Misconceptions of an English Major

It has come to my attention that I really must dispel some rumors that have been circulating about English majors. After extensive research and first hand experience I offer these thoughts about what it means to have received the highly prestigious and incredibly practical degree of a Bachelors of Arts in English.

Not all English Majors . . .

1) want to become teachers. And if someone asks me one more time if that is what I want for a career, I will have trouble responding politely.

2) sepll eveyting corect and alway say prefect grammer. So the next time I have a typo in an email or say “I” instead of “me,” please don’t remind me what I spent four years studying at college.

3) can successfully complete any crossword puzzle. In fact, I’ve had crossword puzzle tutors and spent plenty of bored hours at various jobs attempting to become better and it’s still a struggle. Even the puzzle in the Jackson Hole Daily was challenging, but I’ll let you know when I complete one in the Sitka Daily Sentinel.

4) have read all the classics. I have never started, let alone finished, A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Do you think less of me?

5) perfectly understand Shakespeare. And let’s be honest, I never read Shakespeare that I didn’t have the SparkNotes website open on my computer to read the watered down version of 15 lines I just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out.

6) appreciate and comprehend all poetry. Don’t even get me started on Emily Dickinson.

So I hope that helps clear up any confusion. And just for the record, yes, I have worked odd jobs, volunteered, and been unemployed at various times since graduation 🙂

Culture Clash

When was the last time you wore fisherman boots at a hip-hop concert performed by a Native Alaskan? Oh really, you’ve never done that? Well, on Friday night I found myself in that exact scenario. And while I listened to “Half Smoked,” a local Sitka rapper who is the son of one of my co-workers, with a fog machine on stage and green lasers shooting around the room, I couldn’t help but think of a few recent culture clashes I have found myself in.

I joked with people before I came to Sitka that I was trying to experience the greatest culture shock while remaining in the same country. But honestly, with globalization who really needs such a drastic geographical relocation to find interwoven cultural experiences and expressions?

Perhaps one of my favorite activities during my time at Jubilee was when we took the refugees to a University of Georgia gymnastics meet against UCLA. I personally had never been to a gymnastics meet, especially not one of a NCAA national championship team, so the fireworks and fanfare at a gymnastics meet were quite unexpected. Obviously, the best part though, was experiencing it with the refugees. Walking into a huge sports arena, mingling among other spectators, and watching the ridiculous flips, spins, and jumps became all new to me as I tried to imagine what it must be like to see it through their eyes. How ludicrous and overwhelming must it all have seemed?

There were also so many moments when the Karen and Karenni refugees blended with southern American culture and I observed it all with my northwest perspective and I honestly had to laugh in total amazement at the whole scene. I definitely had one of those moments when I attended a wedding for two of the refugees held in a small white Southern Baptist church in rural Georgia. How do all those elements come together? Of course, it isn’t really a “white church,” but there certainly wasn’t much integration among the local white and black communities. The wedding was performed in both languages, a hymn and Karen songs were sung, and the church was packed with refugees, Jubilee folks, and the usual church-goers. The church ladies went straight to work after the ceremony getting the potluck dishes ready downstairs in the fellowship hall while the Karen performed a bamboo dance outside. I texted my friend Sharif telling him a few details of the event, and he responded, “Bamboo dancing at a wedding in Georgia? You lead quite the life, Liz.”

And it would seem as though Friday’s hip-hop concert only proves that statement to be true once again, which was, of course, topped-off by Saturday night’s activity of attending a wildlife cruise! (Seriously, I just feel like a jerk bragging right now, this is what happens when you volunteer, you get to do cool things and go amazing places!). My entire house of JVs got to join in on the fun since it was a fundraiser for Big Brother Big Sisters where one of my housemates works. We first journeyed just offshore to see sea otters and bald eagles. But things got really interesting when we went all the way to St. Lazaria Island (a former wildlife refuge) where we saw puffins! And then . . .  (yes, it kept getting better) we boated out to open water to see humpback whales!!!!! AMAZING, totally amazing!! It was a perfect night on the water and ranked right up with the African sarafi in Botswana in terms of wildlife experiences/encounters. Pictures will be coming (to prove I’m not making this up!).

