We had the good fortune of connecting with Alexis Greene and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alexis, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking

Risk-takers have higher levels of curiosity, which was the case for me, a small-town girl from Mobile, Alabama. Growing up, my dad worked 6-8 months overseas for an international shipping logistics company, so we would make frequent trips to the airport to say our goodbyes. I truly believe those early childhood experiences of seeing my Dad travel to foreign countries fostered an early age of curiosity, which inevitably led to a life of risk-taking.

My first experience with risk-taking was shortly after I graduated with my first master’s degree and moved to an even smaller town in Mississippi. Although the town had a smaller population than Mobile, it was in a different state. So, I felt empowered about the risk of moving away from home. I accepted a teaching contract in a small Catholic school, which paved the way to my journey of becoming a Catholic. Despite my meager salary of working in a private school, I gained something even more important that year— a faith that felt right in my heart. After living in Mississippi, I was in search of a top-paying job in a city with urban amenities, so I decided to move to Tampa, Florida, which was another risk. Although the move was overwhelming, I was determined to pursue personal and professional goals.

My second experience with risk-taking was when I accepted a teaching contract in Macau, China. Macau, which is often referred to as the Vegas of the East, was lively, crowded, and quite multicultural. My new friends came from all over the world including Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Sweden, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines. My weekends were packed with ferry trips to Hong Kong, shows at The Venetian Casino and Hotel, and lunch dates at the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel. My curiosity for other cultures and different countries continued to grow, and the next year, I accepted a teaching contract in Ghana, Africa.

My move to Ghana was around the time that Ebola was widespread and covered in almost every news outlet. Friends warned me about Ghana, but did I listen? No. To this day, I truly believe that God sent me on a mission to Ghana. This was an elite international school with children whose parents were financially successful. During the second semester of the school year, school leaders commended me for my efforts in a charitable fundraising venture. My 6th graders raised a substantial sum of money, which was used to help three Ghanaian toddlers to receive heart transplants. This was the first time in the school’s history that they were able to sponsor more than one child. Our efforts provided relief to distressed families who were able to obtain care for their children sooner than they expected.

My success in Ghana led to my final teaching position abroad — Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to teach in Saudi Arabia was made possible by surrounding myself in the right social and professional circles. At the end of the day, my motivations for moving to Saudi Arabia were very clear — I wanted to experience a Middle Eastern culture while maintaining my financial independence. I had no idea that I would end up in Saudi Arabia when I arrived in Ghana, but that’s the beauty of allowing yourself to take risks. Since my Dad’s side of the family embraced Islam as their faith, I was comfortable with my decision to pursue a teaching contract in Saudi Arabia. My first night felt like the intro to Disney’s Aladdin, and the experience was quite surreal. There was a level of wealth in Riyadh that I had never experienced. The new friendships, dinner parties, and salons were all so exceptional. My professional career and social life elevated in the two years that I lived in Saudi Arabia. I took on assignments that allowed me to mentor other colleagues based on my past experiences. My hard work paid off, and during my second year as a teacher, I was awarded the Distinguished Teacher of Excellence Award by my colleagues and administrators.

My third experience with risk-taking was when I applied to the M.A. program in International Higher Education at Boston College. Even though I already held a graduate degree in Education, I wanted to make a career change from teaching in the classroom to higher education administration. International higher education would allow me to use my international expertise at a higher level. My first semester at Boston College was challenging and overwhelming. However, the more I studied, the more confidence I gained. Believing in myself enhanced my resilience. It also improved my ability to navigate the complexities of the research. By changing my mindset, I concluded my graduate career with an amazing internship at Pepperdine University, a second master’s degree, and a new career at UC San Diego.

The fourth and most recent experience with risk-taking was in February of this year when I applied for a grant through the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR). The grant allowed me to participate in archaeological research. I did not have any experience with archaeology, but I did have a strong passion and sincere desire to learn more about it. In May, I was awarded a grant for the Tell al-Judaidah publication. Tell al-Judaidah is notable among excavated sites in the agricultural region near Antioch/Antakya for its persistent occupational record from the 4th millennium B.C. into the 1stmillennium A.D. Working on this project has expanded my knowledge of ceramics and artifacts. Our team is using the material culture from past excavations to uncover the diversity of the ancient world. Even though I did not have any experience in this field, working on this project allowed me to expand into a different discipline. I was mentored by an expert in the field, Dr. Lynn Dodd, the Director of the Archaeology Center at the University of Southern California.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?

