Alumnae relate postgraduate experiences
Erin Flanagan | Thursday, November 13, 2014
Rachael Chesley, ’11, was accepted as a fellow and scholar in the prestigious Fulbright Program with the U.S. Department of State shortly after graduating. Chesley is currently the Employee Communications Manager with Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Chicago. The second alumna on the panel, Caroline Arness, ’11, was accepted to Teach for America (TFA). After serving as a fellow for three years, Arness is now working in a position with TFA as a recruitment associate based in Chicago.
Each alumna discussed their respective programs and how they learned to cope with their responsibilities and expectations.
Chesley said she was looking for an unconventional path to take after graduating from Saint Mary’s.
“Coming out of college is the perfect time for thinking outside of the box,” Chesley said. “You only acquire more responsibilities as time goes on.”
Chesley said her experience in the Fulbright Program brought her to Malaysia where she worked as an English teaching assistant.
“I was always interested in an international experience,” she said.” “… It provided interesting challenges and opportunities.”
In Malaysia, she put in 25 hours per week working with students in her local community. Chesley said she had to learn to quickly adapt to the culture.
“I was placed in a rural Muslim community, which as a woman, I had to adapt and sacrifice parts of my own culture,” she said.
Teaching posed challenges, as the students did not know how to say phrases as simple as ‘good morning’ in English, Chesley said. In response, she invested her time in the responsibility.
“People want to think that the experience you’re having is very romanticized, and it’s not,” she said. “It is a very selfless action depending on the program, and it is important to have people to support you and to remind you why you are doing the experience.”
Chesley said she needed to develop her capacity for patience in order to see the results in her students that she desired. It took several months to grow relationships with the students.
“It was not until I was able to get them genuinely interested in who I was that we made ground in their active roles in the classes,” she said.
During her time in Malaysia, Chesley also began a project of creating an English magazine with her students, she said.
“I was really proud of my students for [producing the magazine] … which promoted school activities as well as what was going on in the community,” Chelsey said. “We would send it to the U.S embassy, [and it] really helped me to connect with them and get them interested.
“With any post-grad service experience, you have to be open to adapt and accept and be tough-minded in your resolve with whatever can be thrown at you.”
Arness had a similarly rewarding experience. She said TFA appealed to her because of the benefits it provided as well as the opportunity for service. Initially, Arness was placed in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a high school English teacher, she said.
“I thought I was going to be Hilary Swank in ‘Freedom Writers,’” Arness said.
But Arness was switched to teach science in a middle school shortly thereafter, she said.
“I had to collaborate with other teachers, which created a huge resource exchange,” Arness said. “… There was a lot of learning and relearning. I was able to become a stronger teacher because, as my students were learning, I was as well.”
Arness said her experience was most gratifying when she got to know her students.
“I was involved in many after-school activities, such as an outdoors club,” she said. “It was beneficial to see them as genuine people and be involved with them outside of class.”
Arness said it was important for her to define her own success, to make sure she was committed every day and to forgive herself for any mistakes she may have made, “realizing the bigger picture and remembering the mission of your program that is beyond you.”
In committing to a post-graduate service program, it is essential to gather support groups and do the necessary research to know what is expected of participants, Arness said. By realizing the responsibilities of each program, one can get the most of the experience.
“Who I am is very small in comparison to the impact I can make,” she said.