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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where Are They Now? Part 2 Outside the Comfort Zone

I guess it's an official series if there are two parts of "Where Are They Now?"  Here's my second story about what's up with high school graduates from the Class of 2011. 

Way before Paris Achenbach started Wilson High school, she knew she loved the great outdoors. She felt like she belonged in the woods as much or more than at her home in Washington, DC. As a high school student, she became deeply concerned about the environment. She also loved playing piano. Progressive and musical Oberlin seemed like a good fit for her when it came time for college, but surprisingly, she never did take a single environmental studies course. Instead she found herself majoring in geology which provided a deeper (hah!)  understanding of our planet. She imagined herself becoming "a bad ass scientist," exploring caves in Greenland and pulling up ice cores to measure climate change.

However, a semester abroad in New Zealand would change her mind and her life. She discovered that however wondrous studying a glacier was in the field, she didn't really like the dryer aftermath of analyzing data. Instead the beautiful countryside further inspired her love of writing and photography so much so that she found herself writing every day.

Back in Ohio, Paris created a blog about college life at Oberlin and went on to graduate with a major in geology and a minor in English. After graduation, Paris returned to DC and spent the next year and a half figuring out what in the world she was going to do next.

This journey included: working on a coffee plantation in Jamaica, teaching kayaking in the San Juan Islands,

and walking the Camino in Spain with her two younger sisters- a journey you can read about here. 

Besides travel, Paris tried to get serious by pursuing career building internships. She worked at the Wilson Center and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Both positions paid well, and looked good on a resume, but living safely in Washington, writing about disasters elsewhere left Paris feeling disconnected. She describes herself as a 23 year old sponge, longing to soak in different experiences,  ready to launch from her comfort zone- again.  Other friends had volunteered for Americorps' St Bernard Project restoring houses post- Katrina, and that sounded like the ticket for her.

Now Paris is off to New Orleans to live in a city she has never visited, to work with her hands without any construction experience,  and to meet people who are actively trying to make a difference.  (Being able to soak in all the music and culture New Orleans  has to offer is also a definite plus.)  In the spirit of true romance, she did not fly, but took a somewhat grueling 24 hour train ride to her new life, taking in the American South from a ground level window and coping with bathrooms she'd rather not see again. Some might question her mode of transportation, but Paris Achenbach will be the first one to tell you, she has the rest of her life to be comfortable. 

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