I wanted to travel and see the world from my first memory. In high school, at some point, I learned about foreign exchange programs. At first, I was discouraged by the cost. Being raised in a single parent household doesn’t leave a lot of room for expensive dreaming. One of my teachers told me about scholarship programs– if I wanted to go to Germany for a year or Japan for a summer, I could compete for a full tuition scholarship. I dove right in, filling out the application enthusiastically, and checking the mailbox eagerly each afternoon after school. Chosen as a finalist, I needed to attend an interview with the scholarship committee. And this is where the story gets a little weird. My mom saw an ad in the paper for a beauty pageant that was doing interviews for contestants and suggested that I attend in order to get interview experience. While I was clear that I would never be pageant material, I was willing to do pretty much anything to increase my ability to succeed in my goal of going to Germany. So I agreed and attended a strange experience in a local hotel. Entering the room and seeing a sea of well-manicured girls wearing make-up and fashionable clothes, it was clear to me I did not belong. However, I didn’t need to belong to get my interview experience, so I stayed for the 2 hours and went home and promptly forgot about the entire thing. A few days later, I received a call inviting me to participate in the Miss Hartford Junior Teen Pageant. I said yes and called my mom to tell her I was in the pageant and as part of it there were more interviews! There was one small problem, a $300 entry fee that we simply didn’t have. So I spent the next 3 weeks after school going from business to business in my town asking for $20 to support my participation in this pageant. I raised $350; got a formal gown donated; and a hairstylist to do my hair for free. I borrowed clothes from a woman in my church for the casual part of the competition and went down to Hartford for a day of competition.
It was a blur of activity — girls everywhere, quick changes, a 15 minute interview (the whole reason I tolerated all the parading on stage), and vaseline on our teeth to keep us smiling. At 3 o’clock they finally called the top ten finalists and I was antsy to hear who in our group was going forward so I could go home and crash. When they called my name, I almost fell over. I walked out to the stage in a daze, wondering if there were going to be more interviews to make the extra few hours I would have to spend at the pageant worth it. (Turns out yes, it was a short one, but one of those on-the-stage-show-you-have-poise kind of questions about who your heroes are or something like that.)
So I placed 4th out of a few hundred girls in Hartford. I won an engraved watch; a trophy; and a different kind of self-confidence. And all the interview experience paid off. A month later, I went to my interview with the scholarship committee and was headed to Germany as a full-year student just a few months after that.
Sometimes we go in a completely different direction to get to our goal. I wouldn’t have said that formal gowns and vaseline would lead to a year abroad but I know that what I went through to get through that pageant is part of what made it possible for me to get to Germany. Part of why I started BiCurean is because I don’t think life makes sense or fits into boxes or works anyway like we think it should. And when we limit ourselves to the stories of who we think we are, or who we think we should be, we miss out on the journey.