Grew up in small town Illinois, Streator to be exact. Here, for nine years I was educated by nuns and conservatives in a catholic school that is no longer standing, transitioned to the local public high school, where fantasy met reality. During this time life was stagnant, voiceless, and often times rebellious; especially when you were employed at the local supermarket and working for your father. Here I graduated and left.
As I packed my bags for an adventure I could never turn away from, college is where the development of my foundation came to fruition; challenging my thinking, process, and structure. I attended Illinois State University, received two bachelors in Political Science and History, a minor in Peace and Conflict Resolution, and studied abroad in Florence, Italy in 2012.
After graduating from ISU, I took two years off between school and worked. I hated my full-time job, completely and utterly hated it. It was a bullshit full-time job, but I was able to move out of rural life and into Chicago. Here the big city can be lonely, but that need to get away and clear your head, to try and fulfill the void for something bigger than myself, I needed to get away.
As I tried to make it in the city, I was looking for other options, basically anything, but as life goes, you get kicked in the teeth, I mean I even applied to the Real World and made it to the last round two times, and I even hate the Real World. I knew I always wanted that life of challenge and function, and I turned to graduate school.
Rejection letter, after rejection came flooding in the mail box, except two; a school in Chicago and one in Denver. Here, for those who know me, knew Denver was always the goal, and I still challenged the vibe jiving with the universe, and still had to put fate in the flip of a coin; hands down, Denver. Leaving the comfort of my life in Illinois, the city, and family and friends; I don’t think people will ever understand that leaving is just as hard as watching someone leave.
Everything Denver: I quit my job, left Chicago, and turned west for an adventure that I will never forget. I attended the University of Colorado Denver where I received a master’s in Political Science, a certificate in Democracy and Social movements, and embarked on two study abroad trips; Seoul, South Korea and Kampala, Uganda/Kigali, Rwanda as of December 2016. Graduate school is where you learn about balance. You work for free. Publication work, an internship, and have three jobs including waiting tables and bartending; all to make dreams a reality.
Graduate school is also where you get to fully dive into what you are passionate about, hold yourself at a certain stance as you tell people you are graduate student, because you love what you research and let it devourer you in its entirety, and people actually listen to what you have to say; you do have a voice.
And with this wondering soul, I have learned to take chances on people who may fail you, challenge your own thoughts and foundation, talk to strangers, stay with strangers, and show love and care for people you don’t even know. I am not saying that traveling and graduate school is for everyone, or that college and trade schools are for everyone, but what I am saying is that education is your ticket to fulfilling dreams and passions, and I cannot wait to see where my education and skills will take me next, because many of my personal goals have been achieved even before I will reach thirty.“Fear will kill more dreams than failure ever will.” -Suzy Kassem Click To Tweet
How do you make your big decisions? Why did you go back to school for example?
How I make my big decisions, is sometimes with a literal coin toss, no lie. Other times it’s driven by dreams and passions. For example going back to school, receiving my masters, even after I was spent from undergrad.
Here I was driven by pure passion. I knew what my goals and ambitions were, but for the longest time, I didn’t know how to accomplish them. I looked to school as a form of refuge, longing for the institutional knowledge of alternative thinking, driven and supported by professors to think outside of the box. Because I was aware of my surroundings, where and how I up, radical ideas were not always welcomed by your subordinates and peers.
How do you pick where you travel?
This takes a lot of soul searching. Yeah, a lot of people can go anywhere in the world when they choose to “holiday” on a resort. But it takes true craftsmanship to discover and explore a completely different culture from the ground level. By ground level I mean, always take public transit or however the locals travel, fuck having a personal driver, there you are just creating a barrier of “us vs. them.”
I picked Europe because of my genealogy. My grandfather’s family is from Florence, Italy, and if you know the history of Early Modern (Medieval) Europe, then you know the influence Florence had on renaissance art. From there backpacking through your most treasured city of dreams.
Asia was a kicker for me, because what got me there was my love for different religions, being able to stay with Buddhist monks for a couple days, learn Buddhism and what it means to be Buddhist. This was probably the largest culture shock for me because in Europe I was surrounded by predominantly white Christianity, and in Africa, you see white Christian influences, because deep down you know Christianity was not part of their African culture but was imposed by fear.
Speaking of Africa, this continent was so cool, mainly because there is this strange taboo that it isn’t safe. Lies! Fake News! Africa is so rad, it has a lot of natural beauty. But why traveling here? This was because of my research interests, and a whole continent that has been neglected during their most vulnerable moments, such as many state-civil conflicts (Insert the Rwandan Genocide).
My research focus in school has always been driven by international development and child development. I love researching children that are abducted into war and sold into the sex trade. I needed to see the reintegration process of these children, I have researched so much on this topic that I couldn’t help myself, but fully indulge. So Africa for me, was the political scientist in me, nerding out hardcore.
Overall, it takes humility of being able to remove yourself from everything you know and exposing yourself to things you don’t know. It keeps the drive alive.
What’s your philosophy on life?Never slow down, never grow old. – Tom Petty Click To Tweet It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. – Teddy Roosevelt. Click To Tweet
What legacy do you want to leave?
This is something I struggle with because I don’t want any children. Many people are appalled when they hear me say that, and I always get “You don’t want someone to carry on your family name?”, “You don’t want something that is part of you?”, etc. And I simply respond, “No, I am not that egotistical where I need the comfort of a part of myself to carry on my family name.”
It could also be said why I don’t want my future significant other to take my name, they are not my property. They are them, and I am I. We don’t need rings, and name changes just to prove our love for each other.
So as for a legacy I want to leave? I don’t know if I want to leave one in the conventional sense of legacy. In the unconventional sense will have to come at a later date.
