Americorp Member

by bonnie azoulay in

One of my first days in uniform!

One of my first days in uniform!

I tried meeting with Rachel on several occasions to speak about her role at City Year NY but the time it took us to play catch up on our lives (leading to a lot of side eye from customers just tryna quietly sip their tea and get some work done at Qathra Cafe in Ditmas) did not permit us to properly speak about her career. After we commenced a Take 2 on our meeting, I was able to hear all about her college years at Penn and the career choices that led her to a youth development teaching position in Astoria, Queens. It turns out, we have a lot more in common than our curly hair and love for writing (she's not a newbie to the site!). Her answers were methodically philosophical that simply asking her where she saw herself in five years granted a response that took on a life of its own. “Ideally, I know where I want to be mentally and situationally, but I don't know what I'm going to be doing,” she answers thoughtfully. Take some notes. More shiny pearls of wisdom to reflect on, below.

What did you study in college?

At first I was majoring in History and I thought for sure that I wanted to go into medicine. I just thought that was the way I would be fulfilled in life because that's what you do. You either become a doctor or lawyer to be successful. Given that a lot of women here [in the community] don't necessarily have those types of careers, I was like, I'm going to do that. As years went on I kept taking on one step below a doctor. Then, at the end of my sophomore year of college I took a poetry and literature class with a teacher who basically changed my life. Just the poems we were reading made me rethink my entire life trajectory. I remember at the end of finals my sophomore year, I was like, holy crap, I don't want to do medicine, I don't even really believe in medicine. Obviously I believe in medicine, but I'm someone who doesn't really even take tylenol because I'm scared of drugs. So I started realizing I was more into socio-emotional and psychological stuff. I switched to creative writing and I began pursuing music therapy. At this point, I don't know what I want to do in my future but I know how I want to feel at the end of the day so I'm kind of using that as a compass.

What were your internships like?

A couple of summers ago I worked for a record label. I hated it, it was boring, I was doing bitch work; my boss was really nice but he paid me in Costco trail mix (laughs) and not in money. And occasionally pizza which I didn't eat because of course I was eating salad. I hated it, I was like, why would I ever want to be in the music business? It would just ruin music for me. The next summer was when I did Chokra [handmade chokers]  to make money because I was volunteering for a music therapy center in Mount Sinai-- The Louis Armstrong Center for music and medicine--which was really cool. I helped with a choir where patients who have suffered strokes participate in a music choir led by music therapists. That summer I started Chokra to make money and now I’m just gonna make Chokras whenever I need to make quick money. I'm not very good at making money so I have to do just whip up random things, because none of the job positions that I want to do actually pay me. This past summer, I worked for my brother in marketing. It was initially just to have a job and some sort of income, but I actually really liked it because of the creative aspect, like copywriting and social media posting. August is when I started training for City Year.

How does your love for music relate?

All the things I did in college were music-related. I did the radio show, that was really fun because even when I was super stressed and I didn't have time for anything, I would just go and play a really relaxing playlist with my Israeli music and my folk music. It just genuinely helped me. I did CityStep which you've probably seen all over Facebook, it's my heart and pride and joy. I love it so much. We mentored kids through dance, so we would go into Philly public schools and charter schools and teach a class of kids for an end-of-the-year showcase. It was a dance class with games and choreography so we used that setting to teach them discipline and teamwork. It's a very similar mission to City Year, very youth-development-oriented. From that I realized I can be good at this, I feel comfortable in this setting, and even when I'm challenged I feel somewhat prepared to face that challenge.

We made gingerbread houses with our kids during our After School program around holiday time. It was a freaking mess and I can never look at frosting ever again, but it was really fun.

We made gingerbread houses with our kids during our After School program around holiday time. It was a freaking mess and I can never look at frosting ever again, but it was really fun.

What did you do when you were contemplating switching out of Penn?

Thank god my mom told me this, I straight up remember this conversation as I was standing in a park. She was like, “It's your choice, you have to do what makes you happy, at the end of the day people might make comments, but nobody cares. People want you to be happy, and you can't base your life decisions on what other people think and what other people would say because it's your life and you shouldn't be miserable.” Once my mom said that if by the end of the year I was still unhappy I could transfer, I knew I had their full support. I decided to play it out, see what happened.

My sophomore year of college, I was at the gym listening to a song called “Blame it on Bad Luck” by Bayside. The whole message of the song is about looking back on life and being like: Wow, I tried to use all these excuses for not making my life better or not taking steps towards improving myself or my life, but really I just dug myself a hole of self-pity that I eventually needed to climb out of just to be able to survive and live and do good things. After that, I started gradually becoming more involved and social on campus and eventually started loving my time at Penn.

How do you measure success?

Success could be making a difference in the way that you know how.

I was very lucky because even though my parents weren't career pressuring, I’m somewhat self-motivated. I wanted to make moves and I wanted to do things. I think because they didn't try to impose what their views of career success was onto me, I was able to come to a conclusion of: Yes, money is important and I need to eventually make enough money to support myself, but that reason alone is not something that would make me wake up every morning for a job.

