SPOTLIGHT ON ALEX LONG
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF? ALEX SHARES HOW AUTHENTICITY, FOLLOWING HER INTERESTS AND WORKING HARD HAVE SHAPED HER LIFE SINCE SCHOOL.
FOLLOW ALEX'S KNITTING PROJECTS, ADVENTURES WITH HER WIFE, CAT AND BAKING @GIRLONSAFARI
If we look back at your time at school, when did you attend PLC Sydney and what did you plan to do after school?
I attended from Year 6 (1991) until Year 12 (1997). I planned on going to university to study commerce and languages.
What did you do after finishing school and where your career has taken you?
I enrolled in a Commerce/Arts degree at UTS but quickly realised that the business world was too mercenary for me. What I really wanted to do was teach and so I completed my degree in education and languages (French and English) and went to work in a high school in Western Sydney. I loved working with young people — although the school environment was difficult. It was hard to manage my mental health with the early starts and inflexible routines. At my first school, lots of my students came from a refugee background. I loved getting to know them, their family and community.Eventually I left the classroom but I have worked with refugee and migrant young people ever since — first in a youth advocacy organisation in Sydney, then in a youth health NGO in Uganda and now back in Sydney as the CEO of the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network. We’re a statewide multicultural youth service.
What does a typical 'work' day look like for you?
My job can be very varied. Some days I’m in meetings with Ministers and public servants advocating for the rights and needs of newly arrived young people. Other days I’m running training for youth and settlement workers. Being the head of a small organisation means you have to learn how to do everything.
In the morning I could be looking at budgets and financial reports and in the afternoon I’m drafting social media posts for our fundraising campaign. Another day I might be picking up donated furniture to give to a young person who is doing it tough or making a speech about the importance of white people driving the anti-racism movement.
Could you tell us about a mistake you have made and what did you learn from that mistake?
Gosh, I’ve made so many over the years. When I first went to university, I did what other people told me to do rather than what I really wanted to do. I should have followed my heart. Whenever I have done that in my life, I have never regretted the outcome.
What's the most significant piece of advice you've received and who shared it with you?
My dad told me to find something in life that you love. Practice it until you’re really good at it. With hard work, you might just get to do that as a job. I would also add luck. With luck and hard work, you might get to do something you love as a job. The vast majority of people don’t and those of us who do are immensely privileged.
What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
A few years ago I started learning Arabic. I went to Jordan to study. I found conversation tutors and conversed with Arabic speakers as much as I could. I watched Arab movies and listened to Arab music. Learning Arabic has been one of the most difficult yet enjoyable pursuits in my life. The moment I realised I could read and write in Arabic was one of the proudest moments in my life.
If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your younger self at the age of 20 or 30?
To my younger self I would say, “In a few years’ time you’ll come out as a lesbian. But don’t worry, it will all be ok. It might seem difficult to be true to yourself right now but trust me — it’s not nearly as hard as hiding who you really are.”
What tools or activities do you go to for inspiration/ideas/productivity/balance?
I bushwalk. I read (I’m currently reading Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas). I knit. I learn new languages. I spend time with my nearest and dearest. I bake extravagant cakes and eat them without guilt. I meditate. These things keep me healthy and sane. I have lived with depression and anxiety for a long time so it’s important to have a balance between work and the rest of your life.
What role has your time at PLC Sydney played in your life?
PLC Sydney gave me a quality education. It instilled in me the importance of reading, inquiry and enthusiasm for everything you do. I had teachers who inspired me to become an educator myself. And I had teachers who inspired in me a love of languages. That’s something I’ve never lost. I also made beautiful, loyal friends at school. Many of whom are still my besties.
What are some of favourite memories from school?
In 1997 I was House Captain of Anderson and we won Music Night and the House Trophy that year. I was very proud of the hard work all the girls put in. My best memories of school were during Year 11 and 12 French with Ms Anthony. She was the best and French class was always somewhere I could have fun and do something I was good at. That’s a good feeling.