Before starting the second week of work on Monday, two of my housemates who were taken out fishing on Sunday afternoon walked in with six salmon, which were promptly cleaned in our kitchen sink and one of them cooked for dinner. It simply does not get more fresh than that. They were just pink salmon, however, and I am learning that just like the wine snobs in the Napa Valley, there are fish snobs here in Sitka. Our friend Tyler, who took them fishing, won’t even eat pink salmon but reserves his efforts only for the King Salmon. For now, we’ll take pink, but perhaps in a year my tastes will be more refined.

Among all the consumption of great salmon, attendance at hip hop concerts, and viewing of wildlife, I have jumped into my second week of work, getting to know co-workers better, going to hear cases in court (which so far has been super interesting!), getting more training, and generally learning the many elements of what it takes to run a shelter, provide support for women in crisis, and what exactly an “advocate” does. Yes, I realize that was a long, drawn-out sentence, that’s why it captures the essence of what I’ve been up to! Time is already moving along quickly and like everyone else, I’m sure next August I’ll be asking, “Where did the year go?” I’ve mentioned to several friends that I’m excited to see what stories I’m telling in November, March, July as I watch the year unfold and another set of friendships and a new community develop.

Thank you again for the comments, love, and support.

Rainy Southeastern Alaska

Might as well go with the same themed titles for now, but here’s a few things we did to enjoy the weather when it was actually SUNNY:

Friday: All-house hike up Gavan Hill (which should actually be called Mt. Gavan, but I guess it’s no McKinley. Apparently standards are different in Alaska) with FJV–former JV–Nick, from last year. It could also be called “Stair Mountain” as I’ve never climbed that many constructed wooden steps on a trail before. Mostly, I’m just glad I’m not the one who built them, but I’m happy to climb them! It got the blood pumping in the legs for sure, gave us our first arial view of Sitka and the surrounding terrain, and also helped us all realize that perhaps my idea of a hike is not the same as my housemates 🙂 (Two summers in the Tetons and expectations change, ya know?). But all in all, it was great bonding, a beautiful day on the trail, and what’s better than a beer and an ice pack on your knee after a hike anyway?!

Saturday: FARMERS MARKET! Excellent market, much bigger than I expected, even got fresh produce and saw Kambucha being made! (it was like being back at Jubilee . . . eh, ok not quite). Market followed by afternoon BOAT RIDE! It was beautiful on Saturday and a local who is always friends with the JVs offered to take two of us out to go fishing. I took the opportunity to ask him as many questions as I could about fishing, the fishing industry, etc. (I may or may not come back wearing a pair of waders). Our new buddy, Tyler, had set a long line the day before, so we went out to see if any halibut were interested enough to grab on. Unfortunately, they weren’t, so our fishing trip turned into random exploration/beach combing (def: finding trash/treasures on the beaches of secluded islands) trip. It was AWESOME. Beautiful views EVERYWHERE (look at the photos!), good company with new friends, and two amazing dogs on board. Yes, I will be getting a golden retriever one day.

Sunday: Woke up with semi-sore legs, mass at St. Gregory’s, walked out of church only to realize that it was WAY too beautiful outside to catch up on my computer to-do list at the library that afternoon. Called new local friend and expert hiker, Matt, to ask for hike recommendation/invite him to join Gina and me for an afternoon jaunt. Feeling somewhat ambitious (me and Gina, not Matt, this hike was a stroll for him) we set out to hike to the top of Mt. Verstovia. It was an excellent hike. Matt said we passed the most people on the trail he’d ever seen (though it seemed pretty normal to me), and it was also the hottest day of the year. Locals said that if it stayed that hot and sunny for too long, people would start to complain. It was low-mid 70s(!?!). Made it to the top of Picnic Rock, decided that we would wait to summit Arrowhead a different day since we have all year to make it to the top, didn’t want to completely wear out the legs before we made it back to the car. Ate lots of wild blueberries and huckleberries along the trail. YUM.

