My Life is My Job… My Job is My Life?

We are constantly bombarded with:

Follow your dreams

My Life is My Job… My Job is My Life?

Birthday celebrations at the office

Do what makes you happy
Work life vs. home life
If you don’t like it, leave it

Obviously these carry undertones of privilege and access that not everyone has the fortune of taking advantage.

As the U.S. News reported more clearly in their article called “Why You Shouldn’t Follow Your Passion,”

“Do what you love” is privileged advice that ignores the fact that the majority of the world’s population works to get food and housing, not for emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

There have been many times that I have been madly in love and passionate about my work. Then there is the “ying to my yang,” those disappointing times that sometimes creep or jump at me from out of nowhere. After work, I Skype with my loved ones back home and I vent, I share.

My personal life and my work life coexist—they affect each other.

Talking about my day (which is predominately consumed by work) with my loved ones allows me the time to reflect with someone else about my joys and struggles. It allows me to attempt to understand the tangible things and actions that affect my mood, my personal well being, and my growth. I take that reflection and try to input it into my (work) day.

What I’m trying to say, is that it is OKAY to let the two influence each other (there are caveats to everything in life… so do with this as you will). I have benefited a lot in reflecting on my personal actions and using them towards my advantage in the work place. I have found what my passions are and pull on those little moments at the workplace when I can utilize my passions and skills to improve my work. When my work feels more passionate, I get better results. I put more energy into it. I can present it better. No, it most certainly not always easy to find those little things that brings you passion. But sometimes, I just have to look harder, maybe stretch the meaning of that passion more because I’m certainly not leaving this job opportunity any time soon (technically) and I want to enjoy the experience as much as I can. It’s a perspective thing, right? We hear that a lot, but do we put it into action?

I feel like this is an important time for me to understand what I love and what I hate, what inspires me, what makes me feel stifled and use that to find develop my productivity and efficiency in any job setting professionally and personally.

Having job security that also gives me emotional fulfillment might just be a matter of searching a little harder:

If I can’t do what I love,
Find what I love in what I do.

My Life is My Job… My Job is My Life?

Uayamón Hacienda, Field Work
Uayamón, Campeche

On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States


This is the conversation I had in Mexico with someone who is racially white and nationally from the U.S. 

On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States

Oxkintok Ruins
Maxcanu, Merida, Yucatan


Merida is an up-and-coming city nationally and internationally. It has started to heavily delve into the tourism sector, which has sparked a lot of economic development in the area. Because of its weather, low cost of living, and many other benefits there is also a very large and growing Ex Pat community. I would describe my neighborhood as more of a tourist area rather than gentrified even though a majority of the Centro Colonial of Merida has become more gentrified throughout the past 5 years. There was no internet at our house, one of the nearest access to WiFi is at Starbucks.

Me: Hey, I’m going to go to Starbucks, do you want to come?

Her: No, I’m fine. I went there early this morning and there were so many Americans that I just kept on walking.

Me: Oh… are you embarrassed to be American?

Her: Yeah. I don’t like standing out.

Me: Don’t you think just walking around as the lone white girl makes you stand out?

Her: Yes, that’s why I like to surround myself with Mexicans, so that I don’t feel different.

Me: You don’t think you stand out in your group of Mexican friends?

Her: I just feel like I fit in.

That’s where the conversation ended. I understand, that there might have been a lot of unspoken and misinterpreted meanings/ intentions/ semantics. I understand there are many reasons to be ashamed of US history (and present). What I don’t get is how does surrounding yourself with friends make you somehow forget about your difference? Well, I guess I do get it. I get how feeling like you fit in and having a community is very powerful in overcoming and even ignoring difficult situations but I personally just don’t believe it changes your innate identity.  From my interactions with this person, she does heavily identify as US citizen, albeit regretfully. So it does not seem like a matter of her not prioritizing that identity. It’s just as if she’s trying to hide it, trying to ignore it.

