Transformation and Transition—From Butler to China

Erin O’Neil ’17

from Fall 2017

Blog Posted: July 2017

The day I received my acceptance letter to attend Butler University was one of the best days of my life, but I didn’t realize that Butler was my dream school until the last few days of my undergraduate career. It wasn’t until then that I was able to truly see the impact this institution has had on my life. When I walked across the stage and received my diploma, I was handed so much more than a degree—I was given the skills necessary to begin a new path, the support to carry me through, and the determination to use my education to create positive change. As I sit here reflecting on how in the world I ended up halfway around the globe just a month after graduation, I know it’s because of Butler.

Transitions are never easy, but mine was particularly difficult as I took on the challenge of settling into post-grad life in Shanghai, China. I’ve returned to work as a videographer for Collective Responsibility, the company with whom I interned last summer and continued working for remotely throughout my senior year. I’ll admit in the months leading up to the move I was terrified, and I continuously doubted my ability to move this far from home for six months. And it certainly hasn’t been easy; I don’t speak Chinese, so every mundane task is that much more difficult. I’ve never rented an apartment before—let alone in a foreign country—and the 12-hour time difference has strained communications with family and friends back home. Moving to Asia alone is perhaps one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. But I can easily say, after having lived here for just two months, it will certainly be one of the most rewarding.

During one of my first meetings with the founder of the company and my direct supervisor, Rich, he explained that the only way to make the most of my time here is to always have a camera in hand. He encouraged me to be courageous and confident in capturing Shanghai culture. He made a point of noting that the thing people seem to regret most is not having taken full advantage of this incredible city by the time they leave. Yet I felt very intimidated to capture a world I don’t understand and scared in particular of doing so alone.  Rich reminded me that people would either be okay with it or wave at me to stop; both results I wouldn’t know to be reality until I first got out there and tried.  I quickly realized that this opportunity has not only allowed me to explore Asia for six months and continue practicing my art, but that it will also help me become a more dauntless storyteller.

The world will not wait for me; it will continue flying by and either I have captured it, or I haven’t. During my undergraduate studies I spent my fair share of time walking around campus interviewing students, capturing footage of the beautiful Holcomb Gardens, and sitting in Fairbanks editing the night away. But walking out into the “real world” with a camera in hand and minimal knowledge of my surroundings is a whole lot scarier than trekking the woods behind Butler’s I-lot or setting up camp in the TV studio. I don’t know these streets like the back of my hand; I don’t know the inner workings of this city as I did the “Butler bubble.” But these breaches of our comfort zones are what make us stronger individuals and more developed and talented artists.

Shanghai is an amazing city: the diverse culture, the scenery, the constant bustle, and the international community that is steadily expanding. The people I run into from all over the world continuously surprise me. The diversity and personal testaments to the question, “Why China?” is always fascinating. Shanghai is particularly appealing to entrepreneurs, researchers, and small businesses owners, which means my network is rapidly expanding and I’m learning from professional in all different industries.

Two of the projects I’m most excited for are video series called “Entrepreneurs4Good,” and “Sustainability Ambassadors.” The former is a series of interviews in which entrepreneurs from differing industries in Asia share their stories of how they create positive change and inspire others by developing socially responsible enterprises. Sitting behind the camera, I learn about what motivates people, how they find their inspiration, and how they’ve overcome personal challenges. “Sustainability Ambassadors” is a similar concept that focuses on leaders specifically working in environmental sustainability. Both video series are an opportunity to learn from professionals and young entrepreneurs alike about how they strive for and determine success. As a recent graduate, these stories encourage me and facilitate personal growth as I reflect on my own goals and achievements.

Travel has been a passion since my first trip to Chile in high school. It was on that trip that I discovered how incredible it is to be able to connect with and learn from international communities despite language and cultural differences. Since then I’ve made another visit to Chile, traveled to France, studied abroad with the GALA program in Western Europe, and trekked to China on two separate occasions. Each adventure inspires me in different ways, and I continue to learn about myself in ways I couldn’t do within my comfort zone of the United States. But this trip in particular has already expanded my global and personal perspectives far beyond previous excursions. The silence in traveling alone is where I find the moments to reflect and to learn about myself and what motivates me as a storyteller.

Moving to another country certainly has its unique adversities and moments of frustration.  But so does starting a new job, taking on a challenging role at work, or even getting your first apartment. To anyone faced with the opportunity to travel the world and get paid to do what you love, the only advice I can give is to do it. Yes, it’s scary to uproot yourself from a familiar and comfortable lifestyle to start over in a very foreign place. Yes, it will force you to question yourself and adapt in a world you may not entirely understand. But if there’s anything I know for certain, it’s that it’s worth every strain and moment of adversity. It is in these moments that we become the strongest versions of ourselves and begin to recognize how our work can influence and contribute to positive change. To my fellow Bulldogs, never take your education nor your university for granted; it will help shape who you become and provide opportunities that will change your life. It sounds cheesy, but I promise, I would not be the person I am today without Butler, and I certainly wouldn’t be in China.

Follow my adventures at outcollectingstamps.wordpress.com