Cross-cultural experiences have been a common thread in my life, both domestically and internationally. I grew up in rural North Carolina and at the age of 12, moved to a suburb of NYC. I remember other students looking curiously as I chewed on tall blades of grass and wore sandals and shorts to school despite the cold weather. They were shocked with my seemingly intimate relationship with straw, that I didn't own a pair of jeans and with my strange accent. This move and subsequent moves in high school, while at times frustrating, provided me with a unique "American" educational experience and exposed me to the differences within our systems of schooling. When I began traveling abroad, I became aware of entirely different issues, challenges and systems in the countries where I visited. These experiences included: studying abroad and living with families in Costa Rica and Spain, interpreting for medical teams in rural villages in the Dominican Republic, coordinating a library in Guatemala City, partnering with indigenous Mayan weaving cooperatives, hurricane relief work, supporting children of asylum seekers and teaching in an elementary school in Norway. 

 

After graduating from high school in 1999, I was determined to take "a year off" before college. Our family had moved two times during my high school career which had resulted in my attendance in 3 different high schools during my senior year. The last thing that I wanted to do was to go straight to a new school. Fortunately, my parents were supportive of my desire to rigorously pursue my own version of experiential education with the caveat that I would apply to a university and defer for a year. (I would spend that year driving nearly 10,000 miles around the US, engaged in relief work in Honduras, learning how to play the guitar, working for a summer in Alaska and also periodically as a server at a local inn.) Not realizing at the time the implications of such a decision, I decided to apply to only one school: UMass Amherst. 

 

As an undergraduate at UMass, I decided to spend the first half of my junior year in Costa Rica to learn Spanish and, while there, switched my major to Spanish and signed up for a second semester in Spain. Energized by my experiences overseas, I designed a one month independent study to serve as an interpreter for a medical team in the Dominican Republic. This service-learning experience reintroduced me to life in the developing world and brought me back to a familiar region. This trip played a crucial role in my decision to pursue a job in Latin America for a humanitarian aid organization directly after college. In my search, I discovered a program in Guatemala called Safe Passage that was in need of a coordinator to lead their library and literacy initiative for nearly 400 students in Guatemala City. Safe Passage works with at-risk children whose families survive by collecting and selling recyclables from the city dump. As a Spanish and Comparative Literature double major, I couldn’t have created a better opportunity and I would stay there for the next two years. 

 

Ever since I left Guatemala in 2006 I have wanted to return to school. For the last three years I have worked at Youth for Understanding facilitating exchange experiences for high school students which has been rewarding in many different ways. However, my most fulfilling experiences have come from working on the ground at Safe Passage and now as a Board member. My work in Guatemala continues to be what sparks my imagination and enthusiasm and has been my primary motivation for returning to school. 

 

After a deliberate and purposeful process, I am returning to UMass with great enthusiasm. My learning has taken many forms over the years and I am eager to further my academic studies with the faculty and students at CIE. I strongly believe that education is one of, if not the, most important tools of development and have seen the results of successful programs to reinforce this belief. I hope to bring a unique perspective to problem solving with positive and thoughtful contributions to our discussions in the years to come.

 

 

Degree: 
M.Ed.
Entrance Year: 
Graduation Year: 
5-year span: 
Status: 
On-Campus Student