Stranger 55, Day 55 – Meet Natalie, the “Science Tour Guide”

Stranger 55, Day 55 - Meet Natalie

Another day, another casual walk-up to a Stranger at the coffee shop in my office building. It’s a funny thing to just see the back of someone’s head and commit to asking that person to talk to you. I have no idea who he or she is. I just… have a Stranger to talk to, and we’ll see if this person is actually new when I approach from the front. (Never approach from the back!)

So meet the woman who I spotted today as she was on her tablet…

Meet Natalie, 23

Who are you?

“Who am I? Well, I’m a graduate student from the University of South Florida in Tampa. I’m actually visiting my brother this weekend, so that’s why I’m here. And I teach. I’m a teacher. I teach first year composition. And I am a lover of music. I love going to music festivals and live concerts and things like that. Oh! Kanye West!” Natalie points up to the ceiling where a Kanye West song is coming from.

“I love Kanye West, too!” she laughs.

“So those are the main things I identify with — graduate student and teacher — right now.”

Thinking about what you like, what are your passions?

“Singing… teaching… traveling… I applied to go to China.” She points out that she noticed I was Asian. Yup! Haha

“I’m half-Asian, so right now, I’m applying to go China to teach English over there to try to connect with my roots and get into… just to be a better international communicator. One thing that you have to do for this scholarship was connect it to an actual project, outside project in China. It was interesting. I saw you’re an entrepreneur.” She’s recalling the 100 Strangers, 100 Days homepage she saw before we began.

“… because I just recently became exposed to that world. I’d also love to be an entrepreneur. I did these pitch competitions for this software I was working with over the summer. Anyways, the point is, being a business woman is really positive. One thing I found in China was they have an entrepreneurial collaborative center there. It’d be awesome to work with Asian students there. Connect them with resources in America as well. Just create more cross-cultural connections. Now, more important than ever.”

What is it you want to build?

“Okay, so one of my business ideas is to open up an after-school program, or a private education program that teaches young children about science. Because what I’ve recognize is that a lot of my friends, or I’ve even went through a bunch of STEM courses before I landed on English (right now, I do technical writing — explaining very technical, scientific information into words everyone can understand). I noticed that‘s the gap. You can know all of the science, and all the things you want, but if you can’t communicate it to a wider audience, then what is that? Or communicate it in such a way that people will believe you and also accept it. Right now, in my studies, we’re identifying a lot of places where — let’s say there’s farmers out in Kansas. They don’t want to listen to scientists. So it’s a two-way street. Both of us need to figure out how to communicate with each other. I think science is one of the most important things, so that’s why I focus there.”

“The reason I focus on kids then,” she laughs. “Not to be pessimistic, I don’t think that educating higher levels… people’s beliefs are so ingrained at that age. It’s hard to change their minds, so I’d rather just target the kids and get them thinking about it while they’re young, and get them used to science so they’re not scared of it when they grow up.”

Thinking about communication. What’s the key to writing something so that farmers (who aren’t interested in listening to you in the first place — which is key to communicating everyday) are receptive?

“Well, you just said the key. You said, ‘everyday’. So that’s where you need to target them — in their everyday lived experiences. That requires going there and accepting they have a different lifestyle than you, and learning their way of life so you can target those specific things. Translate whatever policies you need to create into something that is valuable to their community. That way, they are receptive of it.”

“For example, even in Florida where I’m from, a lot of the government seat in Tallahassee, does not listen to what’s happening in Miami. The streets are flooding with seawater because the seas are rising. But they’re not going listening because there’s disconnect. If only they can come here and see what’s going on. I think that would be key.”

Being identifiable and empathetic?

“Yes, certainly! Being empathetic.”

You mentioned music, and you’re singing. Your necklace also has notes on it…

She corrects me because the notes is actually the symbol for Scorpio. She recently celebrated her birthday.

When it comes to singing, are you trying to pursue that? I mentioned YouTube and the like.

“No, they’re really dedicated. YouTubers, really dedicated. And they have the equipment for it. I just kind of do it for fun, and on my own. Relaxation.”

“I’ve just recently been trying to get more accustomed to singing in front of people. I do a lot of karaoke…” She laughs, but she enjoys it. “I love being that performer.”

She shares with me how her brother moved her to be a stand-up comedian. Her profession as a teacher, like her brother, puts her in front of audiences.

“Singing is a little embarrassing. It’s like your own voice. Some people aren’t going to like it. That’s true. It’s going to happen. Just gotta get used to it.” We talk about the vulnerability part.

Have you had any other kind of Life-Defining Moments that pushed you into this space? Wanting to help kids, teach them…?

“Yes!”

“That’s all articulated in my scholarship essay to go to China. That was like the hardest thing to do — just writing that essay over the summer. I’ve never done so much self-reflection because I’ve never wanted to do something so much. It required me to be truthful with myself, and actually stop and think about my goals. At my age, it’s such a critical moment for you to do that, and see what the hell you’ve been doing in school the whole time, and what are you going to do for the rest of your life! It’s completely terrifying, right? But once you find that passion, that really helped me… just make the decisions I needed to to get to where I wanted to go. That’s the formula. Just do the things!”

