On my way to work today I had to first stop and pick up my car from yesterday’s oil change. It was blocked in by a double-parked truck, and although I tried to wriggle my car free, I know when I’m beat, and I graciously allowed the owner of the shop to move it out for me. To my good fortune I found five pennies from heaven in the parking lot while I waited on his expert driving skills to get me on the road to work. At some point during my drive the largish chocolate-banana-protein shake I took time to make this morning spilled over in its carrying bag, and even though I righted it quickly I guess it was not soon enough. Because…walking in from the parking lot, as I was holding the bag closely, I began to feel the wetness seeping through. I rinsed my blouse as best I could in the first-floor bathroom sink, and I’m hoping I do not reek of soured chocolate-banana milk by the end of the day. This part reminded of a short story I dearly love by Miranda July called “Roy Spivy.” If you’ve never read or listened to it, please do. Four, is all I have to say about that.
Spilling, dripping, tripping, or dropping are not new to me, so why should I even note my botched morning on this day? Well, because today is June 1st, and exactly 27 years ago was the first day of the job I have held ever since. I admit 27 years is a long time to be in the same job. I think to some people it marks me as unambitious or incompetent to do anything else. True, ambition has never been my strong point, I’m still trying to figure that one out. But lack of ambition isn’t the anchor that has kept me moored to The University of Southern Mississippi for 27 years. The fact is, (shhh, don’t tell) I like my job.
When I walked into the ELI building, the one with the rotunda, 27 years ago I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is I needed a job other than the retail job I had, and this one presented itself by pure fate. I had only a few encounters with international students in my undergraduate years, not for lack of interest but more because I didn’t pay attention to the world outside my bubble in those days. I had traveled and studied abroad, but my global interest extended only to those particular countries I had visited. Suddenly, in a cramped office that was once a storeroom off of the kitchen, I found myself face to face with international students with a myriad of accents, some heavy, who amazingly to me were not hard to understand. Three days after my first day on the job the Tiananmen Square massacre took place, and for the first time in my young life my bubble burst, and I began to pay attention to the world outside my new office door. A desire was lit in me to learn everything I could about the cultures of the people I would be meeting.
Not a day on the job has gone by in the past 27 years that I have not learned something new about a country, a culture, a religion, or a personality. I’ve had to talk students through breakdowns, meltdowns, depression, grief, and joy, and these things aren’t in my job description. I’ve met South Americans, Central Americans, further North Americans, Africans, Eastern Europeans, Western Europeans, Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, Caribbean Islanders and people from every other nook and cranny of the world in between. They have been Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and godless people who have lived under communism, socialism, republics, democracies, and dictatorships.
I have learned that religion and politics really do not mean a thing when it comes to the soul of a person. Sure, some students I’ve met have been narrow minded when it comes to these things, but the vast majority of them have displayed big hearts and open arms ready to embrace their new experiences and the people they meet along the way. To me it all boils down to a story of hope.
International students are the embodiment of hope and optimism. Maybe that’s why I have stayed in the same place for 27 years. Negativity is not for me. Bring on the hope. It assures me that, yes, the world IS an awesome place after all. I’ve got 27 years of experience to prove it.