A week from today, I’m moving to New Haven, CT. I’ve got to be the only person excited about moving to Connecticut in January, but I am, because I’ll be starting a new job as a video producer at Yale School of Medicine!
The last month has been a blur: at Thanksgiving, I flew to Rochester, NY to hang out with some dear friends I met in Izmir, Turkey. Luckily, Yale invited me for a final interview the week after, and even luckier, my friends let me stay in their guest room while I drove back and forth to New Haven through snow storms, waited for my job offer and background checks to finish, and then went back to New Haven to sign a lease on an apartment. December is gone, and I’ve managed to procrastinate on an epic scale on the term paper I need to be writing for my master’s program. Plus I’m trying to set up utilities in my name for my apartment while I’m in Nevada, and the electric company doesn’t have my unit in their system. But of course Comcast was very easy to set up an expensive internet + cable package.
Anyway, the last few months of re-entry into the United States were frequently terrifying and panic-inducing, often leaving me feeling like an immigrant in a new country. I tried to sign up for state healthcare and my freelance income was low enough to put me in the bracket for Medicaid, but I couldn’t provide the documentation to actually get coverage. As the December 15th deadline for insurance loomed, I wondered whether I could still find a way to get Medicaid, afford to pay for a private plan available to me through one of my work contracts, or if I would get a proper job with benefits by then. Thankfully, the latter happened. I still haven’t been able to change over my driver’s license without much proof of residence in Nevada (I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to vote in the elections). Sheer panic would wash over me as I sat at red lights in my mom’s car, wondering how I was ever going to be able to sponsor my husband to come live here, whether I should contact a lawyer, and then remembering I couldn’t afford any of it without a job. “Maybe I just won’t find a job,” I sobbed to my friend on the phone one day when a production company canceled my interview because I wasn’t already living in their city (which I stated clearly in my application). “Like maybe I’ll just never work again.”
When I left Jordan, a job offer seemed imminent with a nonprofit I’d been interviewing with. Intellectually, I understood it might not happen, and it didn’t come through in the end. Leaving everything behind without a solid plan is terrifying. It makes you question your identity, your value, your worth. The longer I stayed in the US without steady work, the more precarious my situation got and the more irrelevant I felt. But somehow, leaving things behind is the only way I’ve ever managed to move forward. Four years ago, I left my editing job in DC and arrived in Turkey, spending the coldest winter in a frigid apartment. Then and now, I had to repeat to myself, “you are not your job.” Which is easy to forget. Even though I’m now starting a full-time, permanent job that’s decidedly marketing, not journalism, I still struggle calling myself something other than a journalist. “Journalist” is how I’ve thought of myself for my entire adult life. It’s still so much of how I think and approach stories. And it’s hard when the profession you’re passionate about has little love for you in return. If nothing else, I can take comfort in the fact that this industry has chewed up and spit out many of my very capable, hardworking friends and colleagues, too. I have to remind myself that I look a hell of a lot better on paper now than I did four years ago, I’ve worked in countless sensitive situations that I wouldn’t have known how to navigate four years ago. My MA in visual anthropology has been great for me in helping me to imagine what other possibilities were out there for me outside of news – and outside of the Middle East – and you know what? I’m joining a great team where I’ll be making the most of my skills, at a place open to trying different kinds of storytelling.
Four years ago, I had a dream of going back to the Middle East – to cover the refugee crisis unfolding from afar and to be close to the person I loved. Four years later, we’re married (and I scored a great set of in-laws), my Arabic is vastly improved, and I did work beyond what I ever expected to do – including teaching myself video in my free time and doing it well enough to be hired for it full-time. Four years ago, I couldn’t have applied for the job I have today, and that’s great.
And what makes me even luckier is that I have a spouse willing to go on this adventure with me (read: suffer through New England winters with me), who says things like “I know this is your success, but it feels like my success, too,” and trust that things will work out ok for both of us in the end. Best of all, at least he’s hopefully coming for a visit soon, so we can set up the new apartment together (read: he assembles the Ikea furniture), even if he won’t be here for good yet.
I’ve packed up my three suitcases again, shipped a box of kitchen supplies to a friend in New York, and I’ve boxed up the books I’ve managed to keep over the years. In the spring, I’ll fetch my bicycle somehow, and now I get to start all over with furnishing a place and making it feel like home. Packing up the essentials has become routine for me, but I can’t wait to finally unpack and put my suitcases away for a long time.
I applied to well over 100 jobs across the US since March. I had several phone interviews while still overseas, but was probably searching in vain – it took me three months of being in the US and looking for work to find something. As always, I’m thankful someone was willing to take a chance on me. And this is a hell of a good way to end an exceptionally challenging year.
I suppose I have other goals I want to work on in the new year, but I think I’ve checked off all the most important things from my list these last few weeks.
Happy New Year.