As an undergraduate student at the University of South Alabama, I lived in a one-bedroom off-campus apartment. I was determined to support myself financially, so I worked three jobs while staying on the Dean’s list. It was quite challenging to balance all three, but as I mentioned previously, my faith kept me grounded. Shortly after receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, I received a Master of Science degree in Education from Spring Hill College, which is the oldest college in the state of Alabama. It was the first Catholic college in the South. My years at “The Hill” were quite memorable. After maintaining an almost perfect GPA for an entire academic school year, I was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Spring Hill College also gave me exposure to the most exceptional people, who were dedicated to self-improvement and professional goals. With so many inspiring peers in my circle, my passion to change the lives of school-aged kids grew even stronger.

Although I was nervous about leaving academia, I accepted my first teaching contract at a private Catholic school in Mississippi. A year later, I moved to Tampa, Florida, which was a big move for me at the time. Living in Tampa was rewarding but I yearned for more. I remember calling my Dad one night to tell him that I wanted to become a Catholic nun. My Dad thought that becoming a Catholic nun was a bit extreme. Although it comes with many rewards, it is a very restrictive life. At the time, I felt unhappy and desired more for myself. This was indeed a confusing chapter in my life, and my Dad could see that I was struggling with the journey. He suggested that I take my skills and education overseas. After a long lecture and reassuring affirmations from him, I sold everything in my apartment and moved to Macau, China for a teaching job.

During this chapter in my life, I was seeking a deeper understanding of the world around me. Living overseas allowed me to navigate cultural differences, but that is the beauty of traveling abroad.  Moving back to the U.S. was somewhat challenging, especially when it came time for me decide on a career path. Since I had overseas teaching experience, a new career in international higher education would allow me to use my international expertise at a higher level. I figured if I could get accepted into the M.A. program in International Higher Education at Boston College, then I would know for sure that I was on the right path. Guess what, I got accepted, and that was my affirmation. The one thing that I remember from every big step in my professional life is to believe in your goals. In my experience, something beautiful usually happens when you persevere after a challenging situation. Today, I have an awesome career with the International Students and Programs Office at UC San Diego. I am a member of The Junior League of San Diego (JLSD) and Women on Course San Diego (WOC).

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?

San Diego is well known for its food, beaches, and tourist attractions including the San Diego Zoo and Seaworld. After you visit the Zoo, make sure to take in the sights and museums at Balboa Park, or just enjoy a walk on the canyon trails. I would highly recommend Mister A’s restaurant for Sunday brunch. Their brunch menu offers a nice selection of savory dishes including Cajun-style shrimp and heirloom grits, eggs benedict, and buttermilk fried chicken and waffles. After doing some well-deserved shopping at Nordstrom, do not forget to take a lunch break at Bazille, which is located on the 2nd floor of Nordstrom UTC. For dinner, you can never go wrong with a reservation at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla. This restaurant has a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. Finish the evening with appetizers and a lovely view of the downtown skyline at The Nolen in the Gaslamp Quarter.

If you are looking for fun activities, you should check out the San Diego Symphony at The Rady Shell in Jacobs Park. While you’re there, you absolutely must experience the Hornblower’s Brunch Cruise on the San Diego Bay. Try not to drop your camera as you sail past amazing San Diego sights including Coronado Bay Bridge, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum, the Star of India, and the Naval Air Station North Island. If you’re here during baseball season, catch a Padres game at Petco Park with a few tacos and a refreshing beverage.

On your last day, play 18 holes at Coronado Golf Course or spend the day at Coronado Beach. The beach gives you easy access to the historic Hotel del Coronado, which was built in 1888. The long beaches are known for their golden sand, which is one of the reasons why Coronado is ranked as one of America’s finest beaches. For dinner, top off your vacation with breathtaking views of the downtown skyline and San Diego Bay by dining outdoors at Peohe’s.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?

First and foremost, I would like to thank God for keeping me as the apple of his eye and hiding me under the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17:8). I have not always been confident about my decisions in life, but one thing I knew for sure, is that God would protect and guide me. In 2015, I set out to read the Bible from beginning to end. Although I had made several attempts from 2015 to 2019, it was not until 2020 that I was able to reach that personal goal. I remember thinking to myself, “Ten years from now, I do not want to remember 2020 as the year of the pandemic, but rather as the year I achieved a personal goal.” On December 26, I started my journey of reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It took two weeks at twelve hours a day to achieve this personal goal. My next goal is to read the Holy Qu’ran from beginning to end. Without God’s presence in my life, I would have struggled with maintaining the mindset to achieve my personal and professional goals.

I would also like to acknowledge my Dad for teaching me the importance of international travel, cultural exposure, and leadership. He believes in the teachings of Islam and gave me many lectures on virtue, righteousness, and modesty. I can still remember his lectures on leadership as he would drive me to school in the mornings. These teachings remain steadfast in my life today, and I thank him for that.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/a_cultured_girl/

Image Credits
Heather Broomhall Photography (photo with pink background)

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