Monday: RAIN. The honeymoon ends. We all started work, finally!

My housemate Jackie and I are working together at the shelter. Mostly we’ve been observing, learning, and asking lots of questions. I’m learning a lot from the other advocates and our “official” training starts Saturday. I even got to go sit and watch court yesterday, which I was incredibly fascinated by, even though the case we were there for wasn’t even reviewed. I have a lot to learn, but already I can see how I will get in a rhythm eventually and I think really enjoy the work. We survived our first staff meeting today and I’m beginning to remember what it’s like to work 40 hours a week. I’ve been (f)unemployed for long enough and I started to forget what that schedule felt like!

I’m really glad to be in a place where there are many tourists who stop by for an afternoon off the cruise ship, but that I’m not one of them. Just like my time in Jackson Hole, I’m in a special place, a place where many people pay a lot of money to visit, but I get to live here! Unlike my time in Jackson Hole though, I’m getting a glimpse of life outside the tourist sector, hearing the stories (very difficult ones already) of people who have lived here their whole lives or who have showed up here for help, not for fun. One of the main deciding factors when pursuing JVC in Alaska was that I wanted to be in a new, beautiful, exciting place, but I didn’t want to be there for the same reasons I went to Grand Teton. I wanted to do work I cared about (selling moose napkins and elk mugs does NOT qualify) and to see, hear about, experience the lives people live here that aren’t visible from a one-day, one-week, one-month visit. I’ll try to refrain from going on a complete social justice tangent currently, as I’m sure there will be plenty more of that to come this year.

We continue to meet lots of very welcoming people as the new JVs in town (and still enjoy the occasional free meal) with lots of invitations to hike, fish, and basically go on whatever random adventures people are off on. The weather may feel like October currently, but it still feels like a bit of a vacation. I know that feeling won’t last too much longer, so I’m savoring the newness of it all while I still can.

Thanks to all who are following along and sharing in the excitement with me.

Sunny Southeastern Alaska

Yesterday it was scientifically proven that it is in fact possible to get sunburned in Alaska. My face is the evidence as it is bright pink.

But more importantly, that means it was SUNNY yesterday, and obviously I spent the entire day outside enjoying it! (Sorry, I really never thought the sun shining would make the top news on my blog, but I’m just too excited). After arriving on Saturday evening, we finally saw the tops of the mountains on Thursday morning and were briefly transported back to our summer days in the lower 48 (“the South” as it’s referred to here. Whoever thought Washington State would be called “the South?”). At 7 a.m. yesterday I wasn’t sure why I woke up so early and easily, but I quickly realized that our room was BRIGHT with sun flooding in our window! BEAUTIFUL doesn’t quite capture how amazing the scenery is here. My prediction of what I would do when the sun came out was pretty accurate, except I didn’t skip on the docks and wave to fishermen, but I most certainly took a bizillion photos. They will be up on Flickr as soon as I figure out my computer/camera issues.

My housemates and I have basically been enjoying an entire week of vacation here in Sitka before we all begin work/training on Monday. We are definitely still in the honeymoon phase of our time here, and we’re loving the chance to relax after orientation last week, sleep a little later than normal, and enjoy Sitka without work yet. Cruise ships have been in every day since Tuesday (basically doubling the size of town), so we’re mingling with the tourists a bit. I am not kidding you, yesterday there was a cruise in town that was for Twilight fans. They all had matching sweatshirts on that said something like “Twilight Fans Alaska Cruise.” I just looked it up online and apparently this was a BIG deal:


Sure enough, their itinerary online shows that they were schedule to be in Sitka yesterday. I’m so honored to have mingled among them. Yikes . . .

