Faculty and Staff Reflect on Growing Up and Living Abroad

Faculty and Staff Reflect on Growing Up and Living Abroad
  • One World
Janice Lewine

Hear about their experiences in other countries — from the Bahamas to Belgium and Spain to Singapore.

From the Bahamas to Belgium and Spain to Singapore, many faculty and staff bring the rewards of living abroad to Ravenscroft. Their experiences, which include childhoods spent in distant lands and international stays for work or study, have created an appreciation for cultures that are different from our own.

Here, faculty and staff reflect on their time living in other countries, how it shaped them and how it continues to inspire them. 

Bernadette Fox

Fourth-Grade Teacher

Fox, age 15, visits the beach in the Bahamas.

Fox, at Baha Mar Resort, poses with flamingos.

I was born and raised on the island of Nassau, and I also lived on the islands of Freeport and Abaco in the Bahamas. Every summer we would take a one-hour flight to Long Island, Bahamas, to visit my mother’s parents, along with at least four other cousins. Outside, my grandparents’ yard was filled with mango, lime, sugar apple and sapodilla trees — all tropical fruits found throughout the islands. My grandfather had this old wheelbarrow that we would sometimes take turns getting pushed around in, or sometimes we would park it under a mango or guinep tree and eat the fruits until our stomachs ached.

A favorite childhood memory

Because we lived literally across the street from the sea, we would always put on our swimsuits under our clothes in case Grandma agreed to let us all go swimming. My grandmother couldn’t swim, so she would always give us a hard time about going out to sea on our own. Sometimes, we would tell her we were going to play with the neighbors, but we really snuck to the dock and swam all day then waited until the sun dried us off to come back home. She never said much, but she always knew.

My family visits quite often and always brings me my favorite foods like lobster, fish and guava jam from home. However, the thing I miss the most are holiday gatherings at my aunt’s house where, since I was a little girl, we would all gather together to eat, laugh and talk and have so much fun together.

Christina Frazier

Eighth-Grade Language Arts Teacher

Frazier enjoys living and working in Istanbul, Turkey, after several years in Denmark and Lebanon.

Frazier picks mulberries in Istanbul, where she taught preschool.

I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved to Denmark for 10th grade. My mom is Danish and we spoke the language at home occasionally, so I was completely unprepared for how little I knew the language. On my first day of class at a Danish high school, there was a 50-word spelling test and I only got one right; worse still, I only understood three words. However, living with my aunt helped. Denmark has a profoundly friendly-to-youth culture, and I enjoyed making new friends and traveling through Europe, even going to an island for a three-day bike trip using youth hostels with a friend. A favorite memory in Denmark was of the Christmas celebrations, which really start on Dec. 1. It culminates on Christmas Eve, when the family joins together for a big meal and then sings Christmas carols while dancing around the tree.

Finishing high school in Lebanon and teaching preschool in Turkey

My father was American and became a professor of Arabic language and literature at the American University of Beirut, where I finished my last two high school years.

Beirut was an incredibly welcoming city, desperate to rebuild after the decades-long civil war and eager to return to its halcyon days of being the “Paris of the Middle East.” One of my favorite things was that most educated individuals spoke Arabic, French and English and would often switch languages in the middle of a conversation. Another highlight of living in a little Mediterranean coastal country is that one March we drove high into the mountains and went skiing in the morning, sliding down steep slopes and enjoying hot chocolate. In the afternoon, we returned to Beirut and went swimming in the Mediterranean. Beirut was particularly interesting because it’s been continuously inhabited for over 4,000 years, so you can visit Roman ruins, Crusader castles, medieval spice bazaars and centuries-old synagogues, mosques and churches, right next door to a McDonald’s.

After college, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, for a Turkish language program. Then I worked for three years at a bilingual Turkish/English preschool, which overlooked the Bosphorus Strait and boasted many fruit trees: sour cherry, plum, mulberry and figs. I miss the five-times daily calls to prayer from mosques in Lebanon and Turkey and celebrating Ramadan.

James Watson

IT Help Desk Specialist

Watson stands in front of Tower Bridge in London, England.

Watson stops at Victoria Peak while traveling in Hong Kong.

I was born and raised in England and moved with my parents and my younger brother to Cleveland, Ohio, when I was 10. Everything in England felt smaller and somehow more compact. We would walk to school every day, ride bikes to our friends’ houses and never had to worry about having to be driven anywhere. Everyone in the town knew everyone else, and there was an attachment you felt to the people around you.

My best memory of England is spending Christmas with my family. Every year we’d go to my grandparents’ house in London, and the whole family would be there. Aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents and every other relative you could imagine. We’d share presents and spend an inordinate amount of time eating. England will always feel like home to some degree, and whenever I’m there, I get a sense of belonging and closeness.

