The Great Unknown

IMG_7864 by Molly MacGilbert

I’m graduating in 11 days. The emotion that arises when I think about this fact can only be expressed as a cross between a celebratory squeal of freedom and a blood-curdling Hitchcock scream. The question I’ve been asked at an increasing frequency in recent months, weeks and days provokes a similar cocktail of excitement and terror: “What’s next?”

Really, the person who has asked me this question the most is myself. And despite the ominous tick-tocking of the clock of my undergraduate education, the answer remains: I don’t know. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And regardless of my search for answers and the anxiety that arises when I come up short, I think I’m becoming more okay with not knowing.

From a young age, there’s so much pressure to know what we want to be when we grow up. We grow up playing house and prescribing careers to our Barbie dolls, from pastry chef to firefighter to fairy princess. Our high school years are geared toward preparing for college, and most of us start applying our junior year. I don’t know about you, but at age 16 I could hardly plan my breakfast, let alone pinpoint the career path I was supposed to follow for the remaining (hopefully) several decades of my existence. Which is probably why my college years have been full of indecision, confusion, change, dropping out and transferring.

But with every stressful semester and unpleasant job, I’ve gotten a little closer to figuring out what I want. And even if we never figure out what we want to be when we grow up, I think that’s okay. I’m pretty sure no matter how old I get, I’ll be stumbling blindly through life with more questions than answers. And anyone who honestly thinks they have all the answers is someone I neither want to be nor be around. Life is inherently mysterious and ridiculous, and we might as well accept that.

The one thing I know I’m doing after graduation is taking a well-earned road trip down the Pacific coast. Not only does this give me an opportunity to get a little less pale, it also gives me an opportunity to run away from my anxieties and put off the job search until July. Cheers to that—and cheers to the great unknown.

Way to go

Qin 2By Qin Xia

I will graduate this June! I was excited to say so in January. Now, every time when I say, “I will graduate in a couple days,” I tear up. I hated the journey, but now I miss it even while I am still in it.

I remember the first term that began my study life at Portland State University. I was exhausted, and worried a lot about giving up. I use to worry if I had enough money to finish my degree. I remember every night I spent in the library, the tons of coffee I drank, and the papers I wrote.

If you ask me to write down one word that sums up the journey, it would be stress. The stress of getting use to life styles different from my own country, the stress of the academic learning in another language, the stress of the financial side, even the stress of now finding a job. Stresses are always by my side since I chose to study at PSU.

I hated it, but I also love it.

Because of the stress, I kept challenging myself all the time. My English keeps improving, and I absorbed many skills to deal with the different culture. I appreciate the help I received from all my teachers and my friends. With the powerful help and encouragement, I successfully finished my Chinese degree in May, and I will also complete my teaching degree at PSU next Month. For now, I wish time could slow down a bit. I know I will miss the feeling of being a student.

All of this helped me to become a nicer and stronger me.

Graduation is not the end; it is another way to continue.

We met on Tinder

1IMG_4856 by Steph Holton

Some people have really cute how-we-met stories: “We’ve known each other since childhood. It was fate,” (my grandparents); “I hired him to break a horse for me,” (my parents); “We met on a boat and it was like flying and Celine Dion was singing in the background,” (OK, yes, that last one is Titanic, but you catch my drift).

A lot of people get caught up in both having a story better than “We met on Tinder” and avoiding the perceived shame of being on Tinder in the first place, to the extent that they will either concoct an alternate story to share with family, or even avoid getting serious with a match because they think they’ll meet ‘the one’ in a grander fashion.

But I’m here to say: Own your story!

Despite the size of the student body, it’s not super easy to meet people on the PSU campus. It’s just as amazing to say that two people happened to meet out of crazy chance through an app than it is to give credit to Celine Dion. And if you’re not on Tinder to meet ‘the one,’ own that, too. Even though I’ve been off Tinder for a year and a half (and in terms of technology that might as well be a decade), I think I can still say the golden rule of Tinder is to be honest—on your profile and with yourself—about what you’re looking for. You’re obviously not alone. And if you do happen to meet ‘the one,’ don’t be afraid to say ‘we met on Tinder.’

Community of Action

1IMG_4856by Steph Holton

In my last blog post, I talked about failing my student commencement speaker audition, and since then I’ve realized that the things I’d hoped to be able to say to my graduating class are still words that I want to share, and ones that are just as true here as they would be on that stage. So to all of my PSU classmates, I’d like to say:

“Four years ago, when I stood in front of my high school graduating class of 121 students, I talked about the future. I talked about taking the lessons we’d learned from our parents, our teachers, our coaches, and going out into the real world to—eventually—do great things.

