The wise words of Kurt Nordstrom

The wise words of Kurt Nordstrom

Remember that quote about how you’ll forget your nights out in college, but you won’t forget who you spent them with? I think the same thing also applies to your classes: I might not remember the key terms in social psychology or the exact format of a press release, but I do remember the professors who made me think a little harder.

Christine Amorose, at Chico State graduation, May 2009

Kurt Nordstrom was–and I imagine still is– a polarizing figure in the Chico State Journalism Department. Students in his writing, gender studies and multicultural studies classes either loved him or hated him. But no matter how you felt about his class structure or views, you had to respect one thing: the man doesn’t mince words. He tells it like it is, often in pithy, quotable statements (also often outrageously frank and unrepeatable here). I’ve found myself repeating many of his trademark quotes since I’ve been traveling, and have found they’re wise advice for any citizen of the world.

I joyfully accept the choices other people make. The only person I’m responsible for is me. I can’t change how people think about me or my lifestyle or where I come from. I can’t make other people want to travel or get their passport or quit their job. I can’t answer for Americans who treat local people rudely, or who drink too much, or who spend their whole vacation whining about how things aren’t how they are at home. And there’s no point stressing out over trying to change people: it’s much easier–and healthier–to accept the things we can’t change and simply try to live our own lives the best we can.

Sunset view from hammock on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

Stop putting age limits on things. The odds of you meeting the love of your life the year you turn 27, simply because you want to date someone for two years before you get engaged and you want to be engaged for at least a year, and you want to be married before you turn 30: that’s just not how life works. Throw out the fairytales and the irrelevant requirements, and live life. Be open to opportunities, and see where life takes you: if you do things right, rarely will it be where you thought it would go. In travel: be flexible. Be open-minded. Be willing to change your plans. The road will reward you.

I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying it is. When you’re in a different country, it’s easy to dismiss cultural differences as being wrong or worse than “our” way of doing things. But I often come back to this statement when I start to judge another country or another person. Recently, I was trying to sort out why there was so much trash everywhere in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali that is super devoted to eco-friendly causes. Then I was chatting with someone, and they mentioned how the Balinese people used to eat everything on banana leaves and toss the banana leaves into the river (brilliant simplicity)–so it’s probably just a lack of education in knowing that tossing your plastic bottle into the river isn’t quite as biodegradable. And honestly, it’s probably more of the West’s fault for introducing our cheap, environmentally-unfriendly packaging. It was an excellent reminder to look at all sides of the issue, not just the most obvious.

The possessions of a long-term traveler: three bags!

Collect experiences, not possessions. Possessions possess you. One of the downsides of being an expat versus being a traveler is a tendency to accumulate. When I’m living out of three bags, I’m very conscious of how much I own. But once I move into an apartment, I suddenly have the luxury of space–for a new dress, for sparkly eyeshadow, for every cleaning product under the sun. And then I feel guilty when I leave because of all the stuff I own–do I sell it? Give it away? Leave it behind? And honestly, I’m much more satisfied with the money I spent on all sorts of extreme sports or crossing the Nullarbor: those memories won’t fade, but my trendy new bag will probably go out of style.

Maui Hawaii sunset

Embrace this moment because it’s probably the last time in your life you have no idea where you’ll be next year. As my senior year of college drew to a close, I stopped into Nordstrom’s office hours to chat. I was stressing that the five-week solo backpacking trip I’d been planning as a post-graduation treat would seriously hurt my chances in a recession-stricken job hunt. He told me to stop freaking out and embrace the unknown. At the time, it struck me as being scarily true: I would soon be a “grown-up” with a real job, serious boyfriend and an apartment of my own. If all went according to the American dream, I’d soon be promoted, married and have a house in the suburbs with 2.5 kids. The rest of my life felt completely mapped out for me. When I decided to move to France, his words popped back into my head. Now one of my favorite things about my life is that I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be in a year’s time–life is much more fun when it’s unpredictable.

Many thanks to Kurt Nordstrom for not only being a source of wisdom, but for also being super supportive whenever I needed it–and thanks to Katelyn Davis for quoting Nordstrom and Elizabeth Gilbert with me whenever necessary.

