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Heather Johnson at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy
Heather Johnson (BAFLL German 2015)
One word comes to mind when I look back on my life journey: busy. Unbeknownst to me, I would spend my undergraduate years studying German at the university that pioneered internationalization, driving me toward my career in international education. As the granddaughter of immigrants, I suppose my life had already been stitched together with international thread. What I did not realize in my busy pursuits, doing everything the college student needs to get ahead, I was strengthening the groundwork set forth by my beloved heritage and fueling the confidence the University of Delaware instilled in me.
Throughout my education in Delaware, I studied French and Italian, while majoring in German. I spent countless hours reading German literature, marveling at German history, translating fairytales—all things that fed my soul. Taking a step back from the magical reality I had created, I was posed the age-old question, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Much to my surprise, not everyone was as confident in my desire to dive in to culture and language with the expectation that a career path would appear in front of me. Having shaped my own passions, I decided it was time to make them fit in to our social norm. I then dove head first into the pursuit of my next destination—by the time January 2013 rolled around, I was studying abroad in Leipzig, Germany. My career realizations had not set in at this point but as my junior year ended, I felt the need to incorporate language and travel into a life, not just a career. Following my Delaware graduation, I returned home from Germany with my loveable French bulldog puppy, Toffee, eager to start the next chapter of my life.
While completing my master's degree in International Education at NYU, I was braiding together my character, education, and drive. I poured over the theories and tactics of the globalization of education; I wrapped myself up in the world.
In the spring of 2016, I found myself on another study abroad trip to New Delhi, India to experience the different pedagogy, administration, and atmosphere of higher education in India. As I grew as a grad student, a passionate administrator was developing inside of me. Throughout my time at NYU Steinhardt, I worked at the NYU Stern School of Business in the Office of International Exchanges and Special Programs. Interacting with international and domestic students alike, I also thought I should bring my passions to the place I loved the most: the classroom. I began teaching international students, orientating students with NYU and NYC alike, while exploring my cross-cultural counseling skills and bonding with students from different cultures, some arriving in the United States for the first time.
As my time in Manhattan came to an end, I earned the position of Assistant Director of International Programs at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University on Long Island. Currently writing this article with a picturesque view of the ever-leaning tower of Pisa in Italy, I find a moment of gratification in the commitment I've made to my passion. Thriving in the life and work I have created for myself, I continue to discover, keep busy and grow in confidence.
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Alyssa Watts and her family at the Pont du Gard
Alyssa Watts (MAFLP French 2015)
There is a big, wide world out there, just waiting to be explored! It's easy to forget that. We get used to a routine and a way of life; it is less complicated to do the same things day in and day out. In the end, however, the mundane details of daily life are easily forgotten. The "OMG" moments are the ones that stick in your mind.
I have been fortunate enough to have lived in France for an extended period of time three times so far in my life—once as an undergraduate on a study abroad program, once at the ripe old age of twenty-five, and last year as a wife and mother. Three very different experiences brought about a multitude of "OMG" moments, but also some small pieces of wisdom which have proved to be true no matter what the circumstance.
First of all, in order to appreciate your life and everything you have, you need to leave it. Take any opportunity to travel and see the world beyond your backyard. The people you meet will change you as much, if not more, than the things you see or the museums you visit. Go off the beaten path (safely, of course!). Find a restaurant on a street where you hear no English being spoken, or walk or take the bus from place to place instead of being stuck underground on the métro (don't forget to look UP when you walk! so much to see!), or ask about local specialties for activities or food.
Second, you have to take chances and go with the flow if things don't work out. Sometimes (okay, often) traveling has its glitches—a missed train, a late-night panic when you have no hotel room, a hungry-as-a-horse moment when you can't find a single place open to buy food. But, they also bring about wonderful opportunities to make memories. Planning is good, but it is unrealistic to think you can plan every second of every activity of every day. Make the most of times when you need a rest—find a park bench and people-watch while you recharge. Try to stay "well-fed and watered" by carrying around a water bottle, granola bars, nuts, and other easy snacks. Remember that grocery stores make great places to grab lunch and they are so much fun to look around and compare to home! If something happens to your plans, make the most of your day and see something else. Sometimes the best things you find are not things you plan ahead to see.
Third, look for experiences different from your daily life. When I studied abroad, I lived with a host family in Avignon, France, for five months. It was full of challenges and amazing experiences that I never would have had if I had just stayed home, or if I had come to France for a two-week vacation. I was fortunate to be in a family with young children who included me in their activities as much as I wanted—from sitting on a stool while my host mother was cooking dinner, to setting the table and doing other chores, to going with them to the mall, restaurants, or the movies. When I lived in France at the age of twenty-five, I lived in Lyon, a large city—completely different from my suburban life back in Pennsylvania. To live in a world full of museums, restaurants, cafés, bars, parks, and—most importantly—public transportation, meant endless opportunities for cultural experiences unlike those I was used to, and these are experiences for which I will be forever grateful.
Finally, even when things seem unlikely, opportunities for travel and exploration of the world are abundant. Last year, I lived in Caen, France for ten months, thanks to an opportunity through the University of Delaware, following the completion of my masters degree in French language and pedagogy. This time, it was complicated by the fact that I was married and the mother of two small children. But, the stars aligned, and the whole family tagged along with me. We spent a travel-filled year getting to know Caen and many other European countries (the baby is almost three and has been to more countries in Europe than to states in the USA!). We explored daily life in a different culture, complete with sending a child to the local French-speaking school, buying (and selling) a car, shopping, apartment-living (at its finest... in an old chateau, parts of which dated back to the eleventh century!), getting groceries home and up to the third floor, and countless other wonderful (and sometimes challenging) experiences. The fact that my family has those memories, and that I was able to put the language and teaching skills that I had developed at University of Delaware to use is something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.