Geography & Me, A Love Story

AHOY! I’m Ellen, the new National Geographic Education Outreach and Policy Intern, and I’m working on Geography Awareness Week (November 17-23). I hail from Carbondale, Illinois, and am currently pursuing a degree in Geography and Environmental Resources and Radio, Television and Digital Media at Southern Illinois University. I have paired my concentration of Environmental Sustainability with Television/Video Production, a visual and spatial tool I employ to promote and communicate about Sustainability and Geography Education.

Whether I realized it or not, I have had a long-time infatuation with geography. My childhood was one of people watching, stargazing, leaf collecting, and running around my family’s orchards- exploring. Born and raised in the same town for twenty-one years, I had a fascination and desire to stretch free of my all-too-familiar surroundings. I yearned to breathe in new worlds, faces, and scenery.

Photograph by Ellen Esling, atop a mountain in Mutoko, a rural village of Zimbabwe.
Photograph by Ellen Esling, atop a mountain in Mutoko, a rural village of Zimbabwe.

In my house, breakfast time was reading time. My father kept a stack of National Geographic magazines in the kitchen. Before I could understand the text, I ogled at the photos that enlarged my world. How exotic and enticing that frogs can be sky blue, canary yellow, and tomato red when we have brown and lumpy toads in Southern Illinois! On road trips I was handed an atlas that I followed meticulously, tracing my finger along crisp interstate lines. After several adventures championing the chief navigator’s tool upon my lap, it eventually made its way into my heart. Taking a close look at the content of my stories, imaginative musings, and travel fixation, it seems obvious that I have always perceived my world through a geographic lens.

Photograph of Ellen Esling by Brooke Patton; view of wild Mutoko, Zimbabwe.
Photograph of Ellen Esling by Brooke Patton; view of wild Mutoko, Zimbabwe.

When it came time for college, selecting an area of study was an arduous task.  I want to learn and try everything! Yet geography fell into my lap; a field that encompasses my curious nature, passion for Earth and people, and adventurous spirit. Fascinated by the layers and complexities of this social and spatial realm, I have been devoted ever since.

It is human nature to uncover meaning in every aspect of life. Geography seeks to define and assign meaning to space. It is cause and effect; an attempt to understand and appreciate the human race and incredible earth we inhabit. When I flip on a light switch, what goes into illuminating the space? Who was involved in producing the shoes that make my day-to-day adventures possible? What are the implications of my actions? What is this world and how do I fit into it? In geography, “space becomes place”. Geography is several threads woven into one tapestry. Geography is connection. Geography is meaning.

What an honor it is to intern during the 125th Anniversary year of National Geographic, promoting geography education and being a part of Geography Awareness Week 2013!

9 thoughts on “Geography & Me, A Love Story

  1. Congratulations on this wonderful opportunity, keep up the good work

  2. I agree with Lucas…inspirational! I love southern Illinois, but would love to see more of the world. I also agree with Kimberly – you are fabulous!

  3. I used to work in the Geology department at SIU (;-) ) and now moved back to Germany. It’s fun to stay connected and see how you explore the world! Have fun and stay curious. There is so much to see out there!

  4. As a military dependent, I started out in DC, then took a train acroos country to Frisco, then ship to Hawaii, then on to Guam. Coconuts, monsoons, then by ship to USA, then off to Germany. maps, names of cities and towns, exotic! Born and bred a gypsy traveler, nothing quickens the heart like new love other than starting off on a journey!

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