Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Mary Robbins

Calling courageous post-collegiates! For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with interesting post-collegiates who will be sharing some of their experiences and offer some advice.   Want to nominate someone to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]

So many of us dream about taking time after college to see the world.  What makes Mary Robbins so incredible is not only has she done that, but she was able to turn a life-changing event into the catalyst for a purpose-driven exploration of the globe.  Mary was nice enough to share some of her experiences with us and talk about how her post-collegiate life has taken her around the world and back.

For those who don’t have the incredible good fortune to know you, what’s your story?

Born and raised in North Carolina.  Hopped from Greensboro to Raleigh when I was 14 to start high school and so my mom could continue work at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Super amazing experience growing up with a great, supportive big brother (who served as my father figure) and my mom, who is/was the strongest person I know.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without Rick, my mom and my amazing supportive groups of friends (especially r-mwc fam).

When you first graduated from R-MWC, what was the initial life plan?

The plan after graduating from r-mwc was to move to nyc with my fellow alumnae Jessica Ware and Meg Stensrud and get a desk job and enjoy city life.  I really did love NYC back then.

Of course, that’s not exactly what happened.  Can you share some of your experiences since graduating in 2006?

Ready?  After taking care of personal issues, I spent 10 months in California (working on the side of a mountain and learning how to knit and play the banjo), 5 months in Atlanta (working for Paste music magazine), 2 months in Ecuador (working at a halfway house for disadvantaged youth in city center Quito), 11 months in Spain (teaching English in Granada under a scholarship from the government) and now enrolled in Graduate Program in International Affairs at The New School in Greenwich Village, New York City studying international development in Latin America.

I am currently in Rio de Janeiro working on independent human rights based media projects in the favelas.  My project is in Cidade de Deus and we have a curriculum-based on Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as outlined by the UN and other types of pedagogy while teaching the kids how to use photography and flip cameras.  Super complicated to explain… but you can get an idea here:  www.nossosdireitos.org

I am also working for MSF Rio (Doctors without Borders) in their office in downtown.  I began interning for MSF spring semester and was lucky enough to carry on my experience down here.  Amazing office, amazing people, amazing work.  MSF is exactly where I want to be after I graduate from school in the spring of 2011.

Mary at Machu Picchu, Peru in 2008

I really just followed my whims over the last couple of years.  It wasn’t until I got to Ecuador that I knew I had to do something different.  History was fun to study in college… but would I really be making a difference if I went and got a PhD?  I see it as this – there is no way the world should be like this.  There’s no way kids should be dying of hunger, gangs, and HIV.  But they are .. every freakin day.  Colonialism, capitalism and neoliberalism have spread throughout the developing world, and I think its OUR responsibility to work with them to get these countries back on track.  We are the reason they are where they are today.  And it’s not fair.  And it’s not right.  And I know I will not live to see all the changes I wish to see… but if I can make even the smallest difference, I wont die dissatisfied with the way I lived my life.

You have already been so many places and done so many things since college.  What is something you have really wanted to do but haven’t had a chance to yet?

I have been fortunate enough to live on a three separate continents…and follow my whims.  So I would say… I have done everything I have wanted to do.  The one thing I wish I had done is apply for a Fulbright.  But that is still in the cards 🙂

What has been the greatest challenge for you since graduating?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge was losing my mom 6 months after graduating from Macon in Feb of 2006.  She was my world, stronghold, greatest supporter.. my life.  Everything I did, I did for her.  So after she was gone… I had to figure out what to do.  If I wasn’t doing it for her… who was I doing it for?  Without all the types of support she gave full heartedly for 22 years, I had a long transition period.  It definitely was a flat tire in life.  I had to pull over for a year and re-adjust.  Get used to standing alone.  Life is really hard when you don’t have a home base.  But I am stronger for it, I think… I hope.  I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my family, friends from NC and friends from r-mwc (who had the biggest showing at my mom’s service, no joke).  I  received so many letters from so many people up in lburg… it was crazy.  I am super lucky to have that family.

And I can say, over the last few months down here in Rio,  doing things I love and respect in what I believe to the second most amazing city in the world (next to NYC, of course) – I am the happiest I have been since 2006.  And that… that is an amazing feeling.

Crazy, random happenstance is becoming a running theme on this blog.  Is there an example of that in your post-college life that stands out?

I guess it would be my application to the New School.  Going into grad school I wasn’t that great of a candidate because I had hopped around a lot – never stayed in a place longer than a year but I was still smart and ready to get back to learning.  By the grace of God, I got into the New School which I randomly found while looking for schools in New York (I knew I wanted to be in NYC).  I got a scholarship and so far it has been the most life-changing thing to happen to me.  R-MWC helped me become who I am today but New School is a whole new kind of academic challenge and expectations are incredibly high.  I have taken on views I never thought possible.  So yea.. that one random application in the mix ended up being the best decision I ever made.

If you could go back to graduation day and give yourself some advice, what would you say?

Words of wisdom.  Do it your way.  But do it with patience.  And enjoy these few days in Virginia.. because these are the best friends and family you will ever, ever have.

Mary in Zaragoza, Spain, in 2009

Many thanks to Mary for sharing her incredible post-college stories!  She has worked with a few great organizations – please click the links and see what you can do to get involved!  You can follow Mary’s adventures by checking out her blog and Twitter.  As always, feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section!

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