Where Are They Now? Meet Alumna Challis Popkey

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Originally from Boise, Idaho, Challis Popkey, Class of 2015, graduated with a major in Communications. Because of a study abroad semester in Ferrara during high school, Challis decided that she wanted to complete her degree in Italy so she transferred to JCU from the University of Oregon. After a post-graduation internship for the Nautical Channel, Challis moved to New York City, where she has been living since.

Challis Popkey

JCU Alumna Challis Popkey

How’s life after graduation? How’s living in New York?
Life is good! I am blessed to be living in New York, where I hear at least ten languages spoken every day, whether on the subway, in the office or on the streets. I love eavesdropping on Italian tourists or residents and diving into conversation with them. It happens less often that I hear Spanish, but thankfully my fluency in one Romance language, Italian, makes it easy to understand Spanish. I’ve realized that Spanish is the language I need to learn in order to travel, learn, and work with people on this continent. I have John Cabot to thank for my confidence in developing language skills.

What have you done since graduation?
After graduation, I worked for the Nautical Channel in Rome for eight months. I began as an intern, a position I obtained through the John Cabot University Career Fair. It was fun and very educational. I learned to analyze ocean swells, rank a surfer’s ride, interview star nautical athletes on-camera, produce lifestyle programs, and the difference between a racing sailboat and a houseboat. I truly enjoyed myself, especially my morning scooter commute and the intelligent, international colleagues I worked with.

I left Italy in January 2016 because I received a job offer from PBS’ Manhattan affiliate, WNET. The 90-day contract turned into a 12-month freelance position reporting on science, technology and borough-specific news. The funds, staff and reputation of WNET far exceed those of the Nautical Channel, but cower in respect to networks like NBC, ABC and CBS (among cable superpowers) that can sell advertising. At PBS I learned the fundamentals of traditional broadcast.

What are you doing now?
I’ve started a personal web series called “Bytes of New York” with a fellow ex-PBS colleague, that highlights real New Yorkers who contribute real positivity – regardless of race, religion or gender. I’m also working at a restaurant, Henry’s, managing social media and waiting tables. Tips are quite lucrative. One point for New York!

How did your time at JCU help you in your career?
My time at John Cabot undoubtedly gave me the courage to be spontaneous, to interpret personal fear as a character-building challenge that must not be ignored.

What are your future plans?
Without getting too political, I’m moving to Colombia in July to teach English. “English teacher” is a job title, but I’m really going to learn. After 25 years of bloody civil war fueled by corruption, drugs, and racism, Colombia declared peace in 2014. As an American, I want to learn how these once-divided people finally achieved peaceful unity. They convinced guerrillas to put down their weapons and return to society. The government has invested 40 million dollars in English-language education with the goal of being a completely bilingual nation by 2020.

My happiness has always been codependent on location. While I am living in a liberal bubble on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I cannot ignore the papers, headlines, protests, and facts that our current administration fails to recognize what I love about my birth country. We are built on immigrants.

Any advice for a new student starting college?
To a new student starting college… Be fearless. Leave your comfort zone. Travel. I am so proud to have a John Cabot degree; not only because of the quality of professors, classes, and student body but because Rome itself is the finest professor in the world. Words can only communicate so much, but going abroad will teach you more than any lecture hall at a U.S, university. Whether it is six months or four years of Roman education at John Cabot, your mind will open in ways you never imagined. And you will realize just how little you know, how vast the world is, and how lucky we are to have the ability to explore and learn from it.