What frustrates me about this? Obviously there is a lot more background information that can’t be fully covered/ properly conveyed. But it’s how this perception has also affected our relationship. It made me feel like she’s also embarrassed of me, a proud (not obnoxiously) US citizen. I mean, she has also said that (cue previous conversation):

Her: It’s not that I don’t want to invite you guys to things, it’s just that when I’m in other countries, I like being the only one in my group of friends who is different like the “extranjera.”

Me: I think I get it.

Me (in my head): So you have sharing, attention, and self-confidence problems

::end of conversation::

I understand that I too have much to blame since I should have asked “why?” Next time. It’s really what we all need to be doing more…  asking why? What a beautiful flip-the-coin way of finding clarity of delving into complexity. I digress.

What also really flustered me about these conversations has been my own experience with being a minority. Maybe there is a social justice/ anthropology “sin,” I’m about to commit, but yes, I did compare my racial minority-ness in the US that I’ve experienced for the past 8 years with her national minority-ness that she experiences when she travels to Latin America.


I don’t remember having white friends until I went to high school. There just simply weren’t white families where I lived.

When I entered the prestigious walls of my predominately white, high income, legacy boarding school, I immediately became self-conscious about my look, my tan, the way I spoke, my lack of money, my parents. I didn’t know what Uggs were or J Crew or Northface… but I did know, a semester later, that those were the items I was scavenging for in the Lost and Found bin right before study hall.  I was embarrassed of how I dressed and I was embarrassed that my family couldn’t afford to get me these things. (It also reminded me, that you just don’t lose things like that—things that cost money.) But this was how I was trying to resolve my conflict—my shame at how my racial identity manifested itself around The Other. So I understand where my friend was coming from when she felt uncomfortable—I could empathize.

However, I loved my racial and cultural heritage. I displayed my flags proudly in my room all 8 years that I was in boarding school and college. I threw myself into culturally focused groups and activities, even though I was surrounded by people who saw me as someone significantly less than them because of my race. They saw me as someone who would statistically drop out with an unplanned pregnancy, who’s parents were probably “Illegal,” or as a blight to our country (another flashback: one of my very rich white friends once showed me a text from his father that demanded that he stop hanging out with “that minority girl” (me) as if I was a disease his son could catch. I was 16 at the time. I still talked to my friend but a part of me believes that he had to have believed that too… that a part of that has to be ingrained in him because well… that is what he was surrounded with. Why did he even want to show me that text? He made no apology for it. I digress.)

On Being American When in Mexico—On Being Biracial When in the United States

Hanal Pixan (Day of the Dead Procession)

This writing is cathartic… I wish it had a stronger point for you, the reader. Reflect on privilege maybe? Reflect on (hiding and embracing) identity? Maybe understand that it’s hard to reflect on some of the more oppressive things about identity until you feel the relief of no longer being The Outsider (something I’m finding out more and more and I walk through streets without curious eyes asking what I’m doing here).

Anywho, maybe I was annoyed because she’s embarrassed of me being a US citizen—for standing out (which, I mean, if I don’t talk… I really don’t stand out. On the contrary, I stand out when I walk around with her… the irony). I guess my minority experience, like hers, was something that I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t escape that part of me even though I could find escapes ::difference::  I embraced my race because it was something that I was. It doesn’t change for me. It is who I am. It is my label. My difference. But I understand that many other people have labels that they can’t hide and that they wish they could change/ are in the struggle to change.

I didn’t have the support that I needed during the time to deal with the difference. I had to forcefully throw myself in things that could give me solace. The sad and yet, at the time, comforting fact was that there were a handful of other kids who were also going through the motions with me. Maybe that’s what my friend is trying to find… her escapes… her comfort to get through. I can get that. But maybe as some sort of witness to the stress, what is my role in supporting her in getting that comfort? Or maybe, I shouldn’t get involved because I fully believe that as an Outsider you have the opportunity to incite some change in the workplace, in your friend groups, etc. In fact, isn’t that what I am charged to do? That’s a big part of why I’m here. I am supposed to be The Other.



