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Kristen Palana
Kristen Palana

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I’m Kristen Palana, Teacher, Author, and Artist. Ask Me Anything!

Hi CodeNewbie Community!

I was a proud guest on the season finale of the CodeNewbie Podcast with @saron , @ben (Co-Founder of DEV and Forem), and @lianafelt (People Operations Manager at Forem). This episode was a crossover episode with the DevDiscuss podcast!

Listen:

We chatted about soft skills: the traits that help you get along with and communicate with others well. As you can imagine (and probably already know intimately), soft skills are foundational in any job we’ll ever have, professionally or personally!

I’m here to answer any questions you might have about soft skills, what we talked about in the episode, my career, or anything else you think I can shed some light on.

Here are a few things about me...

  • I’m a multimedia artist that creates animation, video, graphic design, illustration, web, and interactive projects independently and for organizations.
  • I’ve been a university professor and teacher at the undergraduate and graduate level since 2000 on four continents
  • I’ve written books on crowdfunding, travel, and being an expatriate. You can find me on Amazon and Audible. Come and learn more or visit my online portfolio at https://kpalana.com

Feel free to ask me anything in the comments below!

Discussion (26)

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington (he/him) • Edited on

Hey Kristen thanks for doing this! Has COVID changed your art in any noticeable way? For instance, the way you go about making it or the subject matter?

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything • Edited on

Hi Michael,

Hmm. Great question. Well, little known fact is I was actually recovering from Covid when I did the interview for the podcast in late January. I was almost better but still had to occasionally mute my mic to have a cough. (*Long story on how my family got sick.... All I can say is we were MUCH more careful than anyone else but became ill anyway. It was at the start of a new variant spreading here in Malawi and when old precautions were becoming less effective. Something to think about as new variants make their way in Europe and the Americas right now.)

One thing that changed is my art for UN organizations became a lot more functional in terms of educating people about the virus and how to avoid catching it or spreading it. The "Nthambi" characters I created in collaboration with my Malawian colleagues at UNFPA Malawi (United Nations Population Fund) all had to be masked up. This led me to use some beautiful local Malawian designs for their masks. My love of these then started to creep into my other art and I have a sketchbook of watercolor pen drawings that are only patterns and designs inspired by Malawi as well as Myanmar (where we lived just before Malawi.)

You are most welcome to see my recent illustrations here: kpalana.com/illustrations/

I haven't yet figured out what I will do with the drawings. I've only put them on Facebook once in a while in my creativity group I run. I encourage anyone here to join if you'd like a place to share your stuff in a private, safe environment. facebook.com/groups/makeandshareda...

"The idea behind this group is to share something new daily (or more realistically every few days if need be!) It can be artwork you made, a photo you took, a quote you stumbled across, a blog post, some writing, a creative list, or any idea you may have. Research backs up that the more you create, the better and better your ideas and projects become simply by increasing the quantity of what you make."

Thanks!

Best,
Kristen

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

Saw your illustrations. Wow! Very Cool!
Are the pics done using a drawing tablet or 'primitive' (LOL) paper and pencil/pen?

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

Thanks so much MCCurcio.

I love my little Wacom tablet. That's what I use mainly along with Photoshop because they have so many brushes that mimic "real primitive" brush textures. But I am trying to also unplug and give my eyes a break. I am traveling the next few days and have just my paper and pencils and watercolor pens. It actually stresses me out a little to not be able to "undo" or "delete" when working the old fashioned way, but in the end I am always happy to try and reconnect with traditional art methods.

Best wishes,
Kristen

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C • Edited on

Hi K,
When you discussed teaching, you mentioned you taught in Swansea, MA!??! I grew up MA and know that area a bit. I have lived throughout the US for quite a while but have lived in Providence for the last several years and the Cape more recently. Are you a 'Nor-easter'? lol
PS Call me Matt ;)

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

Hi Matt,
Wow! Yes, Swansea is my hometown and I was born just nearby in Fall River. Providence is just 15 minutes away and one of my favorite cities. My brother is on the radio as Kevin Lawrence at Cat Country in Providence and you can also hear his voice on many commercials on local radio and TV.
I also lived in Provincetown and the Cape for a few summers back in the day. We go and visit every year... though due to the pandemic have not been back since 2019. We are trying to go this June/July but are currently navigating all the rules and regulations. Fingers crossed! I want me a stuffie and some chowdah. :-) I miss the foods I can't get so easily outside of New England. On the other hand, if I see snow even on TV, I will change the channel. I don't miss it.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C • Edited on

I go to Warren and Bristol a lot. I can't say I listen to Cat Country much but I know it. Country and disco don't usually make my playlist. ;D I have found PVD an odd medium-sized city. It is kind of a stop over for the older mafioso wannabes that go between Boston's North End and NYC Little Italy.

