In this episode we meet 2002 Theology and Ethics graduate Sylvia Klauser and chat about having a calling, learning as a pathway, and being true to your adult self.
Each episode is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. In season 3 we talk to graduates about going back. But is it back to the beginning or back to the future?
Sylvia Klauser is a Medical Ethics and Spiritual Care Specialist who has worked in the hospital and health care industry. She is not back in the traditional sense of being back home, but she is back.
Whether it is returning home after graduation, returning to Edinburgh after adventures elsewhere, or just returning to a place that felt like the past but turned out to be the future, season 3 of Multi Story Edinburgh explores how going back is never life in reverse.
All opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Edinburgh.
Multi Story Edinburgh has been created and produced by the Alumni Relations team at the University of Edinburgh. If you are interested in telling your story, please get in touch and let's talk.
Music: Since When by Mise Darling from freemusicarchive.org
Artwork: Vector created by vectorjuice / Freepik
Sonia 0:11 This is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. This is season three, back to the beginning or back to the future.
Sylvia 0:24 I am currently living in Denver, Colorado. And I work as manager of spiritual care and bereavement in Aurora, which is next door to Denver.
Sonia 0:37 Sylvia Klauser, 2002 theology and ethics graduate.
Sylvia 0:41 I think I've come back to, in many ways, myself to find that I lived into the calling that I had all along, but didn't know that I had it. And that is probably the life story of many people, we may have set plans for our life and we want to go in a certain direction and then something God awful like a COVID pandemic comes and derails everything. And you kind of meander along a path of your life and suddenly realise, you may have wanted to do something particular and you got there and you realise that's not what I want. So you get on the path towards home, to yourself again. I've come home to myself to find I've been working along the path of my calling, not knowing exactly what my calling is. Home for me is in the south of Germany, but I realised after finishing the PhD I'm-- I'm not ready to go home, home physically home in the sense of, of settling where I came from, first of all, because there were no jobs to be had, where I come from in the very south of-- southwest of Germany. And that calling was nagging me to go back into the work of supporting patients and helping them to make decisions for themselves. I was not finished learning and studying and I realised while I was doing the PhD, learning is not a goal-- an end goal, learning is a path that you follow. And so I decided to get a training in chaplaincy in New Orleans, a fantastic city. I mean, everybody wants to go to New Orleans at some time in their life. I lived there for a year, it was one of the best experiences. It was three years pre- Katrina and it was the old New Orleans that people know and I am very glad I went there. And I have to say, I went there with the blessing of Professor Forester who was my thesis advisor, who was absolutely delighted to hear that after a PhD, I would go into chaplaincy training. And later on that brought me to do training as an educator and supervisor for chaplaincy, which I am practising now too. And I found myself going home to the intersection where I needed to be, that is physical health, spiritual health, ethics and decision making in a person's life and helping folks to do the right thing at the end of their lives.
I think one of the things that I have completely underestimated when I started, you know, when I started to go to Edinburgh, is that higher education and getting-- getting a higher education degree really will screw you up, because you have to make decisions that you never thought you would have to make. Well, just a little anecdote when I-- when I said I would go to Edinburgh and start theology and, you know, start thinking about faith and ethics and how does one relate to the other, and what do you do with that in your real life, my mother looked at me, she's like, you're gonna lose your faith. If you go study your faith, you're gonna lose your faith. To which I had to say, that is probably true, because I have to lose the faith that you guys gave me or the religion that you guys trained us in, in order to find my own way, in order to find out is this really what I want to learn? Or what I want to practice? Is this my faith, my religion, my spirituality, my grounding, or do I have to find another one? And it is so difficult to go back. And I've been going back to Germany several times, going back re entering the family-- the family of origin, but the problem is as soon as you hit the front door, something really kind of weird, transformational is going on in you. You go in the same house, you become the person that you were when you walked out of that house. It's really hard to have this internal differentiation between, you know your best or worst teenage years that you live there, and then go in as an adult, and stay true to yourself at home in yourself and say, no, I am not the 15 year old teenager, I'm the 50 year old adult coming back here. And staying in conversation with your family and with your home, and with your extended family to say, no, I'm not the person you knew when I left, I'm a different person and I ask you to please see me as that different person.
The ones who leave are changing and the ones who stay back think they don't change, but they change too, because the whole family system, the whole social makeup changes. And when you come back, you think the same person comes back, but those who stayed and those who left are both different persons. And you have to engage that difference in order not to say, oh, they and them and those academics, and they don't fit in the blue collar world anymore. And they're all better than us and holier than thou because they read some more books than we did. That's the categorising, I'm talking about that's so easily done and if we don't differentiate that in our head and hearts that this happens all the time when we go home, we will not be able to bring that learning to home and we will not allow those who stayed home to truly engage with us because we're going to stay in those categories. Think of it in this way, when you go visit your family home, your family of origin home, in many instances, not much has changed and you go back and you sleep in the same room, which was once your room is now the guest room. So all the guests sleep there. But you go in there into those memories that that room holds with your new self, then you have to make a decision, am I going to be the same self that lived in this room before I left to go to university? Or am I going to be the university person who comes back but has essences of that self that grew up in that room? There's a lot of internal transformation, emotional work that we need to do when we go back home because you can't go back home, home is never going to be home as you knew it when you grew up, and a lot of people are, if we're quite frank, quite happy to never go back and left home because it was abusive, it was crazy, it was out of this world. Life make-- gives us stories that we cannot make up, we often walk around the hospital, my team and I sit around and have coffee and it's like, you can't make that shit up. I mean, you cannot make it up, the stuff that comes through our doors is unbelievable.
The one thing that I took with me back home, wherever home is in a physical sense, but back home to myself in the calling that was there for me to be had is the inquisitive learning about myself and others and the relationship to each other. And that is something that I really, really enjoyed in Edinburgh, to be with those who are completely other than myself, from Africa, from a rural area in-- in Asia, from Sri Lanka, from wherever-- where they tell me their story. I tell them my story and in the meaning of those stories, as we are inquisitive with each other, we learn that we are not isolated human beings. But we are one human family that when one thing happens somewhere, it has an effect on me somewhere else. And to never stop learning. That is the one thing that I learned in Edinburgh too, never stop being inquisitive and never stopped making a difference in people's lives, including my own.
Sonia 9:14 We also ask our guests to tell us about a place , somewhere local, somewhere that kind of captures something important, something worth sharing.
Sylvia 9:26 I grew up on the west side of Lake Constance in an area called the Hegau, which is a volcanic-- they have like seven volcanic outcrops and the lake is the third largest freshwater lake in Europe. And it borders on Germany, Switzerland and Austria. And if you can, I will take you to a bicycle tour of 273 kilometres around the lake. It is out absolutely fabulous. There's mountains, there's water, there is absolutely fantastic food. There is history going back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, there is Roman history. There is absolutely fantastic wine on the hills of one of our main mountains, which is called Mount Hohentviel. It's a mediaeval fortress, actually older than mediaeval, it goes back to 915. And that's where I would take you, because I'm a person who needs to be by the water and I did not appreciate how much beauty and how much natural and historic and human beauty we have in that area until I left. So, go to Lake Constance.
Sonia 10:55 Thank you for listening. Join us next time for another graduate and another story.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai