I recently moved to sunny San Diego, CA after living four fabulous years in Burlington, VT; and although the transition was difficult and as much as I will miss the fall foliage, I was really excited to meet all these new people in this brand new city! Moving back to California also meant moving closer to home, which meant weekend trips to see old friends and family. All very exciting, right? Right…until the inevitable question of, “So what is it again that you do?”
This question will forever haunt me – from the day I decided to pursue a career in student affairs to this past weekend when I saw my old college friends. Try explaining what student affairs is to your good friends and then try explaining it your parents who barely understand English! My Viet-glish only gets me so far in these situations and boy, let me tell you, it’s much more complicated than “I’m a doctor; I’m a lawyer; I’m an engineer.” So, this is an open letter to my Vietnamese immigrant parents who will probably never truly understand what student affairs is or what it is that I do, but if one day they could miraculously “get it” this is what I would say:
“Mom & Dad,
I work in student affairs. I’m not a doctor; not yet at least. I know the deal was that I got to move away for college to become a doctor, but we all know how that turned out. And then I was supposed to move back home after college, but again, we all know how that turned out. I chose to move to a state no one in Vietnam has ever even heard of, so that’s okay, you can tell your friends I moved to “New York” for graduate school – anything I can do to make you proud and to save some face for our family. So yea, I moved across the country to plan events.
But Mom & Dad, I want you to know that I do so much more than plan events for students. I don’t believe that student affairs is so much about what you do, but how and why you do it. Student affairs is about engagement and connection; it’s about turning your attention away from the computer screen for just a minute to make that eye contact with a student when they come in with a question. Student affairs is about mattering and marginality; it’s about helping that student find their purpose and helping them find their community through involvement and leadership. Student affairs is so much more than empowering our students; it’s about inspiring them to use the power they already have. In the very wise words of Kid President, my job is to “be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”
Mom & Dad, this is why I chose student affairs, and I have you to thank for all of it. Thank you for giving me the greatest gifts any child could ask for.”