“Today, with this… marginally larger audience, I want to talk about the amazing lessons I’ve learned from you, my fellow students, and the great things you’re already doing.

“In our time together at PSU, we’ve seen newsworthy accomplishments—like our engineering students launching a balloon more than 20 miles in the air in order to bring the 2017 solar eclipse to the desktops of viewers worldwide, and students of different skin colors, religions, and nationalities rallying together swiftly and peacefully to stand for our rights to safe communities, women’s healthcare and affordable schooling.

“And then there are the more subtle, everyday accomplishments. It’s not uncommon to see complete strangers sharing their opposing viewpoints in the middle of the Park Blocks, or to inquire about someone’s pronouns, and then use them correctly. And even though at PSU we recognize that conversation, understanding, and respect are basic tenets of good citizenship, and that we still have a lot of room to grow in these areas, they’re not common practice on every campus. PSU is special because we don’t look past each other’s differences. We embrace them. We recognize that our different backgrounds and beliefs and aspirations are assets in our collective pursuits for a better world.

“Four years ago, I left my little Montana valley town for the stumps and bridges of Portland, and I’ve learned here that more than anything, it’s the small, everyday practices—recycling, asking others’ opinions, embracing difference—that make us all activists. I am so proud to be a part of this community of action, and I want to thank you for teaching me to appreciate the amazing things we’re doing right now.”

I need a job!

Qin 2 By Qin Xia

It’s job hunting season, yes, the most difficult season of the year, especially when you choose education as a career and you are an international student.

Schools always hire new teachers in June and July for the next school year. So from May to June, it’s teacher job hunting time. And as an international student, following graduation, there will be one-year for optional practice training (OPT). That means, I can take a temporary job in the U.S. to gain more work experience before going back home to China.

Yes, all graduates will have the same stress of finding a job and maybe choosing between two offers. If you choose the right one, congratulations, you will set a great foundation for your teaching career, but what about the wrong one?

Before the real “deadline,” PSU helped by holding a series of job fairs. The biggest one was the Oregon Professional Educator Fair held in early April. After going to these job fairs, I am still stressed about finding a job, but I feel clearer about how to do it. The later you find a job, the more stress you will have, but that’s ok, because all of us feel the same way.

Don’t give up, because you know you are ready! The most important thing for all of us is not to second guess ourselves and remember to enjoy the joy of graduation!

We need a job, and we can do this!

Not qualified? Get an internship.

IMG_7864 by Molly MacGilbert

Here we are, students at Portland State, in the city of bridges and roses and sportswear companies. We’re all in a pretty good position for internships—being in college gives us an excuse to get some work experience in a field we’re not actually that qualified for (yet). When I was a junior at PSU, I interned with local nonprofit Literary Arts for seven months. My senior year started with a six-month marketing internship with TriMet and is now ending with a spring term internship with Overcup Press. These three internships have given me invaluable work (and life) experiences.

On paper—unless it’s resume paper—internships tend to seem undesirable. Interns may seem like doormats or Coffee Donkeys. This is a common misconception; in my own experience as an intern, I have not yet picked up anyone’s coffee or had anyone wipe their feet on me. Internships do require challenging (and often unpaid) work, but under the right circumstances, you’ll be too engrossed in your work to notice you’re doing it for free.

For more career and internship-related information, attend one of PSU’s career fairs, like the All Majors Career + Internship Fair on May 1 in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom!

Assumptions: Broke and Rebuilt

Qin  By Qin Xia

I just had the best Spring Break ever. It was not “fun,” but it was the best.

I joined the Alternative Spring Break, a week-long service opportunity offered by PSU. There were two optional trips: one in Sequoia National Park and the other in San Francisco. I chose the second one, which is the longest-running trip at PSU. We served at Glide Memorial Church and Lava Mae, while we stayed in the heart of San Francisco. I had the chance to think deeply on the “real life” I witnessed in San Francisco as we focused on the urban issues of houselessness and hunger.

During the trip, my biggest challenge was the breaking and rebuilding of my cultural assumptions. For example, before we left, during one of our group meetings, the leader told us that we are not there to “help.” In my culture, helping is the highest morality we value, and I thought it would be the best part of the trip. But they explained, “we are not from a higher level to help the lower level with mercy, that’s not right. We are here because we want to ‘serve’ the people.” They were saying it is a relationship between equals.

It reframed my thinking and offered a different angle of reflection. Sometimes we begin with a good heart, but we forget to check if it’s the right path towards our goal. Sometimes “help” makes people feel further away from each other.

What is the right way to work with the homeless or houseless community? I don’t know, and I am still learning. But I am sure nobody has the totally right answer. But that’s the best part of life: seeking the truth all the time.