I had no idea what I was doing when I found myself at EMU my first year. I knew I liked the valley, and the community, but as far as what to study—I looked at the list of majors available and crossed off everything that didn’t seem interesting to me. All that was left was Peacebuilding and Development and Environmental Sustainability. Sounded good to me! I dabbled around taking a variety of classes, still struggling with how to apply those degrees with a quickly approaching graduation date. Nothing really struck me until I found myself on cross-cultural in the Middle East. After that, I found myself with a new sense of studious drive and curiosity, and an interest in International Affairs which has shaped my school and work choices since.

After Graduation, I hoped to find some professional field experience relating to International Affairs in the Middle East. I spent the next two years working in Jordan and Palestine, volunteering with the Orthodox Initiative of the Middle East Council of Churches on direct relief aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Amman, and in Beit Sahor working with the East Jerusalem YMCA’s trauma counseling teams in responding to cases of political violence in the West Bank. (If you get a chance to do STAR, do it—it’s great for work in all fields, but more importantly as a life skill, as you never know when or where trauma will hit). I found some great experience in the Middle East, but my skills and lack of graduate degree were starting to bootstrap me to continue working in this field.

After returning to the U.S., I began looking at jobs, hoping to continue the same vein of work that had appealed to me over the past few years and to gain more professional experience. I stumbled upon a position as the Director of Middle East Books and More in Washington DC, which turned out to give me the perfect avenue to begin my graduate school search. For the next two years, I spent my days immersed in writing on the Middle East and surrounded by folks to help me discern what was next.

After long deliberations and many long conversations, I enrolled at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where I am currently working on a master’s degree in Human Rights and Middle East Affairs. This program brought me many aspects that I had found I loved about EMU—a close community, alternative perspectives, and connections and opportunities to assist in both developing professionally and academically. The course work is rigorous, but my interest in it makes it easier to buckle down and get lost in study. The school emphasizes a mixture of heavy skills courses and historicism-based theory. This summer I plan to return to the Middle East for an expanded learning tour and to conduct research on Palestinian refugees throughout the wider region.

All-in-all, once you find that path, it begins to play itself out in front of you. It can be slow and confusing, and often hard to see—but chip away at it. Talk to your friends, family, former professors—there is a lot out there that can bring you fulfillment, but sometimes in ways you may not see at first. Right now, I have no idea what I will be working on once I finish my degree, but the community that I have fostered along the way will help support me in figuring out what that is, and I’m guessing it will be something that will get me out of bed in the morning. EMU got me moving in these directions, and I’m pleased to see where its led, even if I wasn’t sure where for some time—and still don’t always know! If you ever make it to Denver, feel free to reach out and say hello!

Nate Bailey is a former Peacebuilding and Development major at EMU.