On Tuesday night, we met a local our age(ish) who LOVES to hike and is always friends with the JVs who come to town. We mentioned that we were interested in hiking and he called at 8:45 Wednesday morning to extend an invitation for that afternoon. So, all six of us headed out on our first hike in Alaska! We went to the beautiful Herring Cove and hiked back to Beaver Lake. All in all, it was about 5 miles, nothing too strenuous, but a really beautiful way to start off here. We also have hiking invitations for this afternoon and tomorrow if we so desire. Mostly, I’m just really pumped to be back on the trail after recovering from my MCL tear, so any hike is great!

We have also continued to be ridiculously welcomed to town throughout the week. When we returned from our hike on Wednesday afternoon a former JV had left homemade oatmeal butterscotch cookies on our dining room table, and later that night another girl gave us fresh chocolate chip scones. We have done absolutely nothing to deserve any of this, but we are walking into a 20 year reputation of JVs being in Sitka who have been greatly loved and appreciated. Since Alaska is where JVC started in 1956 (and has since become an international organization), JVC has deep roots here and the JVs are highly valued. I think I can say for our entire house, that we are honored to be here and humbled by the welcome we have received.

Three other tidbits:

1) NPR in Alaska (at least in Sitka) is NOT like other places. There is far more bluegrass music playing than I have heard on any other NPR station, with news reported only occasionally. Haven’t they heard of Morning Edition? Why is a country song playing at 8:30a.m.?! Since there are three radio stations to choose from, I’m not sure I have many other options. The country/bluegrass morning music combo proves to me that Alaska has a bit more of a “southern” flavor than I anticipated. More thoughts on that later.

2) I showed my JVC house the film Red Gold (made by Felt Soul Media in 2008) which is about the proposed Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay. I learned of this film through a friend at Gonzaga, but thought it would be fun to watch upon our arrival in Alaska since we are trying to learn more about the nature/environmental issues/wildlife of the area. My housemates loved it, and I REALLY recommend this film to everyone (especially if you want to feel very informed and intelligent). It’s only an hour, it’s really well done, and it gives a really beautiful and fascinating glimpse into the lives of Alaskans and the fishing/mining industry. Seriously, it’s good . . . go watch it!

3) Last night we got home to another message from our hiking buddy saying that there was a meteor shower and he invited us all to join his friends to watch it. We didn’t want to hike back too far onto a trail (bears are plentiful this time of year) for it to be dark, so based on their local recommendation we all headed to the “National Cemetery” in town where the stars were visible. A group of about 12 of us headed into the darkness, laid down on the road, and enjoyed watching the meteor shower for a while. Then a car came around the road and the driver told us he was looking for a bear that was reported in the area. Two police cars followed him and came around the road as well. Rather than getting nervous, we got excited because our new favorite thing here is to read the Sitka Police Blotter in the Daily Sitka Sentinel. The reports are hilarious, and we can only hope to make it in one day! A couple days ago, the reported crime was that someone stopped in a man’s garden, picked his raspberries, both the red and the green ones, and then trampled his potatoes on his way out. When police arrived he was gone. Needless to say, when the police arrived in the cemetery, we thought that maybe our hopes of appearing in the police blotter were coming true since our crime was almost as good as stealing red and green raspberries! All they did was tell us to go home because we were on government property after dark. So we all headed back, satisfied with our meteor viewing, and hoping to see our incident in the paper tonight!

Obviously we’re off to a great start here in Sitka! Thanks to all who are following along.

Foggy Southeastern Alaska

Back at the library again, close to the water but unable to see more than about 200 feet off the shore. I can’t say I’ve ever been to a library where I’ve watched fish jumping out of the water and eagles flying by. But maybe that’s because I just hadn’t come to the library in Sitka yet! Despite the fog, boats are cruising around, kayakers are out, and the cruise ship that showed up this morning fades in and out of view. The cruise ship has brought a much different feel to town today as it’s the first time we’ve really seen Sitka in action with tourists. There are people walking all over town, but prior to today the streets seemed pretty quiet and we were all beginning to wonder if we had actually arrived during tourist season.

