Viewpoint: Chance encounter leads to unforeseen passion for culture

By Lela Atwood

How do I even begin putting the pieces together?

As a graduating senior, I long so much to write an article that shares my experiences with freshmen. Yet my mind is tied in a knot. How do I even begin to convey my unique story of pain, triumph and unexpected twists along the way?

Entering as a freshman, I thought I had my life figured out. After enjoying success as a columnist while in high school, I chose to major in journalism. I had this great plan of the focused path I would follow from getting a position on a Baylor publication, to aspiring to eventually becoming president of a professional journalism group on campus.

Then life cut into my dance with journalism. Through a series of events, I discovered to my astonishment that becoming a journalist was not my calling. The fast-paced atmosphere of the newsroom stressed me out. The process of constantly tracking down people who had no desire to talk to me was unnerving. I found my dream slipping free from my fingers until one day I realized it was gone.

My practical mind told me that it would be foolish to change my major, for I did not want to be the cause of extra financial strife for my family. My unquenched desire for exploration, however, compelled me to tack a minor onto my degree plan. I leapt from music to gender studies, from entrepreneurship to history. Nothing fit.

Ironically, the minor tailored to my soul came knocking on my door at a most unexpected time. On a rather dull day in May after my sophomore year, I ran into a website that explained how Russian culture differed from American culture, and my eyes opened in wonder. It was like I fell in love. My insatiable desire to learn the language had begun.

Two Russian classes and one summer program later, I found myself studying abroad in Russia, immersed with the people whose culture had so deeply touched my heart.

I got to travel on the trans-Siberian train, teach a group of Russians what the word “whoopsie” meant, and sing a stage solo at a Russian mall talent contest. I was there for a semester and enjoyed almost every minute of it.

When new acquaintances ask me about my major, I somehow end up muttering it in a low voice before announcing my Russian minor to the rooftops.

After I graduate this May, I see myself going back to Russia where I dream of teaching English to people, so that they can have greater opportunity in the world.

The funny thing is, not everyone’s story is the same. During freshman year, I met a dear friend who had ambitions in journalism that mirrored mine. I was so scared that we would have to constantly compete against one another. But while my interests radically changed, she followed my original plan to the letter, even earning the presidential position I had once desired within an on-campus journalism club.

As an incoming freshman, I never knew my carefully laid- out plans would derail to another track, nor did I know that I would end up studying within the territory of America’s former Cold War enemy. Yet I do not regret any of my choices and am quite content with the way all has turned out.

So based on all this, my little nugget of advice would be to plan, plan and plan some more, while being open to alternative paths.

One never knows when a subject that brings a glimmer of interest can evolve into a hobby or a lifelong passion.

Lela Atwood is a senior journalism major from Garland and a contributor for the Lariat.