We Americans are notoriously patriotic. Proudly and deservedly so. But we aren’t the only Americanos. And I have never seen any people so happy and so engrossed in what it feels like to be part of a country as when I was in Uruguay this past year during the World Cup.
In the midst of their celebrations, the people of Uruguay welcomed me as an English Teaching Assistant with the prestigious Fulbright Program. From March to November 2010, I visited students and teachers in public schools and colleges, dividing my time between the interior city of Salto and the capital, Montevideo. When the program ended, I rode buses as far as Lima, rambling over the Andes and visiting a friend who had studied abroad at Washington College.
Nowhere in my pre-college days, I don’t think, was there any credible indication that I would be able to come close to an experience like this—but with the support of friends and faculty at Washington College, it became a natural direction to take.
Sometime early in my freshman year, I started reading Dante’s Vita Nuova and I thought that would determine what I was going to do. I wrote some poems and read more—Rimbaud, St-John Perse, Goethe. I couldn’t even pronounce any of those names. I could play soccer, but I had decided not to, afraid that that would limit my free time too much and determine the people I would meet.
I thought for a while I should be a writer, and so major in English or maybe philosophy. But the more that I read, the more I thought about it, the more my favorite writers seemed to be pointing beyond themselves, beyond writing, to a way of living in the world. Like any good postmodernist, I wrote about this, too. But I also tried to experience it. I played soccer for the school, joined the Cater Society and went to Dublin on a grant to study Joyce’s hometown, got to know former Indiana senator Birch Bayh as part of a Starr Center Colloquy, volunteered at the Kent Family Center.
I recognized in foreign languages a way to bring together these loves for words and for real-life experience that seemed to build on one another, give meaning to one another, and in a really interesting, dynamic way. I went to Granada in the spring of my sophomore year and was convinced I had made a good choice with the Hispanic Studies major. I’ve since then worked at summer camps in Puebla, Mexico and in the suburbs of Madrid, and visited a number of Mediterranean countries, but Granada remains my favorite place, after Chestertown.
I graduated in three years and spent some time volunteering in Boston with City Year, a flagship AmeriCorps organization at the forefront of the nascent service movement. My journeying from Boston to Uruguay and back has confirmed in me the belief that education, one way or the other, is at the root of what is best and worst in people. I’m learning all I can about how to make schools serve the one and not tend towards the other.
Right now, I’m substituting in Montgomery County Public Schools and Alexandria Academy while in my first semester of the Graduate Institute at St. John’s College, Annapolis.
Further down the line, I’m thinking about PhD-level work abroad or at home, teaching at the university level or in alternative schools, learning to fly airplanes, and getting a dog.