As usual before an interview, my body temperature was high, my confidence was low, and my brain was fluctuating between clutter and utter emptiness. When I got to the interview room, I nudged open the door, tripped on the carpet, and gave a sweaty handshake to the three interviewers.
“Have a seat,” said the dude in the middle. I did.
“Why do you think you’d be good for this summer position?” he asked, flashing me a vaguely patronizing smile.
The interview should have been a breeze. I was trying to go to Botswana to teach English, and I had a lot of great answers to his question. For example, “I’m an English major,” and “I’m familiar with Africa” – those would have been good answers. Instead, I treated my interviewers to a series of Um’s, Uh’s and Likes, before launching into a modest plea: “Well, I’m not great at teaching, but I do love kids! Well, what I mean to say is, I like teenagers.” They stared at me bleakly, and I felt my soul shriveling up into a little ball of defeat.
That was last semester, and that’s how all my interviews went. I know Harvard kids are supposed to be great at interviews, but I like to think of myself as an interviewee-in-training. I applied to a kabillion summer programs (well, three or four), and got rejected from all of them. As summer got closer and closer, I wrung my hands and thought, What am I going to do? Everyone else will be saving the world and/or interning at prestigious institutions. But about three weeks before summer began, the African Studies department sent out an email soliciting kids to apply to fully-funded language programs in Africa. I applied on a whim, and the rest is history. I had the happiest summer of my life on the Kenyan coast, studying Swahili through Yale’s summer program.
This past weekend, my roommate and I planned out a walking-tour of the Cambridge/Somerville area. We spent Thursday night on Google maps, designing a long route through the city, choosing cafés and landmarks to see along the way. I’ve had the chance to see a lot of Cambridge already – a concert here, a meal there, a grocery trip to Whole Foods. But my sense of spatiality is underdeveloped, and it’s hard for me to visualize how those different locales are related to each other. Every café, shop, park, club and alleyway that I’ve visited are just atomized places in my head, connected by a mysterious network of streets.
Our walking-tour actually went pretty smoothly. My roommate was in charge of the route and kept referring to the maps on her iPhone. We walked through plenty of classic New England neighborhoods, strolled by some train tracks, and admired some graffiti. At different points during the walk, we’d emerge into an area that I recognized – somewhere we’d been before – and amazingly, it fit into my mental map of Cambridge. As I recognized more and more places, a cohesive scheme of the city began to emerge in my head. (“Holy cow, this is Porter Square!”) It was weird and satisfying to finally understand how all the places connected.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that sometimes things don’t make sense until way, way later. Sometimes the events of your life will seem really random, and disappointments will feel absolutely crushing and nonsensical. But I think that eventually the pieces fit together into something kinda unified, something kinda beautiful. So keep trying risky things, keep applying to programs, keep going to interviews even if your pulse rate gets dangerously high. Keep moving along. In retrospect, all the failures and dead ends usually make a lot more sense.