Journey into the Unknown

Journey into the Unknown

Since leaving my position of 16 years as the director of youTHink, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do next professionally.

A few things were clear to me:

  • The relationships I established with young people who were in middle or high school when I met them, but who are now young adults, continue to be meaningful to me.

  • I am good at envisioning and building things. I enjoy the creativity of the process, the opportunity to engage people I know in new ways. I am excited to meet new people, and appreciate the challenges of learning new things, a new field, etc.

  • I was up for a new challenge. I didn’t want to replicate the work I had done in the past, but wanted to use what I had learned and apply it in new ways, in a new arena.

So, with a little nudging from my partner, here I am.

What started as a desire to visit some of my former students in college has become First Gen College. I am on Day Eight of my Northern California road trip. We have interviewed and filmed six people, and have four more to go.

I am traveling with Katka Reszke as my cinematographer and co-producer. She has extensive experience in documentary filmmaking (thank goodness!), and has been a great resource in making this project possible. While I know the young people and am familiar with the issues of the first gen college experience, documentary filmmaking is new to me. Katka knows film, story, sound, lighting, framing, and more, providing a much needed complement for this project.

I have started First Gen College and this project, without having to know what the future holds. I am figuring it all out as I go along.

The Northern CA college road trip I am on right now is a relevant metaphor for this larger journey.

Though we met almost four years ago, Katka and I didn’t know each other well. Yet we have plunged in together. We have spent the last seven days together almost nonstop, and have another five days ahead of us.

At times we are confused, tired, overwhelmed. At times we have each wondered what we have gotten ourselves into.

We had agreed to travel and film together, but we are figuring out the specifics along the way. We know the overarching plot points on this journey, but we are filling in the specifics along the way- booking places to stay, juggling interview appointments, adding new angles and ideas for filming to round out the footage.

As we do, we are getting to know each other, sharing stories of our lives and our life journeys. We are learning to work together, recognizing each other’s strengths and styles.

I am doing my best to be present on the journey, connecting with Katka and the people we are interviewing, taking in the beautiful and varied contours of California.

Like being a first generation college student, I have a general idea of where I am headed and what I hope to accomplish. I also know there’s a lot that I don’t know. I don’t know the scale or scope of this undertaking at this point, or what First Gen College will be in a year or two, but I know that I don’t need to know right now.

I know that while I know plenty of things, there is a lot I don’t know about this specific journey.

I know that I can’t do it alone.

I know that at times I will feel overwhelmed and tempted to turn back or take a safer path.

I know that I won’t succeed unless I ask for help, and that trusting others will help ensure my success.

I know that the view changes along the road, and that the end results may be different than what I imagined when I embarked on this project.

And I know that there is as much, if not more, to be gained from the journey as there is from the final destination. Like so many of the young people we have interviewed reflected- it’s hard, it can be uncertain and scary, and it’s definitely worth it!


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Shifra Teitelbaum, EdD | shifra@firstgencollege.me  |  (323) 393-0806              

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