I think also since where we're from women having careers isn't as much of a standard, it kinda eased the pressure. Specifically in our community, we put so much pressure on the men to make the money, to the point where a lot of guys I know feel as if they have to sacrifice what they want/what their purpose in life is to make money and marry and have a family. And it upsets me that people have to go through that. Yes, being a girl here comes with lots of pressures and expectations that men don't have to deal with, but career-wise I feel much more empowered now because no matter what I do, people will be impressed, or at least accepting. Granted, you'll get crap for everything from some people. But still, I can pursue creative or non-lucrative careers and be lauded for it, rather than have people tell me, “Oh, you're doing that?” And you know what? I'm taking advantage of it. Because if I have the ability to do what I want in life and the support to do it, then I want to do something that utilizes my strengths and that makes some sort of impact .

This was College Day at our school. We all wore our college swag (the one day we didn't have to wear our uniforms!) and told the kids about our college experiences and have them ask us questions. It was mad cute.

This was College Day at our school. We all wore our college swag (the one day we didn't have to wear our uniforms!) and told the kids about our college experiences and have them ask us questions. It was mad cute.

What is CityYear?

City Year is a non-profit run by AmeriCore. Its mission is to bridge the gap between what kids in public schools need or deserve and what the public school system provides them with. It's not limited to academics. It's very much in the youth development and socio-emotional realm too which is what I love about it. Throughout the day, I'm an ELA tutor for my students. I'm an assistant teacher in a way, because I work in their ELA and elective classrooms. I jump around and help the kids who need help, but I also have a focus list of around 8 kids that I am expected to get a certain number of minutes with every week. They call us ‘near-peer mentors’ so we're not your peers and we're not your teachers. We're almost more accessible if you need something because we don't have the same responsibilities as teachers, we're a little bit closer to you and more involved in your life. But on top of that, for socio-emotional learning, I have a focus list of six kids that I check in with every single week. I talk things out with them privately. With some kids, it’s keeping their grades up or focusing in class, but with other kids it’s depression and anger management and fighting with their peers. It really varies.

We also lead a 3-hour after school program during the week, where we do homework help and clubs. Last semester, I co-facilitated Performing Arts Club and this semester, I co-facilitate Storytelling Club!

That day we hosted a "VIP Lounge" for students with perfect attendance.

That day we hosted a "VIP Lounge" for students with perfect attendance.

How is it challenging for you?

It's ridiculously difficult and I knew it would be because I had plenty of warnings from people who said to be prepared, be scared, because between the hours and the actual work, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. You're going to cry. It's exhausting. and I knew that. But I lowkey love a challenge. And from the pragmatic point of view, this is such good experience for all the things I want to do in life, because it's making me so disciplined and it’s harnessing a work ethic that I haven't needed thus far. I work Monday through Friday, basically 50 hours a week. I make a stipend which means that I make nothing. I wake up at 5am every morning and I get home between 7:30 and 8:00. My commute is an hour and a half. It is so ridiculous but so rewarding at the same time. And I absolutely love the people I work with. Both my students and my City Year team, they all just make me smile and laugh everyday, and that makes the days go by quicker.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? I know that’s a loaded question...

I'm now using this motto that I'm going to figure it out as I go along. I'm trying to be okay with going with the flow. I'm going to try to trust myself that I could make these decisions. I'm excited for whatever it is, but I don't really know. Also I have a feeling that I'm going to change pace and change my mind so much. I mean ideally, I know where I want to be mentally and situationally, but I don't know what I'm going to be doing.

Right now, it’s rewarding and makes me feel alive to build relationships with kids and genuinely help them through things that they're going through and also teach them skills that they're going to need. Just being a mentor for them. I think in 5 years slash next year or two years, I want to be in a place where I'm doing something that feels like my skills and talents are being put to use and that I'm making some sort of imprint on whatever part of the world that I can. But I also want to be in a stable, comfortable place where I can have a social life and still care about my body and make doctor's appointments because I have the time to. And take care of myself. I don’t know if that’s a balance I’m ever to achieve, I don't know if its even possible.

What is something you would have told yourself before starting your college career?

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable a little bit. It's okay to not be stable all the time and it's okay to do something that challenges you to a point where your limits are tested, because that will teach you so much about what you can do and what you want to do in the future. Number two, and this is something that I have been working on, is trust yourself. Trust that even in a new situation and an uncertain situation you'll be able to navigate yourself. Up until college or even graduation from college, life was basically planned out for me, there was a trajectory that I was following and the end points were always near. You had a way to get through everything because you always saw the finish line. I was lucky in that I was never really in situations where things were uncertain. Now, after graduation, it feels like there’s this vast future ahead of me and I want to do all these things. Eventually I want to get married and have kids, and I want to have a career that makes me fulfilled. All of that is now shoved into the rest of my life’s timeline and I don't know how to structure that timeline. I don't know when those things are going to happen because, Lord knows, I have no control over certain things. So just being okay with the fact that you won't know your future and that’s fine, be that’s something I'm trying to look at as fun and exciting! It changes the perspective from being like, “Oh my god, my future's so scary because I don't know where I'm going to be,” to, “Look at all the things that I can do, look at all of the people I can meet in the next years that I don't know now.” It's overwhelmingly exciting and it just depends at how you look at it. So I would say we should try to adopt the lens of: “This is exciting, this is fun, let me soak in all of it and take advantage of every moment.”