How are Singapore and my affinity for writing linked?
Before this last week, the only thing I really knew about Singapore was that you couldn’t chew gum there. And that some idiot American got himself caned for, well, being an idiot. But the chewing gum thing is part of a story I’ve told often, but never to the person actually responsible, about the small moment that changed the way I thought about writing (in a crazy good way).
When I decided to major in PR for my undergrad, I got lucky that it fell under the school of journalism. Because, as it turns out, I’m really into writing. But then, I didn’t really know that. I thought that PR agents were these posh, sexy boss b!#@h women who got to do amazing marketing things, stand up for brands that need a voice and in general, do cool stuff.
Fast forward to school. Holy crap I had to take a lot of writing classes. Which was fine – I had always done well with writing in high school, so while I didn’t see how they were going to turn me into the PR goddess I had envisioned, I didn’t really mind.
Then I took the mandatory Writing for Public Relations course. How boring does that sound, right? Well, TBH, it kind of was. But, there’s also a reason I didn’t continue down the PR path – after school, it didn’t seem like the flash, fun, sexy career I had imagined. However, this class changed me. Well, not the class, but the professor – the now Dr. Tricia Farwell.
On the first day, when you would typically just receive your syllabus and head out, she told us that we had a quick assignment. It wouldn’t be graded and it didn’t really matter, but it would really help her with how to structure the class for the semester. She wanted to get a sense for everyone’s current writing skill level and style. So before we could leave with our freshly pressed syllabuses in hand, we first had to write.
I want you to write something about Singapore. It doesn’t matter how long, or what about. It won’t be graded. I’m just trying to get a sense for where everyone is at, so I know where we’re going to start.*
*kind of a quote, but I’m remembering back to college, so forgive me if I got a word or seven wrong
All I knew about Singapore at the time was that you couldn’t chew gum there. And this was a time in college when you didn’t have 14 devices with you at any given point to access Google, so I decided to go with it. Who cares, right? It’s not graded. So I wrote up my few pages on anti-bubble-gum-Singapore, turned it in, and headed off to die in the heat that is ASU campus.
The next class we got right into writing topics with full vigor. As we were dismissed, the professor asked me to stay back. She wanted to talk to me about what I wrote. Crap. She probably thinks that I didn’t take the first day’s assignment seriously because I wrote about bubble gum. Way to go Jessica! In trouble on the first day. That’s a new record.
I prepared myself for the hit. But then I was surprised. She told me she loved it. I had a unique voice. Reading it felt like I was there just telling her a story. She liked my style and my voice and wanted to make sure I knew it. She said it was different and special and wanted to make sure that academia didn’t pound it out of me. She asked if it would be ok if she took extra interest in helping me with finding and nurturing my voice. She recommended a few authors to check out, because their voices were different and special too.
That moment, that little conversation, changed the way I look at writing. At my writing.
She took an interest. She cared. She went above and beyond what’s in the job description, saw an opportunity to nurture, and did. I always knew that I was a pretty ok writer, mainly because I got way better grades than my friends while putting in WAY less effort (which did NOT make me popular). But I always thought of it as a yawn. How many times do we have to write the same paper? It might be a different subject, but the whole process and structure were boringly the same.
Wait, you mean I can write about what I want? And I can use my own style, not some predetermined structure that we all learn in high school? And still be successful? College, you’ve blown my mind!
So many people want to have the education versus travel conversation, and I don’t see why we’re pitting them against each other. Education is valuable. Travel is valuable. We learn from the people we meet, the things that we see, the emotions we feel and the experiences we have, and none of that happens in a pre-determined setting. I think what is the most important is approaching either or both with a thirsty mind. And finding the combination and sequence that is best and most impactful for you. Taking the path of undergrad/job/masters and then travel is working for me. I think that I am a savvier traveler for it, and that I am getting more out of my travel because of it. If I had traveled this way earlier, I honestly don’t believe it would have as much value.
I hate to say it, but my parents were right; when I non-stop begged for them to let me go on the high school trip to England, France, Switzerland and Italy, they told me I was too young to appreciate it. But I didn’t care. All of my friends were older and would be graduating and in my mind, I would never have an opportunity like that again, so I didn’t care if I was too young. Looking back, it turns out, I was. It was an amazing trip and I have great memories and stories, but nothing in those two weeks has impacted me so profoundly as even some of the most menial of moments on this trip. My bad. I’m sure you finally gave in because I was annoying AF about it, and for that, I thank you.
Since that day in my writing class, I’ve learned a lot more about writing. About my voice and style. And about Singapore, oddly enough. But that is the moment I conjure when people ask about writing – how I knew, when I knew, how I decided to get better. I’ve got a long way to go still, but this will forever resonate as the moment that I decided to like writing, because I could do it my way, and still be successful.
Thank you Tricia. Thank you to all the educators who take the time to care. To nurture. You may never know how many Singapore-bubble-gum moments you are giving away, but keep it up anyway.