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Life Offers Unexpected Detour for Aspiring Journalist

  • Tang Ximing
  • Rebecca Lombardi

Aspiring journalist Jessica Shyu was on her way to achieving her life's dream. But a chance to teach far from her Washington, D.C. home convinced her to give up city life for the sprawling mesas of the Southwestern U.S. where she now teaches on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. For producer Tang Ximing and Rebecca Lombardi, Elaine Lu has her story.

"This is the way usually I go to work, I live about 35 miles [56 kilometers] away from where I teach," says Jessica Shyu while driving through the desert.

For almost two years, the 23-year-old special education teacher has lived in Tohatchi, part of the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. "A lot of students have disabilities that affect their reading, math, and writing skills. My job is to provide them services on a variety of fronts that will be able to help them be able to perform closer to where their peers are."

Shyu majored in journalism in college. Before graduation, she began working for a local newspaper. But as Shyu juggled her responsibilities as a student and a reporter, she began to question her dream of becoming a full-time journalist.

One day, Shyu came across a "Teach for America" advertisement. The New York City-based non-profit organization recruits outstanding college graduates nationwide to teach in areas that have a shortage of qualified teachers.

Shyu decided to apply for the program without telling her parents, and got in.

"We both felt really shocked when we found out she would be a teacher," recalls her mother, "especially because she would be all the way in New Mexico. I felt really worried because she would be so far away. For a young girl to give up such a comfortable and colorful city life and go to a place far from home really isn't easy."

"I understand now what people mean by the 'simple life,' she writes in an e-mail. "The simple life, often associated with rural life -- and, oh lordy, is this rural -- is by no means rustic or quaint. It is rich. Living without a grocery store for 30 miles [48 kilometers] makes you notice and appreciate the textures in what is there, like the post office."

At first, Shyu's new life was overwhelming. "Crying, Crying, Crying," says a later e-mail message. "As promised, I cried, and cried, and cried. Despite working 18 hours a day, I am always behind. Each day I am a little more behind. Who am I kidding? Each day I am a lot more behind."

She credits her friends and family for helping her persevere.

"But very soon, they were very supportive," she says. "My parents helped me collect books for my classroom, they would ship books, people would drop off books at their office and they would mail them down to New Mexico for me."

Shyu's special education students will eventually return to regular classrooms and continue their studies with other kids their age. Shyu is still young and has many goals. She wants to earn a master's degree, write articles about education, and develop books for children with learning disabilities.

"I don't know. I'm still open," she says. "I never expected to be a teacher, let alone like being a teacher. So who knows where I might be in another two years. But right now I think that whatever I do, my roots in education will always be grounded here in New Mexico."

"The sky in New Mexico is so big. Before I came out here I forgot that peripheral vision stretches and strains across the front to almost the back of my ears. My eyes are so wide -- I see everything."

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