Noodle Expert Hannah Miller discusses the lessons she learned from being raised on the road and the challenges and excitement of being a writer.
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
Neil Gaiman would be my first choice. I'm a fan of his writing, and have read a few of his books — "Coraline," "Stardust," and "Neverwhere" come to mind. I'd be interested in honing my own novel-crafting skills, and in learning more about his techniques and writing style.
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
My parents raised me on the road, traveling from country to country, continent to continent. They overcame financial crisis, terrible travel days, an the criticism of family and friends in order to live their dream of full-time family travel.
"Don't let your dreams remain dreams," has been a piece of advice that they've lived in their own lives, and it's inspired me time and time again to chase after my own ideal lifestyle and accomplishments. Watching them succeed in the face of overwhelming odds due to their confidence and strength encouraged me to start a career as a freelance writer at fourteen, to travel solo as a minor, to speak publicly about travel as it relates to a well-rounded education, and to have the confidence to stand up for my dreams.
Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?
It would largely depend on the individual. Ideally, I would send her somewhere she'd be comfortable enough to enjoy her experience, yet also challenged enough to learn about the culture she's immersed in, how it affects her, and who she's becoming because of her new experiences.
Europe is the current international student hotspot for good reason. Western Europe provides an environment that is both new and challenging for student travelers. It's just different enough to offer an eye-opening educational experience, but also offers a safe and comfortable setting for travelers who still need some semblance of structure and cleanliness. Trains arrive on time. People are friendly and helpful, generally. Food is, for the most part, easier on the stomach than it is in South America or parts of Asia. Best of all, Europeans are very used to international students touring their continent and have set up hostels, rental cars, trains, and more in a way that's very easy to organize as a foreigner. Europe is a great place to start traveling!
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
I was accepted as a university student for the first time right after my sixteenth birthday. Oregon State University was my campus of choice, because of their excellent online learning courses. I could get two or three years into my university work while traveling Southeast Asia and Oceania before transferring my credits to Queen's University in Ontario and finishing up my degree.
I started out with a couple of easy classes, college algebra among them. It was a rough transition for me. I was the youngest in the class by at least two years, and I was nervous. I've been a straight A student for as long as I can remember, but due to my anxiety over wanting to ace my first term, I began failing. When it came time to go in for a proctored exam, I would be shaking from head to toe. I couldn't remember the formulas I'd memorized. The thought of being watched by a proctor while I worked out equations made me feel sick.
In the end, I barely scraped by with a D; the worst overall grade I've ever received in anything. I remember my dad sitting me down and saying, "What's up? I know you're better than this. You know the number or letter they give you doesn't define your worth, right? Just give it your best shot. As long as you're giving it everything you've got, honestly, then no one can ask anything more of you. Stop caring so much about what other people think." I thought about that for a while, and to this day that algebra class is the only class I've ever taken that's stressed me out to that extent.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
My mother was/is a writer, and I would say she's been a great inspiration over the past few years. Writing has always been a passion of mine. I started journalling from a very young age, and have yet to stop scribbling in my notebook randomly throughout the day. I began selling my work as a freelancer at fourteen. I would say I've had a good experience. Watching my Mom get published on a monthly basis, it seemed like the most common thing in the world to me. I had only a brief moment of anxiety about getting my work "out there," and from then on, it's just been a matter of pitching and writing.
I got into writing about travel and education rather naturally, as editors began contacting me to write about travel from a teen's perspective, and I found myself answering many questions about my education and lifestyle. I would say that I was naive about writing at first. I thought that if I would just sit down at my computer, words would come to me easily, and I'd never struggle to come up with ideas or witty comebacks. I never anticipated the pacing, the writer's block, the desire to procrastinate, the copious amounts of tea and chocolate consumed while muttering phrases and ideas to myself like a gibbering maniac. I also never anticipated the sheer satisfaction that comes with seeing my work inspire others on occasion. I like what I do.