Jamaica Pouncy: On Travel, Personal & Professional Development, Part 2

Jamaica Pouncy was the National Fellowships Coordinator in LAUNCH and advisor for University Scholars from 2012-2016, and continued to work with our office on a part time basis through 2017. In the post below (part 2 of 2), she reflects on how travel and reflection on her professional goals led her to pursue a career abroad.

By Jamaica Pouncy –

I had been working as a fellowship advisor for three years when I began to feel the itch. After helping students to craft their applications and listen to their hopes and dreams I knew that I wanted to have a similar experience. I decided to apply for a fellowship. I sat down with Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek and we talked about my thoughts, what I hoped to accomplish, and how what I wanted to do could be beneficial both for myself and my position in the office.

It was a fascinating experience; first narrowing my plans from the nebulous idea of applying to a fellowship to and then figuring out how I would accomplish it. The shoe was on the other foot and I needed to understand the process from the inside out. I looked into fellowships that would fit with my goals and ultimately decided to apply for a few that seemed to match well. I drafted essay after essay; trying to be as harsh with my own writing as I am whenever I review someone else’s. I scoured the website, searching for all the little tips and guidelines that would help me make my application better. Then I submitted and crossed my fingers.

I was cautiously optimistic when I was invited for an interview and over the moon when I was selected for the Princeton in Asia program. My PiA supervisor suggested a post in northern China that I had never heard of and I said ‘sure.’ Throughout this process I had the support and encouragement of the LAUNCH office. They worried with me, celebrated with me and gave me the courage to go forward with this crazy plan. We even arranged for me to keep working for the university at a reduced capacity (talk to your supervisors about alternative work locations and flexible time schedules; you won’t regret it).

Jamaica Pouncy (left) with colleagues from Princeton in Asia

I arrived in China and, while overcoming culture shock, I learned how to juggle two different positions with different expectations and demands on my time. While I was in China I found that I loved the international life. There is something absolutely exhilarating about trying to figure out a new and different culture and understand your place in it. When I returned to A&M in July 2016 I talked to my supervisor about wanting to pursue a career abroad. Even as Dr. Datta and Dr. Kotinek acknowledged that my career path was moving further and further from our office, they supported my plans and told me they’d do whatever they could to help.

I began looking at positions abroad but I also started to think about ways that I could move forward in the field of fellowships advising. I wanted to be sure that I was exploring all my possibilities. I had submitted resumes for several positions at international schools abroad when I heard of a position in fellowships advising that was opening at Yale University. I debated applying; schools like Yale have such a reputation that sometimes they can seem almost “untouchable” but, ultimately, I submitted my application, interviewed, and was offered the position. I am so appreciative of my time at Yale as a reminder to never pigeonhole myself or decide that any opportunity is too good for me – no position or institution is out of my league. I moved to Connecticut and worked for Yale for six months but I simply could not shake my desire to be in an international position. When one of the openings I had applied for in China contacted me suddenly, I took it as a sign and decided to pack up my life once again, this time making a permanent move into an international career.

Realizing that I needed to make a major life move and that I only had two weeks within which to accomplish it was a scary thing. This was completely different from my Princeton in Asia experience – this was not temporary, no short-term jaunt of self-discovery and horizon-broadening; there was no safety net, no job to return to if things didn’t work out. I was walking out onto a limb and hoping with everything I had in me that it didn’t snap and send me falling to the ground. I’ll always be grateful to LAUNCH for providing the safety that they did during my Princeton in Asia experience but now I realize that I needed this – I needed to do something crazy and bold and different with no guarantee of success and no safety net. As much as I’ve preached the idea to my students, I needed to take the chance that I could try this out and seriously fail. Not the gentle failure of merely going back home to all things familiar, but the true sense of having to pick myself up, dust myself off, and deal with a failed career move. As I write this, I am still in the middle of that experiment, still standing out on that limb and looking at the ground. I don’t know if this will make me happy. I don’t know if this will be my life path. I just know that I would have regretted not taking the chance.

These past six years I’ve learned a lot about who I am; particularly how much, for me, my career impacts my sense of self and how important it is to me to see my personality reflected in my career choices. I’ve also learned to live in a completely “foreign” culture and that taught me a lot about life, expectations, and the different facets of my own personality. After traveling to see a bit of the world and growing and experiencing so many new things one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned is the importance of establishing a solid, trusting relationship with your supervisors and coworkers and of finding an employer that is willing to invest in you. I’ve come to believe that it is the truest and most trustworthy sign of belief in your potential and ability.

When I look back on my time with Princeton in Asia I find it fascinating that my job was willing to offer me the chance to take that opportunity; knowing full well that it could (and eventually did) lead me out the door and away from A&M. I didn’t have to resign to go after my dream and I didn’t have to worry that I needed to hide my plans from the people in my office; people I cared for and spent as much time with as I did with my family. I know that there are many places that would not have allowed me to go after that opportunity; that would have required that I pick, either ‘them’ or the fellowship.

My job at Texas A&M was my first fulltime position. I really didn’t know what to expect going into it. I had, after all, taken the job, sight unseen. My entire interview process had been carried out via telephone and Skype while I lived in Alabama. At that point I had a very general, vague notion of what it meant to have a fulltime job; a career. I would wear business casual, show up to work on time, and complete the tasks I was assigned. I would do these things and I would receive a paycheck. Simple enough.  But I had never thought about the idea of professional development: my office’s obligation to provide me with opportunities for growth and development.

I had never considered professional development or what it meant to invest in an employee. That’s why I was so fortunate to end up in our office. I couldn’t have asked for a better launching pad for my career.  I was surrounded by people who wanted to see me succeed. Who were interested in my ideas and saw my ability as more than something they could use but rather something that could be cultivated both for their and my benefit. So, I think that after all my adventures and travels, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is that, no matter what city, state, or country you find yourself in, it’s always going to be the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference.

Thank you, Dr. Kotinek and Dr. Datta. Thank you, LAUNCH. Thank you, Texas A&M University. Thank you all for being amazing people to be surrounded by and for helping me to have amazing, transformative experiences. Wherever life takes me, please know that you made this possible.

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