What are your biggest obstacles in career and health?
Health? The many people that know me, know that I have a little vice known as smoking. But much more people would be shocked to hear it because I hide it so well in my adult life. It’s a hell of a habit to kick, especially when you live an active lifestyle in one of the healthiest and outdoorsy states in the United States. But overall, it’s one vice that keeps me grounded, a reminder of where I grew up and the lifestyle that is associated.
Career, networking. The hard part is not the “put yourself out there” part, but being able to establish connections with the right people in the right area of your career focus. Especially when you move to a new city in search of new directions.
Got a dream job?
I have a huge dream job, but before I let you in on that little secret, I think I should clarify that if I land anywhere from where I am currently at right now, and this dream job, I will be happy. It’s a dream, that may or may not become reality, but it gives purpose to the drive, something to strive towards until my time is up. I think that’s the secret to longevity.
This dream job is to do peacekeeping missions for the United Nations. I would like to focus on incorporating peacebuilding theories into practice with military strategies, make it another component of war.
I want to work in post-conflict areas, and build upon human rights education for those we as a global community have in the past, left neglected, and after we extracted our self-interested resources from the “other.”
I think the key here is education, teaching both domestically and abroad the challenges some people encounter around the world. I mean, we wouldn’t have this giant shift in character if we were taught more about the people and their cultures.
I want to influence foreign diplomacy to the point it only makes sense to create a human rights curriculum that teaches “band together”, “unity”, and truly make a communal shift in change, for everyone.
I also have a huge passion for going getting my Ph.D. in International Relations or J.D. in International Humanitarian/Asylum and Refugee law.
How do you commit to an idea?
Love it some much that, in its entirety, it is you. It consumes you. It is you, and you are it. And that is coming from someone who is a commitment-phobe. The only true commitment I have is to my family, dreams, and ambitions.
Who are some of the people you look up to?
First and for most, my grandfather. He simply is why I am where I am today. He was a teacher in a private school for something like 50 years? He taught me about hard work, and how God was a lover, not a hater. He taught me that the world is smaller than I thought and that I could accomplish all things I set my mind to, which some may argue I have, but to me, I have only scratched the surface.
He also taught me not be scared of things I didn’t know, that education and the challenging of norms were going to happen and I shouldn’t be fearful, but engaged in the process. Something I will cherish forever: I remember after I graduated college, and before I left for Europe, I was so broke that he got me a substitute teaching gig for a bit, and I was lucky enough to have class right across the hall from him. Truly is something I will care with me for the rest of my life, as I was working right next to my greatest mentor.
Do you have entrepreneurial visions? The desire to create something?
Oh you know, the typical World Peace concept- Haha. But for real, I would like to design a human rights curriculum that would be a platform for peacebuilding strategies in the classrooms and in the field.
I also want to write a book, I have the title and content matter, but I will wait until my old age.
Title: Seeing the world on a poor man’s dollar.
Content: The overarching theme would be something along the lines of political struggles and commentary of the clash of history and culture in an evolving world.
What’s your definition of success?
My definition of success? It will never be defined by others. Simple as that.
Oh, and it will not be weighted by how much money I have in the bank.
But I guess if we had to put it on a scale, it would be weighted by the rich and authentic experiences I have in life.
Biggest influence? resource or person
Music. Top Three: Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, the Stones
But if it wasn’t for the greats that shook up societies norms, influenced the counterculture era, and brought forth actual change, I may not have tapped into my own wondering identity.
Envision Woodstock, and said music. 😉
What’s your message? What do you wish everybody knew?
I have no idea what I am doing, I am literally just winging it. Which is something I wish more people would to do because it is what makes the journey of life worthwhile. You get to see down the road what sticks and what failed and try again. People say life isn’t about second chances, but I would argue that it is.
If you are still alive you still have a chance.
It’s already a no if you don’t ask for it, or take a chance at it.
Have any defining moments in life?
Getting my masters, many people that know me and my upbringing, know that this is a huge accomplishment, mainly because I grew up with reading and comprehension problems. Extra reading classes, hooked on phonics, the repetition of specific comprehension classes, you name it, I have probably tried it.
What do you do in your free time?
Out in Colorado, we like the outdoors, snowboarding, hiking, and exploring.
I LOVE museums. Art, history, science, music, sex; you name it I’ll probably love to visit it.
Reading, have I mentioned I love reading?
Traveling, whether it’s within Colorado or abroad, I love experiencing new places.
Now, I have welcomed this new concept called a significate other. It’s been forever since I have welcomed someone into my life intimately, but I did. My partner is great, she’s a keeper. So there goes the majority of my free time.
What skill would you most like to learn?
That’s hard to say because I love learning. But since receiving my masters I want to learn three new skills: French, the Violin, and Jujitsu. Mainly as I travel, I would like to be able to protect myself in a non-heavily-armed-combatant way, through northern Africa and the Middle East, traveling playing music in the streets.
French is the other official language of the United Nations and is pretty well known throughout many different parts of the world. And when I can’t communicate by verbal language, music will be a great breakthrough. I mean, music is the universal language.
Any favorite passages or a quote/words you remember each day that guides your life?
“Your job – as a student who is receiving an education – is to be aware of your privilege. And use this particular privilege called “education” to do your best to achieve great things, all the while advocating for those in the rows behind you.” – Unknown
How do you Simply Kill it Every Day?
I wake up, sometimes with a cup of coffee, and read. Anything and everything whether it’s the news, a book, articles from a scientific journal, or researching a culture for my next adventure! After that, I try and get some kind of workout in. As a general consensus, you have to be stimulated in the mind, body and spirit.
Who would you feature in your life?