Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

Now What?

6 Comments

Coming home is hard.

Certainly, there are days when I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for washing machines and paved roads and reliable hot water and the thousand other conveniences I’ve mostly lived without for the past year. There are times when sink back into a known and longed-for activity with enthusiasm and delight, like the 20+ hours of dancing I did the weekend before Thanksgiving,  and times when I rediscover some simple pleasure I’d forgotten altogether in its absence, like cinnamon graham crackers.

But there are also days when I’m overwhelmed with the enormity of life in America and all the things I’m supposed to be able to navigate now that I’m an adult: Car insurance. Credit cards. Running into an ex-boyfriend and pretending it doesn’t still hurt to be around him. Actually flossing every day because I no longer have dental insurance. Watching friends get engaged and married and not even having a date to bring to their weddings. Resumés and networking and interviews and all those other things you’re supposed to do to get a job and that I haven’t really dealt with because aside from easily-obtained summer gigs, my job up until I left for Mongolia was to be a student.

And, of course, the big existential question: Now What? What do I want to do with my life?

I know that regardless of which way I go, I’ll have to start at the bottom of the career ladder and work my way up. I know it takes hard work to get yourself much of anywhere; that part doesn’t scare me. You don’t get yourself a full ride to college and then graduate .01 short of Summa Cum Laude without plenty of hard work.

But I had a goal in those days, and the good grades were their own reward. Now I’m floundering, searching for direction, afraid to spend the next ten years at the bottom of various career ladders as I put in the time and the effort required only to realize that I’ve started up the wrong ladder yet again and move to the bottom of yet another. It’s not work I fear, but wasted work that does nothing to help me figure out what I want to work towards.

How do I choose which mountain to head for? What if I pick the wrong set of tracks and get stuck, or lost?

How do I choose which mountain to head for? What if I pick the wrong set of tracks and get stuck, or lost?

It doesn’t help that my interests are of questionable practicality. Computational linguistics seems to be the biggest career field available to those with my degree, and unfortunately, it holds very little interest for me. My favorite (degree-related) classes when I was in college were the linguistic anthropology classes, in which we talked about meaning-making and analyzed language as an expression of cultural and personal identity. How do you get a job doing that?

More than once, we touched on the Myaamia Project, a language reclamation effort headquartered at my home university by faculty and members of the Miami Tribe. I learned that language reclamation was a field that held great interest for me, and when I went to Ireland in 2010, I found myself drawn to the Irish language and the people who were passionate about returning it to everyday use. I also learned that Ireland was in economic turmoil had few jobs for its own young people, much less interloping foreigners. The dream of getting involved with the Irish language effort in some manner – be it as a teacher, a professor, or as some manner of government employee – shone only briefly before it was quashed by the cold voice of practicality.

What do you get when you Google "the nine nines of Mongolian winter," a well-known cultural nugget? A chain of Peace Corps blogs referencing each other.

What do you get when you Google “the nine nines of Mongolian winter,” a well-known cultural nugget? A chain of Peace Corps blogs referencing each other.

Then, as you all know, I went to Mongolia, where I enjoyed learning the language but was frustrated by the lack of good learning materials. There are a number of Mongolian textbooks available, but I had a great deal of trouble finding one that I liked, as their explanations of the grammatical structure were often insufficient or confusingly, even nonsensically, worded – if they were present at all. I was further frustrated by  Mongolia’s apparent absence from the English-speaking internet, which made it hard to source any observations or conclusions I wished to draw and all but impossible for me to blog about anything broader than my own experiences. There are books on Mongolia, to be sure, but they’re few and far between and largely inaccessible to the public. Most of what’s available is more of what I’m producing here: personal experiences unconnected to broader research, with most additional information coming from hearsay. Anecdotes, not data.

So there’s an information gap there, a niche to be filled, and I’m definitely interested in applying the knowledge and experiences I gained from what was undoubtedly an unusual experience. It would be a real waste for me to walk away from this year without putting those things to use, as though the whole year never happened. But it would take years for me to acquire enough Mongolian language skills to begin filling that gap in a scholarly way, and frankly, I’m not sure I’m willing to give them. Mongolia is a country of three million people, Mongolian a language of 5 million speakers, and I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into so narrow a niche. Because while I’m interested in Mongolia and the Mongolian language, I’m not passionate about it; it’s not part of me or my heritage the way Ireland is. “Interested but not passionate” is how I felt about architecture my freshman year of college, and I dropped that major within a year, too burned out to continue.

What I am passionate about is writing, which is why this blog is still chronicling my Mongolian adventures even now that I’m back on the other side of the world. The unexpected confluence of interesting and little-known things to write about, a place to write about them, and people who were actually interested in reading them was one of my favorite things about my time in Mongolia. I don’t think I want to spend the rest of my life writing about Mongolia, per se, but I do know that I want to spend my time writing about something. I’m particularly partial to essays that are part analysis and part personal experience – I’ve had a piece on my mental backburner about The Things They Carried and my fears for my military brother for some time, and another about the Gaelic Storm song “Raised on Black and Tans” and the superficiality of my understanding of my Irish heritage. I’m sure I could pull a number of such pieces out of my experiences in Mongolia, if only I knew where to look.