Ah... P-town, I saw my first female impersonator there. In the key of "All in the Family", "Those were the days". My family is in Chatham. Luckily the past couple of winters have been veryyy mild in PVD and the cape. I don't think we had more than 2-3 inches then it melted very quickly. I admit I prefer the Southern weather to NE winters but my folk/family are here.

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

I'm not into Country myself but neither was my brother when he got the job. He was at a Top 40 station before that. I guess it grew on him though. I do love SE New England, especially in the summer. Stay warm and away from Tony Two-Times and Sid The Squid. :-D

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington (he/him)

Oh I feel ya — I too caught COVID in February. I generally thought I was being pretty dang safe, but I had one friend who I was meeting up with regularly and the both of us got it. 😅 Luckily, neither of us were hit too hard, but it definitely wasn't fun.

Thanks for sharing the backstory on the "Nthambi" characters. It's very interesting how your work took on a more functional nature here! Looking at your art now and I see the mask illustrations — those are indeed some very cool patterns and it's awesome to know they're reflective of the local design.

Appreciate the response here and wish you well!

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

So glad you are better now! We did all the usual precautions, but my older son has a nail biting habit and we think he picked up the virus from a car we were traveling in, even though we all wore masks and the windows were down. We'd hired a driver (with a 4X4) to take us up north because the roads are so bad in December. At the time, many locals didn't believe in Covid and were not wearing masks. He was only doing so to humor us. It turned out, he was using the housing/lodging money we'd paid for to save for his family and sleeping in the vehicle. He had complained of stomach issues at the end of our trip so we think we picked up the virus from him. We were probably one of the rare cases where we picked it up from a surface as opposed to through the air.

Thankfully we all recovered. My older son was sick for three days only. My younger one had no symptoms at all. My husband got it but recovered within a month. I took the longest for some reason.

Glad you like the Malawian patterns. I'm sure they will find their way into more future illustrations and paintings moving forward.

Best wishes,
Kristen

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

What's your favorite travel hack?

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

One simple hack I have used is to get a 14 day supply of Cipro or amoxicillin (broad-spectrum antibiotic) before you leave. Then when Moctezuma's revenge hits start poppin'. ;)

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

That is an excellent hack! I could have used that on one of my early trips to India when I was teaching there way back in 2000. I was very careful with everything I ate and got a bit cocky the last week and started having local raw veggies right from a farm, etc. Alas, Cipro would have been much appreciated during that time, but I did get it from a doctor when I returned to the US.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

The same has happened to me. You get cocky or just a bit lax and let the ice or salad get by the defenses... But I also like your traveling pharmacy idea too! I'm sure you have been in places where pepto bismol is impossible to find much less benedryl or even advil, Ughh.

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

Sometimes you just plain forget or make a dumb mistake. I was in Guatemala in 2006 and going to go meet my sponsored child there. I went across the street to a shopping mall in the city before going to her village and bought an orange juice from a stall. I didn't realize until after I drank it that it had been made with local water. My poor sponsored child met me in very bad condition. So embarrassing! Thankfully we also met again a few days later after I had recovered.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

Lol, Was it the Bag-O-Juice with the straw?
Was it the stand, where a lady ladles it out from the plastic container that has the tin plate on top for sterility? I think I drank from the same stand, lol.

I have been to Guate several times, probably around the same time, lol. I Love Antigua and Lake Atitlan. I have been going down to Central America, on and off, for circa 20 yrs.

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

It was one of those weird giant boxes of tumbling orange liquid you see a lot in malls. Exciting, yet sketchy in retrospect. What was I thinking?
I only went to Guatemala that one time en route also to Honduras, but i do hope to visit again one of these days. Antigua was amazing as well!

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Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything • Edited on

Dear Jess,

Great questions. Hmmm... I'm starting to forget what international travel is thanks to the pandemic, but let me try and remember.

Maybe this sounds boring, but I do try and always have a first aid kit and certain essential medicines for upset stomach, headaches, fever, etc. The last time we traveled in Malawi, we were 4 hours away in the mountains from the nearest village and sure enough, my older son (age 11) got food poisoning. The only thing that kept us calm and sane was my little portable pharmacy.

