I’m not one to do retrospects, but this past year proved particularly challenging for a particular community I am a part of.
I’m a graduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, one of the greatest graduate schools with an international focus in the world. It is an honor and privilege to study with the people who attend and teach at this institute. I’ve met many great minds during my time there, and will meet many more when I return there after my Peace Corps service finishes. I still have a year left of studies, but in my absence, many great people have left us. I want to take a moment to reflect on them.
He is the man who coined the organization we know as Peace Corps. He was there in the trenches during the Kennedy administration, helping to shape the organization I am now serving under. He passed in June 2012. Due to the fact I didn’t have internet at my training site, I didn’t find out about his passing until I read an advertisement in the Peace Corps magazine in December.
He would invite returned volunteers and Master’s International volunteers over to his home to chat about the Peace Corps experience. He had many fascinating tales to tell, especially about Peace Corps’ inception. He spoke about the training, and how they wondered, at the time, what should be included (would military-like training be required? Psychological batteries?). He talked about the first batch of volunteers, and how they were trained in California and slept in barracks before being shipped to their villages in Africa. Other volunteers would share their stories, both good and bad, and I got a picture of the Peace Corps that many will never glimpse: Stories of hallucinations, building water towers, and return trips to places that seemed to be frozen in time.
He was an avid photographer: Everywhere he went, he took pictures of the people he met. His artwork covered the walls of his home, and the walls of the Monterey Institute. Seeing his life in pictures fascinated me, and gave me the idea to have a picture included with each post I did with my own blog. While I never had him as a professor, the time we spent together via the Peace Corps Club left an indelible mark.
I never spoke with him directly, nor did I take any of his classes (seeing as he was in Translation and Interpretation (T&I)), but while working the front desk of our graduate school, I saw his name many times. Once, I was tasked with transcribing a rather lengthy recording of the T&I faculty meeting in order to get dates for the next calendar year. I’d hear his voice come up every now and again, and I’d see him saunter in and out of his office. Upon leaving the institute, I was unaware of his cancer diagnosis. He passed away in November.
The news of his passing is still very new for me. It’s difficult to process, because I was probably the closest to Leo out of the three I have spoken about. I would sort his mail, rummage through his old books he was discarding, help him set up his office, and listen to his lectures in my classes. I would read his papers, ask him about his ideas, and talk with him about the nature of language. I never took one of his courses, but his work is ubiquitous in language learning and education.
I remember when he came to our second language acquisition class to lecture on the ecology and semiotics of language learning. He traced modern ideas of language back to the Renaissance, articulated the need to reassess how we view language, and how this reassessment will require a radical change in how we evaluate learning. His ideas have influenced me greatly, and have caused me to take a more critical look at what I do as an educator and linguist. His ideas, for me, don’t exist in some distant academic ether, removed from the world I live and work in. I see how his ideas make impacts, and I’m looking to make further connections between theory and practice.
His ideas have spurred me on in ways that I could not have foreseen as I sat in Samson Center, typing out outlines, spending countless hours each day disseminating citations into my papers and projects. I am thankful I was able to speak with him while I was there.
It’s strange to be so far removed when the foundations of where you were begin to shift. You can only watch as events come and go, hearing about them only through the strange, almost hypnotic and somewhat impersonal, words printed upon your screen. I knew life would go on when I left, and I knew many things would change in my two years away. Knowing and experiencing are two very different concepts, however.
Also: If you want to help with women’s education, Peter Grothe’s scholarship fund can help direct your money to make that a possibility.