Street in Mérida’s historic colonial center

By Andrea Pauw ’13

“Es un calor que nunca has sentido,” (“It’s a heat you’ve never felt before”), our co-worker explained to us, the four Davidson Impact Fellows working in Mérida, Yucatán. This was the first description of Mérida’s heat I heard from someone native to this tropical city. “Es un calor que nunca has sentido.” Indeed, this powerful combination of humidity and direct sunrays produces an enervating heat that I had never experienced. Since my main form of transportation is walking, I’ve become quite familiar with Mérida’s weather: a mix of suffocating humidity, sudden downpours in which using an umbrella is more cumbersome than helpful, and gentle dusks punctuated by the humming of mosquitos and muffled radios.

Indeed, navigating Yucatán’s capital city for the past two months represents a significant part of my experience as a Davidson Impact Fellow. Along with Mel, Whitley, and Andrea B., I’ve traversed many colonial streets, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, and been drenched by the ubiquitous afternoon storms. For me, these daily adventures are at once cathartic and challenging—a constant reminder of the foreignness of my life after Davidson and also a way of working through this transition into the “real world.” For instance, one thing I’ve come to appreciate more since living in Mérida is walking—not rushing or hurrying, but rather the simple pleasure of strolling comfortably and observing, thinking, and smiling at others who pass by. After about 5 pm when the sun is not so strong, walking around the city is the perfect time to reflect on the workday and be mindful of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes: the friendly hello from an old man who repairs bikes on Calle 47, the enticing aroma of a pastry shop, the heavy huffing of combi bus engines, the grin from a fellow pedestrian caught in a rainstorm, the unique taste of refreshing maméy fruit sorbet sold in the Plaza Grande, and passing snippets of rapid Spanish all form the backdrop of my days in Mérida.


Sunset during an evening stroll

Paying attention to these sensory details while meandering around the city gives me a newfound gratitude for walking and J.R.R. Tolkien’s words, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Sometimes this quote is more applicable than not (since figuring out the convoluted public transportation system has yet to be accomplished), but in general my wandering provides me with time to grapple with the challenges of living abroad and the transition into life after college. The tranquil evenings in Mérida instill a sense of patience and peace in me that I experience through snapshots of Yucatan daily life—comfortable reminders of normalcy amidst the strangeness and unfamiliarity of a new city, new job, and new stage of life. The slow calmness of wandering Mérida contrasts with the fast changes and urgency it’s easy to feel in wanting to figure everything out: the desire to improve my language skills, make headway in work projects, and finding a comfortable routine. What I’ve come to realize is that navigating this uncharted territory is done best without hurry and worry—giving ample time to notice the ever-present moments of peace and calm in Mérida, even in the heat.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

By Andrea Becerra ’13

There’s a lot that changes when you transition from being a student to an employee. To begin with sitting in front of a computer from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. is a real strain on the body. Human beings were just not made to sit still all day. I’ve read every article online on how to prevent back pains and I’ve incorporated some exercise routines to practice under my desk.  I recently started doing jumping jacks in the bathroom and when no one is looking I do a couple of lunges to the water cooler.  Andrea Pauw and I have even incorporated a run to our apartment during our lunch break, mainly to get to our food quicker and make the most of our break, but also to remind our limbs that we know they exist. I took for granted all of the nomadic freedom and privilege I had at Davidson—to roam from Summit, to the library, to my apartment, and then back to Summit.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

The juxtaposition of refurbished and worn out homes is noticeable throughout the downtown area where we work and live.

While I’ve been making active efforts to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s not what I spend most of my days thinking about. Regardless, once we get our visa issues resolved we’ll be working one on one with the Mayan communities involved in our development projects. So besides the new crafty ways of exercising in an office space, there’s plenty more that has changed now that I’m a Davidson Impact Fellow.