We’ve been here three days, gotten more settled in, seen more of the town and met lots more people. Last night we joined the former JVs from last year in Sitka and three from Anchorage who were visiting to have a little party. We’ve been asking them tons of questions and have enjoyed hearing about their year. We went down to Totem Park today and watched as the salmon were returning to the Indian River to spawn. We have yet to see the mountains that surround town and the picturesque Mt. Edgecumbe across the water. I’m confident that the first day that’s clear, I will go frolicking around town with my camera, skipping along the docks, waving to the fisherman, and shouting with joy (all in that order). Ok, maybe not. But I will be  very excited to see this place in a new light (sunlight that is). During our strolls through town we’ve tried to meet some of the locals and as soon as we introduce ourselves as the new JVs in town we get a much different response than we would being the average tourist. Yesterday we made friends with the guys who work at Harry’s Soda Shop/Pharmacy, tried to get free ice cream, enjoyed general banter. It’s quite interesting being six girls who are all new to town, but we’re sticking together and enjoying exploring and discovering it all as a crew. Currently, my housemate Gina is rewriting the lyrics of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” to be “Alaska Gurls” and we’re considering performing it for the local talent show when they begin again in the fall. We will be accepting applications for anyone interested in being the guest rapper in place of Snoop Dogg.

Tomorrow we will be even further welcomed into the community with a potluck at the church with our JVC support people and we will make our visit to the agency where two of my housemates are working. Yesterday and today we visited the other agencies, the one where I will work, and two others where my other housemates will work. We are all excited for our placements and begin work on Monday!

My housemate Holly and I are off to check out the gym before dinner. Summer feels like long ago, as it’s a bit of a different world up here so far. One local said today that if we can make it through October, we will be able to survive a full year here. Then she added that October can last anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. Ha! So I guess we’ll just see how much stamina we have 🙂

Arrival in Sitka

Ok, after months of talking about it, I’m officially in Alaska! And let’s be honest, it feels like October in Seattle. After a journey from Portland to Seattle to Ketchikan (where we celebrated getting to Alaska with an Alaskan Amber at the airport during our layover!), we arrived in Sitka last night to 8-9 cheering supporters welcoming us to the one room/gate airport. I’ve flown into several different airports, but I honestly felt like we were making a water landing. So far, it’s pretty surreal to be here. I’ve been incredibly tired since arriving (which might have something to do with the 5 hours of sleep in the meadow on the last night at orientation that we got when we slept outside to watch the meteor shower). We’ve walked around a good portion of town, went to the Catholic church this morning where we were introduced and welcomed, and tried to get a general feel for the land. From what I can tell so far, Sitka feels to me like the San Juan Islands meets Astoria, Oregon meets Jackson, Wyoming. I’ve been here just now 24 hours so that’s just my initial impression and I’m sure it will change as time continues. Right now I’m sitting in the library where there is free wi-fi and two fishing boats are cruising by on the water that is about 30 feet out the door. For those of you in Seattle, it’s like having a library at Golden Gardens. It is really beautiful here with the water, even when it is gray, but we’re all excited to see the mountains around when the sun comes out. We don’t have to start work until a week from tomorrow, so for this week, we get the chance to get organized, acquainted, and familiar with all that is so new!

It’s funny to think that this time a week ago, I hadn’t even met my housemates that are now my only friends here with me. Last Monday, the six of us met at JVC: Northwest orientation where we spent 5 days learning about the values of JVC, meetings tons of new people (most of whom we will not see throughout the year), and generally preparing to head off to our year of service. I should know by now that orientation in general, no matter what it’s for, is a time of awkward excitement and anticipation. I’ve said many times before that there is no amount of money you could pay me to relive freshman orientation at GU. However, I don’t quite feel that way about JVC orientation even though it was a lot of people to meet and information to process all at one time. I enjoyed as many moments as possible in the meadow in the sun knowing that my tan would quickly fade once I got here 🙂 And for those of you who got to see the fashion show, the new raincoat is working out wonderfully!

For now, we’re headed back home for dinner. More to come as I learn much much more this week!