'Nomadic' Professional Finds Stability as UA Student

Leishara Ward, 2015 UANews Student Columnist
June 10, 2015

Although the idea that "the only constant is change itself" dates back to the ancient Ionian philosopher Heraclitus, the adage continues to prove true. My life is no different. 

I was born to two young college dropouts who, in San Francisco in the early 1970s, thought it was cooler to go on a survival trek in the desert than to finish a second semester of school. But when they discovered that I was on the way, they traded in their backpacks for a bread truck and found work in the fields picking strawberries.

Despite our glamorous lifestyle, we eventually rejoined society when my father enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. 

We moved every few months at first, but even after he was discharged we kept moving and moving and moving. I attended five different elementary schools — there are only six grade levels — and my junior high and high school were in different cities as well. The longest I ever lived anywhere during my childhood was three years. 

I asked my dad recently why he always kept us moving so much, and he simply said that he was trying to improve himself; the rest of us were just along for the ride. Although both of my parents eventually finished college and now sustain a more stable lifestyle, my childhood was spent growing up alongside them as they explored what they wanted out of life.

As an adult, I have found that my early nomadic upbringing has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I make friends easily and tend to embrace change. I adore the freshness of new opportunities. On the other hand, I have had to learn appreciation for a stable lifestyle, and how to build relationships that last more than three years. 

When my own daughter was born in 2003, I chose to test myself in a small town in Humboldt County in California. I took a job with the state, bought a house and learned why people do "spring cleaning." This experiment in stability, as I called it, helped me learn about long-term relationships with people, employers, schools and kids' sports teams.

Professionally, my work experience has been as diverse as my physical environment.

While in school, I did odd jobs in food service and even drove city and university buses. After undergrad, I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Kenya for 2.5 years, followed by another year processing refugees for the U.S. Resettlement Program throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. I interviewed Somali refugees in Nairobi, Sudanese Lost Boys/Girls and Eritrean survivors of torture in Kakuma Refugee Camp, and survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who took refuge in Lusaka, Zambia. 

Finally, after almost four years in Africa, I returned to the U.S. and undertook the most challenging job I will ever have: motherhood.

The last decade has given me a plethora of wonderful memories, emotionally trying experiences and a frustratingly stable career. Living in one house, in a small town, doing the same job year after year, I felt a strange dichotomy of comfort and stifling stagnation. My experiment in stability was slowly killing me, and I had to make a drastic change. 

While we had become an integral part of our community, fresh, new career opportunities were beyond my reach, and I knew that it was time for graduate school. This is what brought me to Tucson and the University of Arizona.

Now, as a student in the Master of Public Administration program, I am finding my footing as I explore all of the possibilities. My peers recently voted me the 2015-2016 president of the MPA Student Association. I have been awarded a summer internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development's Africa Bureau in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and I’ve been given this awesome opportunity to share it with you through UANews. 

This summer, I plan to embrace the changes that I know are coming, both internally and externally, and joyously share them. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I know I will enjoy writing about them.

Photography: John de Dios/UANews

Leishara Ward is one of four students selected as a 2015 UANews student columnist. The columnist initiative was launched in June by UANews and provides students the opportunity to share insights about the work and research they will be doing over the summer in various parts of the United States and abroad. It is the UA's 100% Engagement in action, and the students' experiences will prepare them to be real-world ready upon graduation.


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