This morning, I somehow found myself writing an email to my old professor of Global Development Studies. Two years ago, he wanted to know how GDS had influenced my life and the job I had accepted right out of school. Although I promised a response, I never gave him one. Until this morning, I figured out what I wanted to share with him and with my dear friends from GDS, class of 2011. Sweet classmates, here is an update you are due…
“Dear Professor [and peers],
I hope that this note finds you well and stirring up controversy while opening the minds of students and faculty. Considering that you asked me for a statement nearly two years ago now, I figured you were finally due a response.
Shortly after completing my degree in Global Development Studies I found a job working locally as a special education teaching assistant. You asked me to write a statement sharing how my degree in GDS had influenced my decision to enter into SpEd. I agreed but never actually wrote anything down, citing my rapidly changing life as an excuse (getting married, having a baby, buying a house…you know, all those big “milestones” that my husband and I decided to rush through in a mere two years). But now, in retrospect, and in all honesty, I believe the real reason that I never wrote that statement was because I truly did not know how GDS influenced me to find a job in SpEd. Moreover, I felt a bit embarrassed that I wasn’t working on the other side of the US or in another country like my peers. Instead, I was a mere 30 minute drive from Charlottesville, just outside of my rural home county.
The truth is, I took the position at the elementary school because it was 1.) a job, 2.) was something I knew I was good at doing, and 3.) it allowed me to be close to the man I wanted to marry…not because GDS made me want to work with autistic students. To be even more candid, I’ve spent the past few years feeling embarrassed that I haven’t done anything with my degree and, furthermore, that I’m currently a stay at home mother. There have been many emails bouncing around from my classmates sharing their adventures and I’ve felt embarrassed that my only adventures have been in motherhood. It has only been recently (with great influence from Loren Intollube-Chmil, I might add) that I’m finding myself 100% okay and happy with the route I have chosen. And, even more excitingly, that I’ve finally realized that I still have plenty of time to put my awesome degree to good use and that I finally know how! And I wouldn’t have discovered my path without motherhood!
You see, all throughout my time at UVa I found myself drawn to public health and even debated applying for the joint Master’s program. However, I never truly nailed down my interest and, as you probably remember, I floundered in finding a focus. Thus, upon graduating, I didn’t know what to do with my degree. So, instead, I focused on my personal life and wound up happily married and, shortly after, a mother.
In becoming a mother, my eyes have been opened to a whole other realm. I chose to breastfeed my son. While pregnant, I knew that I would breastfeed because I grew up with it being the norm. However, until I became a breastfeeding mother myself, I knew very little about how stigmatized breastfeeding is in the states (and other Western countries) and how little information and support there is for many mothers. I also learned about how important breastfeeding can be in not only developing strong familial bonds but to the health of both mothers and children. And, as we know, biological health can affect the health of a nation as well.
Here’s where my experience as a mother ties into GDS. Because of the lack of support and information I have found in the US, particularly in my rural hometown, I’ve decided to pursue the path as a lactation counselor. I am currently working towards my first certification in lactation counseling and have the long term goal of becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Counselor (IBCLC). I’m also considering working towards my Master’s of Public Health with a focus on maternal and infant health. It is my hope that I will be able to enact change and provide support so that we can grow a healthier population (not to mention the economic effects that would occur if more babies were breastfed–hello, fewer medical expenses), as well as remove the ridiculous stigmatization that is attached to breastfeeding (seriously, how is feeding an infant in the way that nature intended sexual?). Global Development Studies has helped me to think critically (a skill I am still developing) and to be inquisitive. It has taught me to look at the big picture in evaluating problems and while searching for solutions–a skill that I know will assist me in my future endeavors. Global Development Studies taught me that there is change I can affect on the world, I just needed to find my ultimate passion before working towards that change. Now that I have found that passion, I am proud to report that I will be using my degree and that I wouldn’t have taken the first step towards my new career without the strong foundation that GDS provided me.
I hope that GDS is still growing and thriving and I thank you again for all the hard work you put into creating the program and in teaching me. I hope to make you and my classmates proud.