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Rising Stars: A Globetrotter Takes on the World
AmeriCorps volunteer, wildland firefighter, PeaceCorps volunteer and Harvard Law student. All of these describe Rachel's experience to date. She says her amazing experiences were the product of her commitment to doing first things first.
Name: Rachel Boynton
School: BA - Doane College; JD - Harvard Law School
Major: International Studies & French
Years Out of College: 5-10
After graduating with my undergraduate diploma in May 1999, I joined AmeriCorps*NCCC, which is a full-time volunteer organization. I suppose it wasn't technically my first "job," since it was a volunteer program, but it was definitely my first post-college formative work experience. It was a 10-month program where I worked with a team of other volunteers between the ages of 18-24 on various short-term projects all along the East Coast. We were based out of Washington, D.C., and from there we traveled out and stayed at different sites for the duration of our various shorter-term projects. I was also on a team of wildland firefighters - we were all trained in firefighting at the beginning of our service and were on call in the case of fire. In total my team completed ten national service projects in five different states over the course of 10 months, including several wildland fires and a controlled burn.
Of course that didn't have much to do with either of my majors, which were French & International Studies. However, having spent a year abroad in France during my junior year, I came back to the U.S. with the feeling that I wanted to learn more about my own country before I went abroad again. I think that is part of what led me to join AmeriCorps*NCCC; I thought it would give me the chance to see a lot of different aspects of the U.S. and meet a diverse range of people. It was a great experience, but by the end I realized that I really loved being abroad and so decided to continue on with my educational volunteerism in the Peace Corps. There I spent the subsequent two years abroad in Penza, Western Russia, teaching English as a Foreign Language at a private university. It wasn't until I returned from that experience that I got what might be considered my first "real" job.
I would love to be in a job that has new challenges
every day. I want to have the kind of job where I couldn't
tell you what happened in a "typical day," because there
wouldn't be one. I am aiming for a dynamic job in
international law which is located abroad. I don't want to
think about it more specifically than that, because I know
that I could be happy doing a lot of different things, as
long as the environment is right.
Did I Ever Think I'd End
I definitely think that I could end up working abroad at a dynamic job in international law. But I'm not too worried about it if I don't - I always accept that my priorities and goals could change depending on what life throws at me. There might be something better in store for me that I haven't even thought of yet."
There isn't really any one particular piece of specific advice that has stayed with me over the years. I like the classic pieces of general inspirational advice that always seem to ring true for me, and which you could probably find on posters and in childhood classic books. The Little Engine That Could was my favorite book as far back as I can remember. I know it must sound silly, but I really believe that a can-do attitude has brought me a long way.
As for specific pieces of advice, I have come to realize that most of the specific advice I have received falls into one of two categories. The first category is the advice which tells you that there is only one possible path you can take to achieve your goals. The second category of advice acknowledges that there are many ways of going about achieving your goals, and that no two paths can be the same. Of course people tend to give you advice based on their personal experiences and knowledge, but that is different from asserting that one way is the only way.
In general, I try to ignore absolutes, because truly there are no absolutes when you are talking about something as individual and personal as life choices, like your education and your career. Something that may not have worked for 50 other people can still work for you - making it happen is up to you. If I had listened to all the times I heard "can't" or "must" along the way, I wouldn' be where I am today. Of course that doesn't mean I'm not realistic or practical - I just try to prioritize what's important to me even if it's not conventional. I've definitely encountered too much undue attention to conventionality and predictability.
I wouldn't do anything differently - all the things I have experienced, whether directly related to where I am now or not, have led me to where I am.? This includes all of the times I felt like I was floundering, and wasn't sure of where I was going next - that's always been the starting point for me to realize that it was time to pull myself together and move forward.
If I had to give advice to a student starting on a similar path (that is, to law school), it's to take their time getting here, and to never make their choices on what they perceive as limitations. Law school opens a lot of doors and possibilities, but it's also a professional school which aims to put people on career tracks. If there's something you've always wanted to do first, take the time to do it first. I remember when I got back from Peace Corps, so many people said to me, "Wow, that's so great - I always wanted to do that." So I would ask them why they didn't do it, and they usually told me it was because they were too afraid to lose two years from their career path. That is hard for me to fathom now after having worked for a few years. I'm going to be 31 when I graduate from law school, and I wouldn't want to have it any other way. Work experience is a valuable thing, but to this day the first thing people ask me about on my resume is my Peace Corps experience - and I finished that in 2002. I've got enough conventional work experience that I could easily leave it off and still have a full resume, but employers seem impressed, even though it's never been directly related experience. I think it also makes my resume stand out amongst others, and can even help make my interview more memorable. I hate to think that some people were in such a hurry that they not only missed out on a life-changing experience, but they also missed out on it for the wrong reasons."
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