As students our duty was to work long hours in the library, take a broad range of classes offered by a liberal arts education, binge on coffee in order to compensate for the failure to balance life and to finally finish that paper in the wee hours of the night…only to receive a B—dang, there goes the GPA. In our new world as DIFs, per Davidson’s definition, we are expected to “create and implement solutions to some of the most urgent problems our society now confronts.” I have the opportunity to be a part of something big, to make a change that extends beyond my academic progress. This is not to say I don’t miss Davidson, to do so would be blasphemy; the world of academia opened up numerous doors for wonderment and discovery—it sparked conversation, invited debate and it created a space to contemplate solutions to the world’s problems. As graduates we can finally put all of this knowledge and understanding to use. I’m currently spending my days researching ways to solve a debt crisis in a Mayan community via a project I just got approved (more on this in future posts). It’s daunting to think of the adverse effects a project can have in a community of 400 people, but on the other hand, the potential to make a positive impact on that many lives is incredibly motivating.

There are plenty of thanks in a lifetime, and in the non-profit world, gestures of appreciation must be bountiful. A couple of weeks ago I helped an eleven-year-old girl plant a tree along a soccer field in Sihunchen, a community of 336 people on the outskirts of Merida. Her older cousin decided that it was a perfect spot for it since once its branches sprang out it could offer shade to local community members watching the game. In the middle of our digging an elderly man approached me. He looked at me and then looked up towards the sky as he raised his hands in prayer; he did this three more times as he thanked me for my work in the broken spanish of his native mayan tongue. His eyes, tired and wise from the uphill battles of a lifetime, are what truly stood out—they softened when I looked at him and revealed the complete truth of his gratitude. And to think that seconds before I had wondered if the tree would even survive.

Beyond the Office Syndrome

A tree planted during the reforestation project.

As memory fades only a few of these moments will actually stand out, and the thanks that this man gave me will probably be one of those; it happened right after thinking that what I was doing was so small in comparison to the grander plans I had in mind—complex development proposals that can change the world—to halt global warming, end inequality, and give every street dog a loving home. While I’m still naively optimistic about these things, the moment I shared with him will serve to remind me to also take into account the day-to-day interactions and to appreciate all of the small ways people welcome me into their lives.

The strangeness of starting my professional career

By Whitley Raney ’13

Last weekend I had to make the jump from being a student to taking ownership over the knowledge that I supposedly gained as a student. It was a weird concept to think about, and I’m still not entirely sure that I am ready to take that responsibility and change of identity.

FHMM is participating in a continuing education course for community facilitators. Since I wasn’t here for the first few sessions, I wasn’t obligated to go, but I’m really glad that I did (After all, I’m enough of a nerd that class is appealing—even on Friday night and Saturday morning—and as a Davidson grad, I hardly know what else to do when I’m not in class or on a deadline to work on something).

When my coworkers and I went around to introduce ourselves to the visiting professor from Mexico City, we had to tell him our names, what area we worked in, and what we are. Everyone said that they were psychologists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, economists etc. I introduced myself, and said that I had studied anthropology. The teacher then responded (after misunderstanding and mispronouncing my name no less than 4 times before finally giving up), “Oh, you’re an anthropologist!” I guess I went to school for 4 years and President Quillen gave me a piece of paper to make that distinction, but that was the first time that I was given the opportunity (read: forced, because I’m still not sure how I feel about that “opportunity”) to assume responsibility for my education and assume a certain degree of authority for the expertise that I should have. Since the course dealt with a lot of anthropological theory and fieldwork concepts and things that I should know a lot about…I got to actually feel like I did have some kind of expertise, which is always positive.

At the same time however, real life and real jobs aren’t measured on any basis that I am equipped to navigate. The ability to ration my time and energy and sleep while still making it to class and meetings and activities and lectures and back to my apartment for desert night with my roommates is a skill that I’m still trying to learn how to adapt and apply to my life. There are no grades, there are no syllabi that outline the specific guidelines, and office hours aren’t quite as easy to come by. It isn’t enough to be able to write about the progression from structuralism to functionalism, I need to understand how that applies to community outreach work and the development of projects that have real budgets, real timetables, and affect real lives and real health outcomes.

