Females flying solo: A guide to empowerment


“66% of fourth grade girls say they like science and math. But only 18% of all college engineering majors are female.”

Verizon’s 2014 commercial raises some very good points. Women in America are victims of extreme gender stereotyping and it largely affects the choices we make later in life – including whether or not to travel.

Culturally, women are treated as precious snowflakes; sweet, delicate, and disastrously ill equipped to contend with the meatier struggles of life.

Whether a woman is walking on to a used car lot, pursuing an engineering degree, or planning a trek across southeastern Columbia, the reaction is always the same:

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

An article on Forbes.com tracked the public outcry prompted by the death of a 33-year-old woman traveling in Turkey:

  • “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish.”
  • “A woman has no business traveling alone.”
  • “No WAY I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”

It’s a sad fact that things like this happen, but bottling women up is not the answer. Terrible things are likely to happen anywhere, even at home. According to the FBI, 80% of violent crime victims know their attackers personally.

When I was a child, one of my classmates bragged about an amazing weekend in NYC. Inspired, I went home and asked my mother if she could take me the following weekend.

She let out a small sigh and said, “Your father is busy, but maybe some other weekend.”

“But why can’t we go just the two of us?” I asked.

“It’s much too dangerous for us to travel to a big city like New York on our own,” she said.

This is the viewpoint that many of my friends and I grew up with; an opinion still institutionalized within my home community.

Every day, concerned friends furrow their brows and ask my mother how on earth she can cope with me living in rural Guatemala.

I am lucky to have so many amazing people in my life who care. But in a more perfect world, people would have confidence in my pursuits and not see every travel excursion as an opportunity for the real-life enactment of Little Red Riding Hood.

Recently, Ohio State’s Women in Engineering (WIE) has taken amazing strides in combating these restrictive stereotypes.

After hearing of the extremely low ranking Guatemala received on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index, the group is preparing to launch an annual woman-centered engineering expedition in conjunction with NGO Mayan Families.

For three months each summer, students will travel to Guatemala to utilize special engineering strategies to empower women and deliver long-term industrial solutions.

The project will give female students the opportunity to travel, experience a new culture, and contend with gender inequality issues both at home and abroad.

At just 18 years old, electrical and computer engineering major Mary Scherer is the pilot representative for the initiative, gathering all the information to approve funding for the trip while pioneering the educational practices that future students will employ.

She’s optimistic that the program will not only benefit the indigenous communities, but will also stand as a champion initiative for equal rights and the empowerment of women everywhere:

“Experiencing volcanic hikes, flooding rains, and an earthquake after only three weeks in Guatemala, I have realized that the world is constantly changing. But while teaching here in Panajachel, I have also realized that as a woman in engineering, I too am changing the world.”

Friendly strangers are…not strange!


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My friends often make fun of me because I have a habit of making friends in very strange places.

I’ll go to the bathroom for 5 minutes and come out arm and arm with a girl I never saw before in my life. Usually that’s because I’ve embarrassed myself somehow, and we both shared a laugh at my expense. It’s an interesting way to go through life. When I travel, it seems that  both the likelihood of fail and the likelihood of spontaneous friendship increase exponentially. I should make a bar graph.

There were a few points during my Trans-Siberian journey when I found trouble, and suddenly, a friend was there. My night train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow turned out to be one of these occasions.

It’s a good thing that I don’t speak Russian – I would have probably been very offended to hear the sneers of disgruntled passengers who put up with me staggering from one wrong seat to the next. And the next. It was pitch dark, I was the last to board, and all of the seat numbers, (and my ticket) were in Russian. OH fail.

trainIt wasn’t the volume or their tone that made me uncomfortable….maybe it was the laughter. Yeah, that was it. And the way they pierced me with their pitiless gazes, as though I was naked on the first day of primary school.

Sliding into the correct seat at last, I shmooshed my awkward tote under the table, smoothed my fluffed up curls, and let my heart beat settle into it’s natural rhythm. At least I had the seat across from me to myself.

But then, just as the train whistle blew, a wiry old man stumbled up the isle and slid into the seat I had been planning for a leg-rest.

It was a tiny one-person booth. He and I sat opposite, with a metal table between us. I was just settling into the awkward language-barrier silence, when he piped up; “Hi! How are you? My name is Zuzuka and I’d love to practice my English.” We chatted for a good while and I settled into a velvety relaxation.

When the conversation ended, I pulled out a sweater and settled in to sleep face-first on the table, like a catcatface. He called out to me, pointing to the bunk above us, and I said “That’s ok, you can have it!” After all, I had paid for a ‘seat’ only, not a bed. It was fair.

He started to make his bed and I clocked out again, only to wake to him saying “Hey! Let me help you!” I did not understand what he meant, so I told him that I was all set.

False!! At this point, he pulls my sweater-pillow away and says “Get up you poop!” So I did. Life-changing was the moment when I watched him macgyver this very fixed looking table upside-down, and then lower it snuggly into the space between the seats. Bed number two. My eyebrows actually launched off my face in surprise.