Furthering his career in Singapore

After going to college at Ohio State, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I got a job at the same research company where my dad worked, doing entry-level lab work. One of the company’s executives left to become the CEO of a research organization in Singapore and offered me a job. I spent three amazing years over there. It may have been even longer if Singapore wasn’t so prohibitively expensive. Living in Singapore was similar to being in England in many ways, as it’s a small country and it was far easier to find ways to build a community. It was also a challenging experience, as I was going outside of my cultural comfort zone and experiencing a Far Eastern culture for the first time.

Singapore is a foodie’s paradise, with a unique blend of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisine. My time there really served to give me a new appreciation of food and culture and how the two come together. My best memory was the time spent with my dragon boat team. We’d have practice every Saturday afternoon and then hang around on the beach with a beer or two afterwards. This was a large part of how I built my community there, and once I’d made this group of friends we’d go everywhere together, from a casual local meal down the street after practice to trips to Hong Kong, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Erin Murphy

First-Grade Teacher

Murphy visits a lake in Bavaria, Germanys largest state, with her brothers, Mike and Tim.

My father is retired Air Force, and we were stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, at the NATO installation Patch Barracks. We lived there for two years while I was in eighth and ninth grades. Germany was so safe. I was allowed to walk into the village near base with my friends, take the buses and trains (the S-Bahn, as it was called) downtown, and really anywhere!

Living overseas definitely sparked my interest in history, culture and travel. I was able to spend a summer in the Netherlands and Denmark with a youth group, living with a host family in both countries and learning about their culture firsthand. I also spent a semester in England and Scotland as an English major, living with host families, studying at the University of Brighton and University of Edinburgh, and visiting the locations where the famous literature we were reading was written or set.

A historic event from her time in Germany

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down [in 1989]. We were all watching during this historic event, and I remember being in awe that it was just being dismantled little by little and there wasn’t resistance, violence or anything other than celebrating. It was truly incredible that something so oppressive that had been standing for so long was just taken apart by the people it was keeping from being truly free.

A few months later we went to Berlin, and the difference between what had been East Germany and the free West was incredible. What I remember most was the presence of Russian soldiers everywhere, though there was no more military rule. The cars were all the same and the buildings were very drab and lacked the life and color of the architecture on the western side. It was like the eastern side had been trapped in 1960, which it had been, and the rest of the country moved into modern times without it.

Jordy Baende ’14

Upper School Biology and Physics Teacher

Baende, at right, and his family enjoy a visit to Place du Miroir in Brussels, home to the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Koekelberg.

Baende and his friends, cousins and brother pose before a mural in the Brussels neighborhood where he lived before moving to the U.S.

I have a very large family in Belgium, as many Congolese citizens migrated to Belgium and became citizens due to the atrocities committed in DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] by King Leopold II. I truly miss the people the most. I was and still am very close to my cousins, uncles and aunts back home, as well as my close-knit circle of childhood friends that I keep in touch with and make sure to see every time I go back. The food was also excellent; things such as dessert, chocolate or even fries (fun fact: French fries are actually Belgian) and other items are, in my opinion, so much better.

Differences between the United States and Belgium

Growing up in Belgium was an invaluable experience to me, as it gave me the autonomy and independence needed to thrive in the adult world. Cars were not necessary to move around, so I was able to explore the entirety of the country on my own using public transportation. I felt a much closer bond to my extended family because we saw each other so much, which is due to the fact that Belgium is a much smaller country as well as the fact that there is a culture of “work staying at work,” as family and fun time is prioritized culturally.

Belgium is a socialist country, which means that the government puts the people first and helps everyone. This meant that taxes were high, but they went to programs such as universal health care and many other programs that help all of the people that are in need. The socialist culture has allowed me to think about the bigger picture and to prioritize the group’s interest rather than just my own.

Margaret Edwards ’11

Lower School Spanish Teacher

Edwards poses in front of a waterfall in Pucón, a major center of adventure tourism in Chile due to its striking natural surroundings.

Edwards explores the natural splendor of Pucón, which is overlooked by the snow-capped Villarrica volcano.

I wanted to teach English abroad before getting a more permanent Spanish teaching job in the U.S. I found a program based out of Santiago, Chile, that places native English speakers in elementary schools for a year. I started out in a hostel and then found a house with a lot of roommates from various countries. I took a metro and a bus to work every day and ended up teaching English to adult professionals as a second job.

I chose Santiago because I had heard it was one of the safer and more developed cities in South America and was a two-hour bus ride from the beach and the mountains. I loved traveling with friends to Valparaiso, Pucón and San Pedro de Atacama. The variety of habitats and climates in Chile is amazing. The desert looked like another planet, and I fell in love with Valparaiso and its colorful buildings.

