. I used to be an artist. Don’t sell out because I did.
This interview has been lightly edited and paraphrased.
Timshel Purdum, director of education and lifelong learning at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, on the importance of a career that challenges and intrigues:
WYOMING—I was doing research on heat shock proteins in water, which is really important but didn’t involve humans. I like talking to people about science. So I went back to school for science education and went to work at the academy. My job is helping people understand the world and their place in it.
The fun thing about being a science educator is I get to read ALL about science. Doesn’t your brain turn to mush if you don’t use it? Isn’t that a thing? I get to keep learning. There’s always something crazy going on. You’re never bored.