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.