Living in Chile shapes Edwards’ outlook on life

I learned to have a better work-life balance and to see things from other perspectives instead of comparing everything to home. I learned to be more independent and flexible, since I did not have a car and had two jobs in a new city. It was also interesting to learn more about their history and social climate from the perspective of different generations of Chileans.

I enjoyed being a resident there and really assimilating to their culture. I definitely miss the people. There would always be something to do, like a cookout or parrillada in someone’s patio, and the people I met really valued time with friends and family.

Anna Nethery

Upper School AP Psychology and Spanish Teacher

Nethery prepares to fly to Spain for a semester of study abroad.

Nethery and her Vanderbuilt cohorts enjoy a traditional paella.

During the fall of my junior year of college at Vanderbilt University, I lived in Spain with a Spanish family and two other girls from Vanderbilt. Our host mother was Lola; her mother also lived with us, and we called her Abuela (Grandmother). We ate all of our meals with Lola and Abuela, and many of my best memories were simply our conversations together at the dinner table. Living abroad shaped my sense of independence. I had to navigate the metro system, find my way around the bustling city of Madrid, speak with people in a language I was still learning, and make friends and live with people I had never met.

There are so many unique customs in Spain that I miss, like eating the largest meal in the middle of the day around 2 p.m. Students and adults alike typically return home to have their main meal (la comida) with their family. They then take a little nap (siesta) and actually return to school and work for a few more hours. I enjoyed this time spent with family and breaking up the day. I miss many of my favorite dishes like a stew with chicken, chickpeas and carrots called cocido madrileño, the traditional rice dish paella and a potato and egg omelet called tortilla española.

Nethery shares her favorite memory of Spain

A group of us traveled to San Sebastian, which is on the northern coast of Spain in a region known as the Basque Country. For dinner one night, a local suggested going to one of the famous cider houses, called a sagardotegi. Inside was a massive great hall, complete with long wooden tables that could rival the dining hall of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts in size and grandeur! Each table was occupied by friends and family talking loudly and sharing food family-style while toasting with glasses of cider. The seats in this great hall were open to anyone, and you instantly made friends with whoever you found at your table. Everyone got the exact same thing served to the whole table: a first course of chorizo sausage, a second course of cod omelet, a third course of roasted cod fish with peppers and onions, a fifth course of a giant cut of medium-rare steak and a final course of cheese, walnuts and quince paste (like a firm pear jelly). And, all of the cider you could drink in your cup!

In a back room, stone walls and huge wooden casks of cider, 10 feet tall, lined the outside of a cold, damp storage room. A guy approached one of the massive casks and threw open the tap. People gathered in a line and, one by one, aimed their cup on the stream of cider that was shooting across the room, filling their cups and jumping out of the way as the next person slid in with their cup, trying not to miss a single drop! We clumsily hopped in line and tried our best not to commit the faux pas of wasting any cider. We stayed at the cider house for hours, eating our way through the various courses, returning to the back for more cider and visiting with the locals who arrived at our table. We were the only foreigners who had happened upon this ancient and local custom. We felt like one of the Basque people that night!

Kim Martin

Sixth-Grade Language Arts Teacher

Martin enjoys a cultural attraction near Daegu, South Korea.

I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, in the fall of 1994, lived with a host family and traveled around Europe with a Eurail pass. I rode my bike and passed the mountain that Cezanne is famous for painting. I’d stop by the open-air market on my way home to pick up fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure I wore a beret and scarf, totally falling in love with French culture. I adored my host family, and they would make French delicacies for me, like escargots, rabbit and cow tongue. They liked to see my reaction!

I went to the University of Richmond and ended up majoring in French and International Studies. At the end of my senior year at the University of Richmond, the only job opportunity the French Department promoted to French majors was with the French Ministere de l’Education. I applied to be a language assistant and was thrilled to get the position. I was placed in une banlieu (suburb) of beautiful Lyon and taught conversation classes in a high school.

Living on a kibbutz in Israel and teaching in Korea

I wasn’t ready to return to the States at the end of my time in France, so my Australian roommate and I went to live on a kibbutz. I learned a lot about the Israel/Palestine conflict and about Judaism. I picked mangoes on a high piece of land overlooking the Mediterranean. I remember taking breaks with the Palestinian workers. They would make a little fire and boil water for tea. We’d sit together in the shade and drink tea, which surprisingly cooled us off. We didn’t speak the same language, but we’d try to communicate through basic words and hand motions.

I went back to the States and started an MAT program to get certified to teach English as a Second Language. I asked if I could do my student teaching overseas, and they approved me to move to Korea to teach in a hogwan (privately owned educational center). My father had lived in Seoul with the Army in the early 1960s and is fluent in Korean. It was very special when my dad flew to meet me in Korea at the end of my year — he hadn’t been to Korea for over 30 years!