I also LOVE to learn at least 10-30+ worlds of the local language wherever we are going. You'll find speakers of the more popular languages like Spanish, French, German, Italian, etc. may roll their eyes at your clumsy attempts. But... when you take some time to learn a bit of Burmese, Hindi, Chichewa, or whatever the language is in the country you're visiting... you will have made friends for life just by attempting to make a nice greeting, say please and thank you in the local tongue, etc. I find it's really appreciated, especially where the language is less known in the wider world outside that country. It can also save you money! When we lived in Myanmar, the taxi drivers always gave me a local fare because I asked in Burmese. (Sending my love to Myanmar right now.)

I hope I've answered your question.

Best wishes,
Kristen

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C • Edited on

To start, very helpful discussion.

  • LOL, The 'feedback sandwich' AKA the sh-- sandwich.
  • RE: Being overworked - I like to ask people for their advice.

"Can I ask yr advice on issue X? I have noticed a,b,c... (laying out the arguments).

Followed by asking how others see the issue. Do they agree or not? Is this a more straightforward or complex fix than it is let on? This question can work with/for both parties, manager and assistant. I have had success with this approach because I feel it pre-supposes that the manager/assistant is working on getting the job done. In some circumstances, there may be less dictatorial behavior by one or the other.

  • Listening!?! Totally agree about multi-tasking during an important presentation, tough behavior to curb...
  • "Technical transfer" I feel is highly dependent on the team members involved. Sometimes 'mediation' may be needed to help smooth the communication pathway.

Thanks, guys!

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kristenpalana profile image
Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

Dear MCCurcio,

Thanks for your feedback and great insights. I agree that getting all the perspectives on an issue is crucial before any decisions can be made, by the manager or anyone else. And great thought on mediation for communication between teams if regular communication is not working or if promises are not translating into actions. For those of us who ended up picking up all the slack in group projects as students (and now find ourselves in similar positions at work), some other intervention may be crucial!

Best,
Kristen

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

I have found mediation can be as simple as a boss or an interested co-worker 'chairing' a sit-down. 'Kiss' may apply here too. My version is 'Keep it simple AND short.' Don't let people get frustrated.

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gracie profile image
Gracie Gregory (she/her)

Hi Kristen! Thanks so much for participating! You mentioned working as a teacher in many different places (New Jersey, Rome, Italy, Myanmar, etc!) — which was your favorite school system to work in if you had to choose and why?

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Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything • Edited on

HI Gracie,

Thanks so much for your question. It's always hard for me to choose a favorite place as each one on our lovely planet has its own unique pros and cons.

I was VERY pleasantly surprised by New Jersey and my students at William Paterson University. Prior to working there, I was living in NYC and as you know, New Yorkers and much of the USA love to goof on quirky, wonderful New Jersey. I found the students very down to Earth and similar to kids from my small town of Swansea, Massachusetts where I come from, so I felt like I was especially able to help and encourage this brand of students. Many were the first in their families to go to university like I was so I could see plain, anyone not feeling so confident or prepared and then I was able to help them feel and perform better by building their confidence.

In India, Myanmar, Singapore, and other Asian countries where I've taught... I've found the students to be EXTRA nice and respectful as it's a huge part of most Asian cultures to treat teachers and professors with reverence. Any educator can always use an extra dose of respect!

Rome was just lovely in every way as you can imagine being able to call The Eternal City home with all its beauty and chaos. I did gain a bit of weight there with such amazing food, so maybe it was a little dangerous.

And I love my MFA animation students I had in Ethiopia... and soon I will teach Digital Media here in Malawi. In Africa, sometimes it can be even more rewarding because the students really take what one teaches and can immediately grow their skills into lucrative careers that then puts food on the table, pays the bills, and brings a bit more art and communication into the world. The arts are not really taught so much in the universities here (at least in the city I'm in) so it will be my pleasure to give some focus to this amazing field and show how it can be practical and useful in helping Malawians tell their own stories and communicate more effectively to help propel their brands, institutions, public health campaigns, and more forward.

So, the long answer is: All of the above.
Short answer: I love to teach wherever I happen to be at the moment.

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mccurcio profile image
Matt C

Great question, How peeps learn and study is so interesting.

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jscoder17 profile image
Jscoder17

How much spaghetti have you eaten in the last 14 days?

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Kristen Palana Ask Me Anything

LOL. I used to eat it 1-2 times a day when I lived in Italy. Now, maybe once every few days. I am the Queen of carbs and could easily go back to having it at every meal.