There is so much valuable advice on this blog in regards to furthering your education. Many involve strategies for exam preparation, interviews, applications, and beyond. I would be foolish to sit here and tell you that these are not important steps. On the contrary, I believe exams, interviews, and applications are essential in progressing through the educational ladder and into the working world. Conversely, I want to focus on something that is not necessarily required, but can be extremely helpful in both the education and working world, a spontaneous conversation. I have two personal stories I would like to share in which a spontaneous interaction helped shape my lifes path. The first anecdote will focus on something that happened in the past, while the second may shape the next year of my life.
My first story took place the summer between my undergraduate graduate studies. As a member of the US National Rowing Team, the city I spent my summers in greatly depended on the years training camp location. In 2013, the selection camp was in Boston. As an international athlete, summers for me were never spent interning, which forced me to be creative in building work experience. Given Boston is one of the biggest academic hubs in my country, I figured there may be some professor who would be enthusiastic to have a volunteer research assistant. I had a lot of down time between practices, and saw a great opportunity to build up more research experience before heading off to graduate school. Having no idea where to look, a friend recommended I look in Harvards Graduate School of Education. Searching through the faculty research list, there was only one name that met my research interests. After sending off a quick email expressing my interests and offering my services, I had a phone interview the following day, and my summer was set. This research position formed the foundation and dataset for Masters thesis and helped shape my career ambitions. I am still in touch with that professor to this day.
The second story I would like to share took place in Kutaisi, Georgia. No, this is not in the USA, but the Caucasus region below Russia. While traveling, I try to learn as much as I can about my destinations education culture. This has led to amazing experiences in the Netherlands, Sweden, Kosovo, and most recently, Georgia. During my first day walking around Kutaisi, I stumbled upon a US Aid Office. I had heard about US Aid in my research on education in developing countries, so I did the only thing someone who writes a blog post about spontaneity does – I walked right in and asked if anyone was willing to have coffee with me. Two hours later, I had new friends and an offer of assistance if I ever needed anything.
Never did I think I would desperately need the latter. The next day, I was in a serious bus accident. My bus had flipped, and I was able to get a ride back into town due to the kindness of a stranger. Not being able to speak Georgian or Russian at this time left me alone in this scary time. The only place I thought to go was to this US Aid Office. Upon walking through the door (I had luckily walked away from the accident), the people I met treated me as family. They made sure I received everything I needed and had me sent to the best hospital in the city for some tests. I left Georgia with the utmost respect for the people who took care of me in my time of need. The reason I tell this story is because my new friends had told me about a program set up by the Georgian Department of Education that brings English Speaking
educators to Georgia to work with local teachers. I would have been interested in applying to this program before my accident; however, after witnessing such kindness towards a complete stranger, I felt more inspired to help the children of Georgia. I currently am in the process of putting together my application for the 2017-2018 academic year.
These two conversations have had a substantial impact on my life. If I could give my 16-year-old-self one piece of advice, it would be to not be afraid of spontaneous conversations. To be clear, most conversations will not lead to anything after the goodbye. It is easy for me to sit here and tell you the benefits of spontaneity, but I am not going to write about the hundreds of other occasions where nothing became of emails or random conversations. That would be a boring post. What I am trying to get across is that there really is no risk associated with may seem like a random email or an unconventional meeting.
Do not be afraid to ask people for jobs when none are advertised. Reach out to professors at university while taking A-Levels, never be afraid to poke your head into an office that interests you. The people you will meet may not be able to give you a spot in university or a job at a company, but maybe they have the
Mark Zuckerberg has said, The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks. The best part about spontaneous conversations is that if nothing results from them, you are no worse off than when you started. Put simply, there is no risk in a spontaneous conversation. So get to it!