The women with whom I taught invited me over to their house for home-cooked meals. I love Korean food, and I would eat every morsel of food on the plate — my parents taught me that was good etiquette to show you enjoyed the meal. But, without my asking, they would take my plate and heap another serving on it. This happened a few times until my friends clued me in that in Korean culture, an empty plate means that you are still hungry and want more food! I also loved learning the Korean language. I met a friend who wanted to practice English, so we would do a weekly language exchange at a restaurant. I’d try new foods, and we would take turns teaching each other our languages.

Erin Cole

Assistant Head of Lower School for Student Learning

Cole stops for a photo while hiking in the Bavarian Alps.

Cole visits the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany.

I was offered a position to teach second grade at an international school in a small town outside of Düsseldorf, Germany. I took it without hesitation, and within months I was dropped off at my small apartment with a few boxes of my possessions and a summer’s worth of German, courtesy of Rosetta Stone. I lived there for two years and met and wooed my now-husband (a Pennsylvania native) before returning to the States. Living abroad showed me that I can be brave, even when situations are uncomfortable or scary. It offered perspective that I was able to bring back with me and share with my students.

Around the holidays, I always miss the Weihnachtsmärkte, the Christmas markets that are found in various cities across Germany. Local artists and vendors sell crafts and other goods, and hot drinks and food keep everyone warm on even the coldest of nights.

Returning to Germany as a newlywed

My husband (with whom I now share two beautiful children) and I returned to Germany to hike the Rheinsteig Trail for our honeymoon. It was rainy, but we found respite in wonderful Gasthofs (inns) along the trail. On one particularly rainy day, we stumbled across a charter bus transporting a German polka band on their way to a performance at an international festival in Koblenz. They refused to let us continue on our soggy hike, insisting that we join them as their guests riding to their performance. We spent the day with our new friends speaking in half-English, half-German conversations and were sweetly waved off by the group upon our departure.

Stevi Vaughn

Upper and Middle School Spanish Teacher

Vaughn visits La Quebrada de Humahuaca in northwestern Argentina.

Vaughn explores the colorful neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires.

I lived in Argentina 2006-2010. I first traveled to Argentina to volunteer after graduating from UNCW with degrees in Spanish and International Business. I was only supposed to stay for a month, but I fell in love with Buenos Aires. I also realized that after four years as a Spanish major, I still wasn’t comfortably fluent, but after two weeks fully immersed in the language, I was gaining great fluency, so I wanted to stay and make the most of that. I started off by teaching English after becoming TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certified and also worked in retail.

Working in a shopping mall in Buenos Aires was the most incredible experience. Working in retail is humbling in itself (I come from a retail family), but doing it in a foreign country in another language was challenging. It was a great way to make friends and learn to speak like natives and not “like a book,” which is apparently how I was speaking when I got there.

Reminiscing about Argentina

I miss walking everywhere. I would walk about 40 blocks to and from work every day. I loved walking to the grocery store and out to eat. I’ve never liked driving, so living in a city with public transportation and the ability to walk most places was the best. I have so many memories, but I have to say the best was meeting my husband, Martín, and also watching the 2006 World Cup there because life stops when the games come on. No one works — everyone watches the games.

Thinking you might like to travel, study or work abroad? Consider these valuable insights from faculty and staff who have done it themselves:

Traveling can really change your life and broaden your perspectives in so many meaningful ways. I think it helps put our own biases and challenges in perspective by seeing what other people go through and how they live.
— Jordy Baende ’14

Asking questions and showing curiosity when you arrive shows locals that you care. People love talking about their culture and usually want to help. Be open to receiving help and guidance. Be humble and gracious. There is nothing compared to living abroad and being completely immersed in the language.
— Stevi Vaughn

Choose activities that allow you to make connections with locals. Not being afraid to make mistakes when you speak a different language — and better yet, learning to laugh at the mistakes — will open you up to making friends. A smile transcends any language barriers, and trying to speak a new language is not only fun but paves the way to new friendships.
— Kim Martin

Whatever’s holding you back can wait. I believe it’s completely worth it because new experiences can help you grow as a person. Also, be flexible. Not everything is going to work out as planned, but opening your mind can make your experience even better.
— Margaret Edwards

If [going abroad] is something that you’re thinking about and an opportunity arises, take it! You won’t regret it, and that feeling of not being ready or prepared will pass. All that you’re left with in the end is a profound sense of accomplishment. Nothing broadens the mind more than seeing the world and meeting people of different backgrounds. It really does open your eyes and make you realize how small and accessible the world really is.
— James Watson