I went to lay down, when he said “No no no. Wrong again.”

This time, he made me move over while he whisked bedding out of thin air and made my entire bed for me. This is the point it dawned on me that I was about to make a poor old man scuttle up to a top bunk, while I sleep like a fat lazy beagle in my pre-made bed. I begged to switch, but he would not hear of it. The dear.

Snug as pie, I settled in to sleep. My last memory before drifting off to the narcotizing sway of the train car was of Zuzuka peering over the edge of his bunk and whispering “Goodnight Jessica!!!” with a massive grin, waving like a kindergartener fresh off the school bus.

I will never forget the super fun trajectory of fail that led me to such a good person. It seems that kindred spirits can be found anywhere.

Saying goodbye.


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The first thing we are taught in this world is how to say hello, but nobody ever teaches us how to say goodbye.

I am not talking about waving to your kindergarten teacher as you cross the hallway to the first grade classroom. Or the way you feel when your older brother goes off to college for the first time. I am referring to the soul shuddering farewells that shift the polarity of your known identity. The kind of partings that make you question all the decisions you’ve ever made in life.

Crouching beside my fourteen-year-old dog, her milky eyes teemed with liquid trust. Steeling me with her caramel gaze, she took no notice of the suitcase by the door. I cradled her silver muzzle between sweaty palms, trying to strike a balance between denial and an overwhelming appreciation for all that she is.

This is the kind of goodbye I’ve encountered from the moment I left for Australia, two and a half years ago.

Travel-hungry expats understand this kind of raw reality better than anyone, as by the nature of travel we find ourselves meeting and parting, perhaps forever, from a multitude of exceptional people. But what do you do when these periphery encounters become a significant part of your life?

After several years living and working abroad, I find that there is no such thing as goodbye. You can’t produce an equation or cook up a recipe to soothe an ethereal sense of loss. If you could, I feel that would be doing a great disservice to all you have known and experienced.

While time, space, and the waking world may separate us from the people and things that we have known and loved in the past, they are never truly dislodged from us once embedded.

Goodbye is a graveyard that I spend life speeding by, only glancing at from the heated seats of my volvo station wagon. But every now and then I have to pull the car over, stop the engine, and take a saunter through the old parts of myself.

Greeting others is one of the most beautiful tokens of social expression and the true goodbye is an eternity of hello’s to the past.

 

Battling unemployment in the digital dimension


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“She needs me now but I can’t seem to find the time.  I’ve got a new job now in the unemployment line. And we don’t know how we got into this mess, it’s a god’s test, someone help us cause we’re doing our best.”

With an increasingly unstable world economy, the lyrics from the Script’s 2012 chart-topping hit have never rung more true.

According to a recent study conducted by Rutgers University in the United States, less than half of all 2009 graduates secured a full-time job within a year. Of that percentage, only half of these lucky hires reported satisfaction in their role.

That’s roughly 90,000 people struggling with unemployment and career dissatisfaction.

Experienced professionals are constantly forced to seek below their level, squeezing newbies out of the value-chain altogether.

The question stands: As a job seeker, what can you do to elevate yourself above a cess pool of stagnant talent?

What many people don’t realize, is that applying for jobs is now only one per cent of the battle. With the rise of the digital dimension, the tools now exist to self-promote your most valuable commodity; you.

Networking

The internet is a resource, not a solution. Job seeking professionals should use it as a tool to engineer genuine, real-world relationships rather than treating it as the means to an end.

After over a decade of polls, CareerXroads’ ‘Sources of Hire Survey‘ continues to show referrals as the primary hiring source across all industry sectors. Employers want to know as much as possible about potential candidates, including who you know and who else values you as a commodity.

Likewise, networking opens the door to jobs that have not yet been posted or may never be formally advertised. There is a whole volcano of sneaky career opportunities smoldering under the radar of main-stream recruitment.

Social Media

Most job seekers don’t bother to develop an online identity and feel that social media doesn’t apply to their industry. But the truth is, social media is multilateral.

At the end of the day, professional success comes down to one thing; confidence. If you don’t show any self-interest, why should anyone else? An active social media presence shows confidence in your skills, confidence in your industry, and  most importantly, confidence in yourself.

By posting examples of your work, re-tweeting industry news, blogging about your latest triumphs, you are providing tangible proof of your dedication and enthusiasm for what you do.

When your application eventually lands on their desk, employers will notice and applaud your multidimensional commitment.

The Direct Approach

The email inbox is where all good job opportunities go to die.

From the instant you click send, that email turns into Nemo, the clown fish. If you don’t follow it up with hyperactive persistence, an ocean of carnivorous sea creatures will descend to swallow your dreams whole. Not exactly, but close enough.

With today’s digital hiring procedures, HR in-boxes are flooded with hundreds of emails. Often you will never receive a reply. I have been told by several interviewers that I would not have been considered, had I failed to follow up.

Additionally, stalking businesses through social media portals is not only a good idea, it is expected. The editor of a magazine asked me in an interview, “have you liked us on Facebook yet?” Of course…

The Glory of LinkedIn

God help you if you are not on linkedIn.

