City Paper: I'm just so intrigued that you were able to find a job after college. I moved down here without a job and I was a lot of different things and had a lot of trouble finding a job that I liked. What is your title at Reading Partners?
Henderson: I'm a site coordinator. I'll be the face of Reading Partners at an elementary school that we're partnering with.
Did you know you wanted to come to the east coast, to Charleston? Was it the job and then the place or the place and then the job?
It was the job and then the place, but I kind of looked at places the farthest away from Washington that sounded cool. I found this position randomly online through indeed.com and I was like "You're not gonna find a real thing on this!" and then I clicked on the site and thought, "Oh, this looks real! This is exciting."
South Carolina has some not great public school reputations ... Is that something you've seen? Is that something that's readily apparent, do a lot of kids need help or is that something that's everywhere?
In my experience, there's been problems with the education system wherever I've been, very unique ones. I think relatively the structure of American schools, I like, but I'm definitely passionate about the education system and getting something that actually works and actually helps students. I was originally thinking about becoming an elementary school teacher — but, I want to make more of a difference in the system.
As an army brat, you've been doing this for a while, meeting new people. Do you ever have trouble truly settling into a place? Are you always thinking, "Oh maybe I'll leave?"
Since my personality is less extroverted and more introverted, I'm actually super passionate about forming intimate relationships. So the first year is hard for me, just because those relationships take time to build. I'm more nervous about this transition. Before it's been set in stone, you're gonna be here three years, four years. Now I have no idea how long I'm going to be here. I've never really felt super settled after one year so do I want to stay here longer, do I not? That kind of ambiguity is more nerve-wracking.
Did you have any preconceived notions of what the city would be like?
I heard a lot of good things about it. I was definitely forewarned about the humidity. When I lived in Korea, I lived in Seoul, so I lived in a ginormous city and so when I think I heard "the city" I thought, "Oh it's gonna be like Seoul." Then I heard there were 200,000 people and I was like, "oh that's nothing like Seoul!" So I was kind of not sure what to expect.
I have experienced that it has more of the small town feel within the city. There's not a bunch of high rises downtown, which is nice and different but I think my biggest desire moving back to the city was having a bunch of scenes to go to, and Charleston definitely has that. It seems like there's so much to do. My roommate told me, "You're only bored if you wanna be bored."
Where do you live?
I live on James Island off of Camp Road.
Did you Craigslist it?
I did. I have awesome parents who are super supportive financially and they still really are but I kind of wanted to cut myself off and be as autonomous as I can. And that was a huge wakeup call because my job is a paid living stipend. And so I was kind of asking some of my coworkers, "Where are good places to live, what should my expectations be? Am I going to have to live in a box?"
So many of the complaints you'll hear — too many tourists, too much traffic — come from people who have lived here who see it changing.
I'm interested to see how my perspective changes when I get into the established community more, especially working in a tier one school. I heard there's still a bit of segregation. I think once I start getting invested in my communnity I'll see that more.
I have seen segregation in the schools. Even though I knew that segregation was still a reality in our schools I did not realize the extent to which it still prevailed. I can count the number of non-black students at my school with both hands. I knew the socioeconomic status of the students in my school would be low, but the combination of the socioeconomic status plus race and the lack of resources provided to our school surprised me. Those factors in addition to the smaller size of the school (which is partly affected by the aforementioned factors) causes us to be overlooked by many officials. In fact, our school is going without a fourth grade teacher this year and a first-year teacher is now teaching a fourth-fifth combined class. My job has been a learning experience and has been very eye-opening. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers and am so grateful to people who commit to making an impact on today's youth.
What is the best advice someone here has given you? Or worst?
Just being open-minded, keep trying to find all the nooks and crannies. I like that a lot with running too. I saw Hampton Park on a run with Charleston Beer Runners and I was like, I didn't know there was a park downtown! How did all these hidden gems get here? It's super fun to have that running group help you explore, just getting out and finding people who know what's up.
A lot of people have been telling me, you're gonna love Charleston, you're never gonna want to leave. I'm skeptical... you don't know me, I've moved every few years. Is it gonna be so great that it's gonna take away that nagging sense? We'll see. Maybe in five years I'll be like, you know what they were totally right.