A Closer Look: Sean Carlson, PRSSA’s “Road Less Traveled” Panelist

Sean Carlson likes to talk with his coffee cup in his hands, but doesn’t take a gulp mid-sentence like Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Carlson is well-adapted to an American lifestyle enjoying local burrito spots like Anna’s Taqueria. But it’s Carlson’s Irish heritage that sparks interest. Despite his clumsiness in Irish step dancing, Carlson is in the process of creating a graceful portrayal of Irish emigrants through the lenses of his mother and family members.

Carlson attended Boston University under the Cardinal Humberto Medeiros Scholarship and graduated in 2005 with summa cum laude distinction, earning degrees in both Political Science and Communication. Smart and talented, Carlson could have come across great opportunities to work at well-established companies. Instead, he decided to move to a town in Ireland, “roughly the size of [his] dormitory,” to work on a book he had promised to his mother a decade earlier.

“When I was 12, I told my mom that someday I would write her story and always knew I would,” Carlson explained. Having traveled to Ireland a number of times throughout his childhood starting at eight weeks old, Carlson learned about his mother’s life living in and emigrating from Ireland. These stories led him to go on a journey not many college graduates consider taking.

After arriving in Ireland, Carlson began interviewing family members about their stories of living in a rapidly changing country, life in the communities, and emigrating. For almost a year and a half, he did various types of research to “bring the stories more to life.” He looked into community library and local newspaper archives, and petitioned for government and military records. All of his hard work began to outline what his writing is today.

In midst of his research in Ireland, Carlson was discovered by Google and asked to work for them. “I have no idea [how Google found me]. That was like the coolest thing and I actively tried not to find out. I got an email one day [from Google] asking if I would be interested in some job opportunities on their global communications team,” Carlson explained. After eleven interviews and several months, Carlson was officially hired and he began his life at Google in November 2006.

Carlson continued working on his book during his six years as a full-time employee at Google, using weekends and vacation times. In 2012, Carlson left Google to focus more on the writing he had started seven years ago. The book is a non-fictional narrative that looks at a community going through changes in the 21st century. In particular, it focuses on the emigrant experience – “not only in terms of what it is like to arrive somewhere but also the effects on those left behind” – through the lens of his mother’s stories. The writing also looks at different family members’ lives, including his mother’s youngest sister, who was born with Down syndrome – a condition not understood at the time.

The not-your-ordinary BU alum was at the seventh annual regional conference, PR Advanced: Embrace the Possibilities, hosted by BU PRSSA Chapter last Saturday. He spoke on the “Road Less Travelled” panel discussing his adventures since stepping on a less traditional career path.

– By Jiyoung Won

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