Or where to write for. I’ll be guest posting on A Girl and Her Travels later this month, and I mean to submit some entries for the Fulbright blog and, if I can come up with a creative approach to their not-very-inspiring prompt, Expats Blog, but I want to do more than just blog – I want be actually published. Unfortunately, I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to look for places to be published, and I could very much do with some suggestions as to where to try submitting pieces.

It feels stupid to expose this sort of vulnerability to the whole wide world, to complete strangers and even potential future employers who might happen to Google me and find that I haven’t always been passionate about whatever it is I’m applying/interviewing/auditioning for. It feels wrong to address my uncertainty in such a long-winded, rambling post, rather than boiling it down into a couple of simple, direct queries. But I’m willing to publicize my own version of what I’m sure is a very common crisis in hopes of crowdsourcing some suggestions from you, my dear readers. I don’t want to risk omitting the detail that will spark a useful suggestion simply to meet some self-imposed word limit. I know the people who read this blog come from many different walks of life, and I want to take advantage of that diversity. The choices and opportunities that seem obvious to you might be ones I’ve never heard of.

So if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this wandering account of my lack of direction, I thank you for listening. And if anything I’ve mentioned has sparked an idea of what applications my linguistics degree and international experience might have, or where I might try to submit my writing, I’ll be even more grateful. I’ve been wandering for a while now, and even if my next journey takes me someplace completely unexpected, it would be nice to start with a destination in mind.

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Author: everywherebuthome

Linguist. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Expat in Mongolia. Writer. Scout, dancer, gymnast, equestrienne.

6 thoughts on “Now What?

  1. First off, your thoughts on Ireland and Irish reminded me of a delightful book I read this past year, “Travels in an Old Tongue” by Pamela Petro. She became enamored of Welsh, and set out on a trek around the world visiting Welsh speakers and Welsh communities. As they say about some diaspora, they are sometimes “more Welsh than the Welsh”. She had a contract to write the book, I think, first. Somehow, I don’t think there’s much of a Mongolian diaspora, though. But I could be wrong.

    Also, do you know of the field of “localization” for software and applications? Software and applications need to have modifications for various markets/cultures, taking into consideration language, writing, and cultural differences. (I was just starting to do such work with a previous employer, for our Japanese customers, when life intervened. We were also dealing with a request from our Canadian customer to make it “Canadian”; did you know Webster’s Ninth has a section on Canadian English?) Last Sunday over Advent wreathes I mentioned a book to you, about the Beijing to Paris road rally? Anyway, the author and her husband had a localization company; they sold it and can now afford such road rallies :)

  2. Oh yeah… the joy of doing your own laundry in your own washing machine… simple life pleasures!

    Notherbarb – oh there are indeed “Canadian English” peculiarities as there are very distinctive “Indian English” and “Hinglish” variants. I’ve become such a mixed up blend that it is tough to say definitively which is what til someone external points it out!

    I’m not much of an ‘advice giving’ kinda person as my own career has had so many twists, turns, aborted stops and shooting for the stars elements that I wouldn’t dare recommend exploring A over B!

    So instead, just keep an open mind… I took a what I thought would be a temporary job til a ‘real’ job more in my field of studies came along. Well.. long an short is I’m tangentially in financial services based in Asia rather than academics focused on South Asian history!

    And best wishes too in your continued writing adventures and just see where things take you…

  3. Aw, I know this kind of crisis ;-)
    “Career ladder” – urgh. That’s all I’ve to say to that.
    Lots of things are possible. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, never thought it could be turned into reality for somebody of my background, but, hey, I’ve been making a living with it for almost a decade now.
    One of my blogging buddies seems to be doing very well with her self-published book. She’s in a totally different genre to yours, but if you look at her blog closely, you’ll find some very frank and honest info on how to go about self-publishing, what the pitfalls are etc.
    http://tbmarkinson.wordpress.com/

  4. Hi Katelin, have you considered graduate school? Not sure if Miami has the program you would be interested in but many other schools have linguistics programs that will give you any opportunity to get published and even focus on a topic that you are passionate about. I know UC Berkley has a very competitive linguistics program. Grad school also gives you opportunities for internships that often lead to permanent status. If you are interested in working for the government in an international capacity, you could look at USAID foreign service or at DOS. All federal government jobs are posted on USAjobs.gov. These are updated all the time, but you can set up search criteria to help you search. Good luck!

    • I have indeed considered grad school – have been for years. The problem is that I don’t know what I want to specialize in well enough to pick a program, and I don’t want to get a master’s degree and then find myself pigeonholed in a track I don’t want to stick with. I will look into the government jobs, though.

  5. graham crackers and flossing. good stuff.

    there is a certain amount of ‘essentiality’ (inventing words) in Mongolia that makes the the ‘supposed to’s in America seem trivial. not sure if this leaves you after it has sunk in. but it sure makes bending the truth on your resume less fun.

    i wouldn’t listen to me though… I am the epitome of that cold voice of practicality’s contrary.

    Whatever you do I hope you do what you love. You are a very good writer. I follow along best I can.

    Go study with Kate Graber at IU
    http://www.iub.edu/~ceus/faculty/graberk.shtml
    she’s cool.
    I don’t know either of you but that’s my advice. into the ether…

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