I’ve had to introduce myself many times over the past few years. Whether one-on-one in a meeting across a wooden table, or sitting barefoot on the floor in a circle, or before a presentation to faces in a lecture room, it often goes the same way: name, major, where you’re from and then the usual icebreaker that makes you nervous as you wait your turn, mulling over the most clever way to relay your favorite ice cream flavor. (It’s anything with rainbow sprinkles, by the way.)
So, let me introduce myself: My name is Naomi Sternstein and I am a double major in creative writing and chemical engineering from Great Neck, New York. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and I easily call them my best friends. My sisters, my mother, my grandmother and I each wear a necklace with a charm in the shape of a slice of triple-layered frosted cake dangling from the chain. This is partly for good luck, partly so we can think of one another going about her day wearing the very same necklace and partly so we can always have a slice of cake on our necks.
When I am asked what I study at school, I switch the order of my answer around depending on my mood or the day I’m having – creative writing, chemical engineering; engineering and writing. It’s a mouthful, but it typically generates the same response. Sometimes people are almost concerned, and jokingly create a plan for my future involving ways I can combine the two, usually adulterating each major along the way. I smile, but remind myself that they already fit together in the ways I see and do. I have always been at once a writer and an engineer, both strains of creating, mixed with all of my other passions.
From before I could remember and until well into high school, one of my parents would read to me before I went to bed. I’ve always loved the way select words would fit together to form each sentence, similar to the way one molecule can react with another molecule to create something new. I would create my own sentences and miniature stories in my head. The summer after 10th grade, at the encouragement of my chemistry teacher, I participated in a program to introduce girls to engineering. In small groups, we designed, wired and built a toy and learning tool for a special needs child whom we met; that summer, I decided I was going to be an engineer.
I’ve always felt a part of many different worlds, comfortable placing myself someplace new and foreign and making it another home. I grew up learning two languages, English and Hebrew. I sang songs in both languages, listened to stories in both languages and loved two countries. Later my love for languages grew out and up like vines, grabbing at Italian and then Korean. I found that with each new dialogue I could understand a different culture, a different way of seeing the world. My dad would count the languages that we spoke on his hands: English, Hebrew, Italian, ballet, tap, math, piano, engineering. In my life now, it has been the same. I have become a part of many special communities, from creative writing to engineering, many of them with overlapping parts that have created new wholes.
These are all languages have made my world a little bigger, and brought people a littler closer to me. They’ve let me see friends to joke around with in a room saturated with Midwestern men at a chemical plant in Kansas. They’ve let me hear and tell stories that might have otherwise been buried away, left without translations. When I introduce myself to you, these words that may seem like simple nouns and adjectives begin to piece together the larger story of who I am.