Warren Merkel

Students cheer on the Redhawks during a sporting event at Miami University.
Warren Merkel

When I started at Miami in the fall of 1992, I chose German as a major for what I thought – at the time – were trivial reasons: I liked German, was good at it, and had interest in nothing else. In hindsight, I realize the quandary I faced was self-imposed; I was too focused on choosing a major that would provide me with a career trajectory instead of first considering what I loved, and then letting that love lead me someplace good. Thankfully my outlook on life changed; I’ve since learned to let my love of things guide my career.

After 3 years in Oxford and a year in Marburg, Germany, I sat in my parents’ house in Pennsylvania wondering where my BA in German might take me. Now, 20 years later, I’m amazed at all the stops along the way: 3 months at a human rights organization in Washington, DC; 7 months of ESL teaching in Boston; 3 years of EFL teaching on the JET Programme in Osaka, Japan; 6.5 years working for a translation company in NYC; a one-year master’s degree program in TESOL in Vermont; 5 years of university EFL teaching in Gwangju, South Korea; and more recently, since fall 2013, a doctoral program in foreign language and ESL education at the University of Iowa. Along the way I’ve also managed to start a wonderful family, and now have a 3-year-old daughter.

What I’ve learned from all these travels and experiences is that – as far as careers go – there are two types of people in the world: those who know what they want to do and those who don’t. Most of my life (and even now, to a degree), I’ve fallen into the latter camp. But what I’ve realized is that the heart is often the best advice giver there is. I’ve listened to mine, and wouldn’t change a thing.

I feel I owe a large part of decisions, and my successes, to my German professors at Miami. What I remember is that my classes and the program focused on a passion for language itself, and not (necessarily) on what that passion could or should lead to; that was for us to figure out. I remember small classes with students of mixed years, an open and friendly environment where we worked through our mistakes and voiced our thoughts freely, and professors who engaged more than they lectured, which in turn made learning, perhaps for the first time in my life, infectious. And for those things I am grateful; they have created a blueprint for both my professional and personal life that I continue to rely on today.