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  • I love your wisdom in this post!  You were lucky to “hear” this advice so early in your life.  We all need someone like Mr. Nordstrom in our life.

  • Raquel

    I was on a committee with Kurt for two years. He has such great insight. Thanks for reminding me.

  • Katelyn

    This post is such a gem! Thanks so much for giving me a shout out. It’s so much fun to remember and quote Kurt with you! (And Elizabeth too!)

  • Brilliant advice! I am still trying to toss out the fairytales and timelines. That one gets harder when you are still single at 35! But I’m trying to overcome it–so what if I am a wrinkly bride? There’s always photoshop! haha!

  • Linda R

    What a delight to read of one of my favorite profs from …uh… close to 20 years ago now. Don’t waste time!

  • Miruna Corneanu

    Great post!

  • Anonymous

    gotta love all chico professors 🙂

  • Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose
    sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are
    constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things –
    air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the
    eternal or what we imagine of it.

  • Amanda

    I love this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Some real gems in this Christine. Especially loved what you said about collecting experiences and embracing the unknown. This has been a major part of my life the last couple of years and still drives me, though I’m not traveling as much as I was a year ago. Much of that drive isn’t toward retirement or thinking about my future or promotions, but so that I can collect more experiences. Living now in the moment and my own terms has brought so much more satisfaction and fulfillment, though it’s so counter culture. I would rather be happy and fulled with little then be miserable with a lot of things.

  • Anonymous

    Very grateful that I not only got to have him as a professor, but that I befriended him during his office hours–learned so much in and out of the classroom.

  • Anonymous

    Aha! Then you can join me and Kate when we quote him to each other–welcome to the club, Raquel!

  • Anonymous

    I might not have remembered all of these gems if not for quoting them with you–so thank YOU!

  • Anonymous

    Yess the fairytale and timeline one is difficult–I think we all set those sorts of “goals” for ourselves, whether we want to or not. Much harder–but oh so rewarding–to just live in the moment.

  • Anonymous

    It’s crazy to think about how many people probably remember Kurt’s quotes–glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Anonymous

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Anonymous

    Ahhh Jenna you would have gotten along wickedly with Nordstrom!

  • Anonymous

    Chico’s not all bad, my friend–we squeezed a fair bit of wisdom in between keg parties 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I give all credit to Dr. Nordstrom–he was crazy inspirational and influential in my deciding to travel right after finishing college. One of my only professors who didn’t make me feel guilty at all for not going straight into the job market.

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  • I like “collect experiences, not possessions. Possessions possess you.” The spirit and spunk behind these quotes remind me of my professor – Dr. Webber. The man would shock you with his words, make you reexamine the way you thought, and inspire you to go out and conquer the world. 🙂

  • Jill Scarbrough

    I love whenever I stumble across your posts on facebook!!  Always reminds me why I am here.  Hope your travels are still going well!!!

  • Anonymous

    That’s exactly like Dr. Nordstrom–plenty of shock value, but it certainly made you think!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! Hopping through Thailand now–hope that you’re enjoying summer in Sydney!

  • Christinefoell

    I love this Christine!  Kurt was (and still is) one of my favorite Professors from Chico.  I gained so much knowledge from his wise words, and think of him often when dealing with a difficult situation.  I couldn’t agree more, amazing blog.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Christine! I totally remember being in one of his classes with you–he’s hilarious but also incredibly wise. Hope all is well!

  • I loved this post.

    “I joyfully accept the choices other people make.”

    That is something that has been hard for me to do but I have realized it should be a necessity in my life and how I look at things going forward.

  • camorose

    Always a favorite when I start to get upset about what other people are doing–until I realize, no point in getting upset over things I can’t control!

  • The Boy

    Wonderful post. I consider myself a citizen of the world too 🙂 I agree with you on collecting experiences and not things. Trying to embrace the unknown is very important  (although I have to really do it myself for it is very scary).  I will try to remember not to put numbers on things… 

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it–not putting numbers on things is one of my biggest challenges!

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  • sincerelykateb

    this photo of me sleeping during graduation makes me laugh!

  • camorose

    Me too!

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  • Tweedle Dee

    Had Kurt in 1990, he rocks!

  • camorose

    Yes! The best!