Hounds with Purpose is a space for alumni to share their stories of purpose and vocational engagement beyond their years at Assumption. This blog is created by the Center for Purpose and Vocation and the Career Development and Internship Center (CDIC) to better connect students and alumni through experiential storytelling.
A Mixtape for Vocation
By Isabella Camasura ’18
Part I. “Young Blood” by Noah Kahan
The best stories to me are the unpredictable ones. Skywalker finds out Darth Vader was his father; Prince Hans left Ana to freeze to death; and any Scooby Doo production. Though it is not always to someone’s benefit, real-life plot twists are just as unquestionably riveting (think, when the beat drops in a song, or the Astros being caught stealing signs).
Moreover, the twists and turns of life’s stories remind me of good music and great playlists: sometimes there are moments of ritardando, or slowing down. Other times, the pace goes through accelerando, or a quickening. Discerning my vocation over the past few years has captured both these types of moments, and so there are some songs that have come forward to represent key points in my story. For example, in the song “Young Blood” by Noah Kahan, there are lines that go:
And if you want I can tell the truth
That this life takes a toll on you…
Rub your eyes, be surprised, keep hungry
The realization that I could and would change my major and career path (a big deal if you are a first-generation Asian-American) was a wake-up call that required me to rub my eyes and readjust my outlook. I changed my major and career path when I was a sophomore, precisely when I was in my first SOPHIA (Sophomore Initiative at Assumption) class. Professor John Hodgen instructed the class to sit in a circle to share our answers one-by-one to two questions: What are you good at? and What is your vocation?
At the time, I had just wrapped up being an Orientation Leader, my first experience of feeling like I could make a difference in my community. During the next two and a half years at Assumption, I devoured every chance I could get to explore any realm of student affairs and higher education. Leadership positions, internships, interviewing campus figureheads like Dr. Conway Campbell and Dr. Louise Carroll Keeley, and getting advice from staples like Professor Lucia Knoles. To me, I was slowly realizing an increasingly clearer picture. My vocation was to pursue and attain a career in student affairs because it brought me joy, and it allowed me to bring joy to others.
I was researching different masters programs across the country by junior year. I wanted to be more than book-smart, so I looked for programs that required practicums or assistantships as a part of graduation—a sure-fire way to get practical experience beyond theory. Meanwhile, I went on the Campus Ministry service SEND Camden trip for a second time in the winter and on the SEND Pine Ridge the following summer. These are week-long service and immersion excursions to various sites across the country. I was in the company of gem-like peers on these service trips, serving the most deserving of communities.
When it came time to make my opening remarks as the Student Chairperson of Orientation 2017, I told our incoming students and their families, “I knew as an underclassman, I wanted to serve as many people as there are stars in the sky. My legacy is based on not just what I want, but what the world needs. There are millions of stars in the Midwestern sky, just like there are millions of people to serve. My goal has always been to shoot for the moon, but through service, I’ve exceeded that; I’ve landed among the stars.”
It was true. The idea of doing a year of service began to sprout. What am I good at? What is my vocation? It was okay if there was more than one answer, and if I didn’t know of them yet.
October of my senior year, I was half-heartedly applying to graduate schools. One day when I was at the gym, I received an email from the Career Development and Internship Center (CDIC) about a teaching abroad opportunity through a program called Meddeas. I put down my dumbbells and instead weighed the two opportunities: to learn, or to teach? The fact that I was even considering anything besides the former helped me to realize that I had time and space to grow outside of the classroom. I knew, head to heart, that graduate school could wait.
Within a few months, I applied to Meddeas, made it through three rounds of interviews, and was offered a position in southwestern Madrid. Senior year was reaching the finish line, and I needed a change of pace, scenery, and type of challenge, so I gave a hearty “yes” to the chance to do so. Besides, most the graduate schools that I applied to placed me in their Waitlist. It was if the cosmos agreed that I needed to be somewhere else.
When I walked across graduation’s stage at the DCU Center, I carried the pride of my family and the uncertainty of this adventure on my shoulders. But smiled, I did. Talk about a plot twist.
Part II. “Optimista” by Caloncho
That autumn, I set out to Spain. This would be my first time travelling on my own, and to Europe nonetheless, but the whole commitment was somehow characteristically me: a handful of spontaneity, a dash of purpose, and a behind-your-back pinch of too-clueless-to-realize-I-was-deep-down-terrified. I moved to a suburban pueblo and was greeted by my host family with hugs and drawings. A sense of family and belonging were just what I needed in order to do what I never thought I would with my Writing and Communications degree: teach English. It was altogether the kind of riveting adventure I wanted in my life story: a sunny country, a different culture, and a fresh start. This sparked an overwhelming sense of optimism at the beginning of the school year. The song “Optimista” by Caloncho can illustrate this:
Tratando de entender al tiempo… Trying to understand the time
Intento poner en mi realidad… I try to put into my reality
El sueño de experimentar… The dream of experimenting…
Todo bien, al cien… is all good, 100%
At school, I served that role as the native speaker, or language assistant, for secundaria—seventh to twelfth graders. However, for the first week, the school was still waiting to be sent a language assistant for primaria, or first to sixth graders. To fill the presumable priority, I covered primaria that week. Picture a person who is socially awkward with young children trying to talk to them about the only vocabulary they knew: days of the week, months, and colors. I was not in my element. I even wore heels to “assert my dominance,” viz. hide my quandary.