There is a much more superficial level to this changing identity as well. As a break from the identity as a student that I have cultivated for the past 17 years of my life, it’s considered polite here to refer to people by their titles. In the United States we do that for doctors, maybe judges or ministers, but everyone else pretty much just graduates from college and goes on with their life. But in emails or formal interactions, I get referred to as la Licenciada Whitley. Which is basically an impressive-sounding way to acknowledge that I have a college degree. Which basically means that I need to get used to the fact that I can’t hang on to being a student, something that I got pretty good at over the course of, well, my entire life since I can remember. I get to apply all the student stuff, and half the time I can’t decide if that’s more pressure or less. It’s a strange jump to try and make.

And the funniest change to my identity as a young adult living and working in Mexico is definitely my name. Besides the fact that no one can pronounce it and I usually end up being called Wendy, there have been various forms to fill out that require both given names and both last names. People really don’t like the answer that I only have one last name (because, well, my birth certificate and social security card and passport and anything that legally gives me an identity says so). That explanation seems to make very little sense. So I get my two given names, my dad’s last name and my mom’s maiden name.

I’m la Licenciada Whitley Raye Raney Hensdale and I’m an anthropologist. I might need reminding occasionally, because I’m not entirely sure what to do with that information.


What I Wish I Had Learned in College

By Melodie Mendez ‘13

It has been one month since I’ve started my job as a Public Policy fellow at FHMM in Merida, Yucatan. I’ve enjoyed almost the entire experience but I would be amiss to say that had it not been for extreme patience (which I didn’t always exemplify) and great feats of flexibility (which I did not always exercise), this experience could have been on the brink of horrifying.

No.  I’m not exaggerating.

I don’t want to go into detail on the mishaps, but let’s just say that culture was lost in translation. Besides, the mishaps are not important. What is important is that I never really learned to fully function in a world outside the comforts of Davidson. Davidson did not teach me how to live a hard life.

I lived a luxurious life at Davidson. I had my own room with bathrooms that our dorm keeper took care of, meals cooked for me right when I wanted them, CVS near by, deadlines/ tasks/ expectations all clearly laid out for me right with the handout of a syllabus. Sure, I pulled all-nighters every month; sure, I didn’t always get the grades I wanted; sure, I was a part of way too many clubs… but these were all choices. Davidson afforded me choices and for the large part if I was unhappy about something I could make an effort to change it.

Life, on the other hand, just says “no” to most of your efforts and hands you a bag of ambiguity and other obstacles for you to delve through.

I wish Davidson had taught me how to simply “deal with it.” It sounds so much easier when reading and writing the words.

What I Wish I Had Learned in College

But it’s just harder in the real world (and, believe me, as I write this I’m realizing how much of a comfy life I’ve lived). Anywho, that’s just the professional setting, where I can’t just lounge in the Union pull an all-nighter when I want to and submit my work, but instead I am forced to sit on a wooden chair crank out some work for an undisclosed time with undisclosed specifications. It often times feel like I have no professional power and being President of XYZ club bears no weight on anything except… wait no, absolutely nothing.

Then there is my life outside of the office. I recently had a conversation with one of my housemates (also a Davidson 2013 grad) about our social lives at Davidson. It was a very structured social life. You knew where you where going to eat and with whom. You knew what times you had this and that meeting. You knew that you would probably goof around for X number of hours and then rush to complete an assigned reading. The weekend came and you partied the night/ morning away, slept in, went to Commons, went to the library.



It was relatively planned and known.

I have started a new life outside of Davidson and outside of the US and, for starters, I don’t even know what I like to do [on a budget]? I wish Davidson had afforded me the time to develop a hobby. For the past four years my interests consisted of sleeping on command during any available time, joking around with my friends in the dorms or in the Union, and writing lists upon lists upon lists of things I needed to get done.  But what do I like to do? Or maybe a more appropriate question is, who would I like to be?

At Davidson, I was a workaholic and I loved it and, for the most part, was relatively good at it. Some might ask, “well what did you do before Davidson?” Well, I was at a competitive boarding school and before that I was a Prep 9 student that conducted college prepatory classes starting at age 13. Complimented by my strict parents who wanted to be nothing other than a Doctor or lawyer, I had no life outside of school. I didn’t mind that at all to be honest. One thing I know for certain, I love to learn.

Nowadays, I guess I’m just learning how to be.