Reprinted from the OC Magazine, January, 2015
What have you been up to since your days at OC?
I attended Mount Holyoke College, graduating in 1998 with a degree in French and English. After that I worked as a management consultant in New York City until the end of 2004 when I joined the United States Peace Corps in Morocco. Turning in my Manhattan apartment for a cinderblock hut in the middle of the Atlas Mountains proved easier than I’d anticipated, thanks to the Berber villagers who generously opened their homes and helped me assimilate to my new life without running water, central heating, or the anonymity I’d had so little appreciation for back in the States. One thing I learned during my two years in the Peace Corps is to be comfortable with embarrassment. As long as you travel to new places and try new things you are guaranteed to look ridiculous at some point—mostly likely in front of a number of onlookers—so you might as well not take yourself too seriously.
Upon returning to the States I earned my master’s degree in Islamic Civilization at Tufts University. Since 2009, I’ve worked at the US Agency for International Development (a branch of the State Department) as a conflict analyst specializing in the Middle East/North Africa region. My task is to make our foreign aid as effective as possible in conflict-affected environments. Most of the time I contribute to policy and program design in Washington but once a year or so I’m lucky enough to conduct field research in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
I’ve learned from this stage of my career that people deeply value human connection more than—you guessed it—how ridiculous you might look. When someone invites me home, I go. When they offer me food, I eat it whether I can recognize it or not. The more open I am, the more people share and the more opportunity we have to form a connection that in some small way contributes to peace.
What age did you start at OC? What Programs were you involved in?
I had the unique opportunity of being among the inaugural classes in 1979 when I was three years old. At the time I had no idea that the Bergson-Shilcock youth and my sister and I were what Amanda [eldest Bergson-Shilcock youth] affectionately called “experiments.” Only when I opened Open Connections: The Other Basics a couple years ago and gasped at photos of myself did I realize the role we were all playing. I stayed until age six (as far as the OC program went at that time) and then I had to start attending my local elementary school.
I still remember being stunned at having to call my teachers by their honorific—why didn’t they realize we were all equal?! When I look at how Open Connections has grown since those days I am nothing short of amazed at what the Bergson-Shilcock family and Open Connections community have created. It makes me so happy to see a place where many more children can benefit from the nurturing and creative environment I grew up in.
How did OC impact you? What did you find useful?
Although I was only at OC for three years, that experience had a profound effect on my life. While the kids in my neighborhood were playing with Barbies or other toys that taught harmful gender norms, Susan Shilcock and Peter Bergson were teaching me to love and appreciate myself as I was. Their pedagogy encouraged me to learn, experiment and discover on my own and then have the confidence to stand behind my conclusions.