They were luckily able to fill the position by the following week (just in time, as I was running out of ice breakers). Maggie was from London and had the perfect air of enthusiasm and sense of humor to work with children. I moved upstairs to be with the older students with visible relief and eagerly jumped on my lesson plans and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification assignments. My favorite days and weeks were the ones when I was given the freedom to lead discussions and activities on anything. These were the times a familiar sense of creativity from being a Resident Assistant and Orientation Leader arose. I came up with activities for holidays and real-world topics. For Thanksgiving, I tried bringing in typical American food items. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we examined his “I Have a Dream” speech. For April Fool’s, I showed them a video of flying penguins. We did museum walks with photographs and paintings I printed out, talked about environmental conscientiousness, and wrote notes of encouragement to every classroom in the school.
In full disclosure, there were times when I was unhappy with my job. The days when students did not listen to direction or when my supervisor was not giving me feedback were met with an immediate nap when I got home with mi familia. Self-care manifested into playing with mis hermanos, watching movies with mi madre, travelling across the continent on weekends, and going out with Maggie.
More than anything, the meaningful conversations I was able to have with the more fluent secundaria, or “high school,” students gave me joy, especially the ones who were of the same age as what is equivalent to high school upperclassmen. They disclosed their musings about philanthropy and poverty. They shared their aspirations after secundaria. They said “hi teacher” to me in the hallways and “bye teacher” at the end of the day.
By April, Maggie and I were in the teachers’ lounge applying to jobs. I muddled over those two motif-like questions. What am I good at? What is my vocation? Teaching in a Spanish high school reaffirmed my fervor for supporting students about to go to college. They questioned life and were both excited and uncertain about their futures, much like I was when I was their age and even when I graduated from Assumption. In short, I applied to ten jobs in student affairs ranging from residential life to admissions. Out of those ten, I landed interviews with two, then was ultimately offered one of those positions. Similar to how my graduate school outcomes unraveled, I trusted that I was called to be at a certain place at this specific time.
By May, I accepted a position in Worcester to work in undergraduate admissions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Though my students and my host family were sad I had to leave, I know I brought and left behind all the love I could. It came in forms of late-night lesson planning, time shared after school and on the weekends, and farewell letters to them all.
Touching down in the JFK Airport was both the falling action to that era and the exposition to a new story. Three weeks later, I made my pilgrimage back to Worcester.
Part III. “Wait for It” by Leslie Odom, Jr. from Hamilton
After 6 months, I am halfway through my first cycle of admissions. When I was visiting high schools in the fall, I met other admissions counselors as well as high school guidance counselors who were formally on the admissions side. I constantly heard this idea that admissions is either a 3 or 30 year vocation. And to tell the truth, I am not sure where I will fall on that coin. I continue to reflect on my future despite being content with my current position: What am I good at? What is my vocation?
Admissions fulfills all joys and callings that I learned I have over the past few years: being on the move, exploring places, and discovering other life stories. Though my roles may change in the future, those vocations will hold true. It isn’t the conclusion that I thought would materialize, and it certainly took time and energy to realize it, but I have grown comfortable with the idea that it is okay there is no cemented plan or plot. As in the song “Wait for It” sung by Leslie Odom, Jr. in the musical Hamilton:
I’m willing to wait for it
I am the one thing in life I can control
I’m not falling behind or running late
Sometimes the uncertainty bubbles up. When that happens, the optimistic, wiser side of me remembers what someone observed in my SOPHIA class: “Vocation isn’t just a career. It can be discerning to be a parent, or about your spiritual path.” Vocation is all facets of what I want to satisfy my soul, and so it is not one lone thing.
Oh, and the answer to what I am good at? Being with people. It’s the gift that ties to my vocations of moving, exploring, and discovering. It’s the gift that was the backbone of my joyful experiences over the past few years: involving myself on campus, participating in service trips, teaching in Spain, and now counseling students and families. By being with people, my story continues to be unpredictable as well as a part of my communities’ collective stories. That is what makes my story the best.
Isabella Camasura is an Admissions Counselor in Undergraduate Admissions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.