Almost four years ago, I walked into The Mining Journal, not for the first time ever, but for the first time as a full-time reporter. My first story, assigned at 7 a.m. that day, was on the new road leading to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. To say I was scared or nervous would be a bit of an understatement - terror might be a better description of my state of mind.
Now I'm facing an ending - that of my time here at the paper and in Marquette County - and another beginning.
Mid-January, I will be leaving to begin service with the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the North Africa, likely Morocco. Right now, I don't know much beyond that - where I'll be posted, what sort of kids or young adults I'll be working with, what my living situation will be like.
All I know is that I'm going, which in itself is somewhat of an achievement considering hte year-long application process and barrage of medical appointments I went through to be considered for service.
Serving with the Peace Corps has been something I've thought about doing since at least early high school, getting the chance to meet other people around the world and to see what their lives are like, not in some glossy touristic way, but how they actually live.
I'm beyond excited to see a different part of the world, learn Arabic, try new foods and, most of all, to see what new ideas and doors are opened up for me by this experience. I've never taught English before. But there was a time when I had never conducted an interview before, never had my work published. I will figure it out.
Especially with news last week of protests and the death of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, who first came to North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morrocco, people are asking me if I'm scared, if I'm sure I really want to go.
The answer is yes.
And not because I can look at a map and say that North Africa is a huge region, and anywhere I'm placed will be a distance equivalent to driving north-south across the United States.
Not because I know the Peace Corps doesn't place volunteers where they are in danger of political unrest.
I'm sure I want to go because it is where I feel like I'm supposed to be. Not that it won't be difficult or frightening at times, because I know it will be, but it will be right.
One thing (of many) working for The Mining Journal has taught me, particularly working out of the Ishpeming bureau office, is the importance of relationships and building a sense of community if you want to effectively work with people. People don't like to work with those they don't trust. A reporter has to build up a relationship with the people they interview regularly, and that is a skill I think will serve me well as a volunteer.
As one of our more senior reporters told me when I first started at the paper, people are people. Whether the president of a big company who might make me a bit nervous going in to interview, whether a single parent living in a trailer, whether an angry municipal official, they're all people first and they all have a story I might not be aware of.
The same applies to the people - stress that point - of North Africa.
My time between now and the when I leave will be spent cleaning out my apartment, visiting relatives and packing, lots of packing. But I'll also be taking my time to enjoy living in the community I have come to know over the past several years, visiting favorite restaurants, running down familiar trails, savoring the look of fall leaves across Teal Lake.
And the hardest part - saying goodbye to people who have been a big part of my life.
Johanna Boyle was The Mining Journal's Ishpeming reporter for four years. Readers can follow her new journey as a member of the Peace Corps at jbpeacecorps.wordpress.com.