“What was stopping me was working for that software technology.” She described how the job environment was not right for her. She described the two years of working there, but it was her first time having to stand up… really for herself. The position was terrible for her, and sounded like it was a really great for her.

“Changing my life, changing my income and the things I did everyday really showed me that, ‘okay, yes, become a teacher now’. I teach instead. Alright, now you’re committed to that! That is one thing that certainly led me on the path that I’m on now… teaching, that is.”

“Also, just my overall interest in science is why I chose that specific place. I just love science! I started out as a biology major, but I didn’t want to be in a lab forever. So I found technical writing instead. It still allowed me to write about science and learn about science and tell it to other people — which is what I do. My friends say I act like a tour guide. I do that on purpose. I just like explaining things to people.”

You probably enjoy it so much you want them to understand it and be a part of that.

“Exactly. Yeah. That’s number one. And number two, personally, is (if you want something very personal for your blog)… so I mentioned I’m half-Chinese, and half-white. The reason that I want to go to China is because my mom, who is Chinese, was adopted. She is completely Americanized. It was strange… my whole life, I grew up in South Florida. Pretty country. Pretty white. And everyone would call me the token Asian. They made fun of me a lot — I’m sure you’ve heard that. Derogatory terms for Asian people, right? So I always saw myself as Asian. That’s my thing. That’s my identity. But then, when I got to college, there was so much more diverse people there. I wanted to reach out and find out more about my roots, so I joined this Asian organization — a group of women. But then, they discriminated against me for being white! I never ever looked at myself as being white. So they would make fun of me equally as the white people did.” She shared some of the things they would say just based on her actions describing as “that’s so white”.

“So I think both parties are just being malicious. I discovered that, first of all, I don’t know what the heck my identity is. I still need to figure that out. Number two, I don’t want anyone to feel like I did to feel like they don’t have a place. In helping them be better communicators, I think, would lead to more tolerance probably.”

What’s holding you back? (Thanks to Samantha, Stranger 54)

“It’s honestly probably a combination of myself in thinking that I have to prove something to other people.”

“I don’t know why I think that. That’s how I feel about China, for example. I told everyone I was going, and now, I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want to go!'” she laughs. “But I now I feel like I have to because I told everyone already, right? Now they’ll think of me in some way. I know their thoughts don’t really matter. Just what I think. But what’s holding me back then is the fact that, I guess… I feel like I have to live up to other people’s standards and care what they think.”

“… down down. But, I think if push comes to shove, I could probably overcome that, and just be happy wherever I end up.”

“That’s a good question,” she laughs again.

What’s a question you’d like to ask anyone?

“I like your question about ‘what in your life brought you to where you are today?’ That’s a question I want to ask someone. So the question would be like, ‘what is your earliest memory? And why do you hold that as your earliest memory, and remembering it now and articulating it, what does that mean for you today?'”

“I think our earliest memories do shape the way that we think about things. The way we’ve led our lives without us even realizing it. For example, in doing that huge self-reflection for the essay, why do I like science so much? I thought back to seemingly meaningless times with my father when I would watch Nova together on PBS and watch science shows. I wonder if my interest in science comes from that bond.”

After the handshake.

I definitely identified and connected with Natalie here about a recent experience of having some stereotype cast on me. This happens often, but one recent event… I had on my black pair of Tom’s shoes. If you don’t know Tom’s shoes, they’re like slippers-esque. As I sat in the dentist chair the other day, one of the assistants immediately asked me if I knew karate. Oh boy… I knew what was happening here. I asked her why. She responded by pointing at my shoes. I responded by telling her they’re just Tom’s. Her response, “I just knew”.

First, yes, I do know karate. (Damn it.) However, these are Tom’s shoes. I know several people who have Tom’s… black pairs like mine! I get asked probably half the time I wear these shoes if I knew karate, where did I get these karate shoes, or just compliments on my martial arts shoes. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to these stereotypes. However, perhaps because of this year’s Presidential campaign, these little stereotype-comments are standing out more and more. And this was just a simple version. I won’t even get into otherwise embarrassing, emasculating situations like on a bus in college by some football players. Nope. Won’t get into it. It’s not fun, so I’m happy Natalie shared her experience. It’s now letting me share mine.

Other than all that, I enjoyed getting to know Natalie. I enjoyed hearing how she really loved science. Whenever she mentioned science, she smiled and her face lit up. I’m now thinking if science really is that interesting to her or if that special memory of watching science shows with her father is just that powerful. In either case, it doesn’t matter. It’s just fantastic to hear how she’s bringing together her love for science, communication, and teaching kids. How great is that?

So for Natalie, I don’t think you (we, anyone) needs have something to identify ourselves as. I think you’re just great being you — not Chinese, not white, not even a woman. Instead, you’re you. Those who don’t appreciate you for you don’t deserve to be in your life.

Thanks for letting me get to know you, and share our “Asian/ Chinese connection”. Haha. But perhaps even greater, thanks for connecting as just… people.

Meet Natalie. No longer a Stranger.

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