As one of the most commanding social media networks, LinkedIn allows companies to pool their prospects within a single platform. Most importantly, it facilitates conversation between all walks of business.

By merging my Facebook friends with my account, I was shocked by the people I was suddenly connected to.

This is how I came to connect with Michael Lohan, the unfortunate brother of the drug slugging sensation we all know and probably don’t love. I can’t wait to harness that resource.

The Way Forward

The biggest mistake first-world entrepreneurs make is to view digital platforms as the soft copy extension of the CV. While a CV is a static, inactive slab, your online identity is a calico cat; purring your animated message to a pliant pool of potentials.

In a global professional climate where value is measured in eminence and billion dollar ideas are a brain-fart away, we all have to work a little bit harder to promote the unique within ourselves.

The next time you find yourself second-man down in an interview line up, log in, link up, and look sharp!

Inspiration attacks with Titanic force


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My favorite comedian Jack Handy once said, “I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays it’s eggs in my brain, because later you might think you’re having a good idea but it’s just eggs hatching.

Good for you, Jack, for figuring out how to put what that feels like into words.

Have you ever walked into an art gallery or seen a really good film and thought “Why didn’t I think of that first?”

It’s the schizophrenic rush of inspiration, the feeling that the demonic heat of your own creative potential might actually set you on fire.

And then you see the gelato shop across the road and the idea that was so fresh and clear in your mind crawls back to the larval sack of ambivalence from whence it came.

For me, this moment came yesterday after watching Titanic for the 10,000 time.

Although many fans ‘abandoned ship’ in an effort to distance themselves from the poisonous haze of romantic stereotypes and pre-teen obsession, my loyalty has never wavered.

Before Titanic, nobody had the tools to communicate the shock, terror, and devastation of this infamous night. By definition, history is removed from our sense of reality and is therefore inaccessible.

Since April 14th 1912, people have relied on written accounts and imagination to connect with the horror of this legendary disaster.

Then came James Cameron’s Titanic, a sensual tsunami that allows people to experience the sinking for themselves through the eyes of authentic, relatable characters.

The story is communicated with such flawless accuracy, counting a plot laced with faithful depictions of true passengers.

The stark class differences and political dissension of the era are meticulously represented in every dialogue. The boundary between present and past is shattered for 194 minutes.

All I can think is, why didn’t I do it first? Never mind that I was 10.

Keeping it real


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I was riding the bus when a boy no longer amused with his video game chucked it aside and began ferociously digging through a tote. Wailing his displeasure when all he produced was a half eaten pack of crackers and some hand wipes, his digital needs went unsatisfied.

At his age, my brothers and I were swaddled in fluff and kicked out the back door with nothing but our imaginations, five km of wilderness and whatever the cat dropped on the doorstep.

Entertainment was entirely dependent on creative cunning. We spent our days galloping through the underbrush, building bug-city mud mansions and catching salamanders.

We once amused ourselves for three days straight just digging a big hole.

At at what point along the way did we stop being comfortable inside our own heads? In the digital age, people have become too impatient to actually sit back, relax, and enjoy the solitude of an uncharted moment.

This is when true genius strikes, after all; a lesson I learned when locked in a bedroom led to 4’x4′ of tubing, a slingshot, and a hamster.

Today, immediacy rules every sphere of human interaction. We want to know it, we want to know it now, and we want to move on. The world is at our fingertips every second of every day and as a result, some of the greatest opportunities to commune with a moment pass by unappreciated.

It’s convenient to wake up and check my three emails, Facebook, SMS and Snap Chat before  getting out of bed, but sometimes I need to leave the smartphone at home and reconnect with raw reality; the kind you can see, smell, taste, touch and love.

All things strange and all things beautiful


Leafing through my tattered, coffee and God knows what-smeared journal, I communed with the tornado of decisions that led me to this moment. Career, family, friends, future. Everyone has a plan, but you can’t anticipate the uncharted.

If someone had told me 2 years ago that I would be living in Australia today, I would have said, crackerjacks! No way. It seems like a lifetime ago that a tapestry of coincidental fragments conspired to bring me to Boston’s International Airport with all of my worldly possessions.

I can’t say that it was any one detail that inspired me to abandoned a wonderful and supporting family, stable job, and devoted network of friends for a foreign country. I do know however, that I found the idea intoxicating.

The day I left, so many questions were bouncing around in my head, but only one certainty. I’d never felt more alive. To me, moving 10 thousand miles to the other side of the planet was a delicious challenge. I had something exceptional to prove, I just didn’t know what.

The people I have met, the knowledge I have gained, and the sublime ubiquity of total independence has taught me that the most terrifying thing about life is the thing  you didn’t do. It swallows you whole; a looming nightmare of potentiality.

Settled in Sydney after well over a year, I thrive on a diet of comedy and common sense. Cultivating a clarified identity, the purpose of this blog is to record every current of excitement, every epic fail; all things strange and all things beautiful.

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