For love, for work, for new horizons—there are so many reasons people move to other countries. “Going to another country frees you to be more who you are,” says Elaine Levine ’67, “because you’re not constrained by the norms and the expectations of what you’re supposed to do or how you’re supposed to be.” Global education is a pillar of Goucher, and the college has become a national leader in study abroad. But Goucher alumnae/i have set off for international adventures ever since there were Goucher alumnae/i.
By Molly Englund
“The short story is that I fell in love with a Frenchman and moved here to live with him in 2015,” says Tammy Mayer ’04. That relationship didn’t work out, but living in France did, so Mayer stayed. She lived in Paris until a year ago, when she moved to the French countryside near her now-husband’s hometown.
“I live in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “It’s an industrial region that’s losing a lot of its population. They call it the ‘diagonal void.’” But her town is surprisingly well appointed. “We have four boulangeries, which for a small town is a lot,” she says.
When Mayer first moved to Paris, finding work was tough; French companies tend to expect your resume to match up exactly with the job. “If you want to work in communications, you have to have a bachelor’s and a master’s in communications and all of your internships and jobs must be in communications,” she says. “That was not my experience in the U.S.”
Mayer has a bachelor’s in French and a master’s in teaching, and she worked as a program director and a finance manager at nonprofits in the states. She saw herself one day becoming an executive director, but to some French people she knew, her teaching degree meant she could only be a teacher.
“I decided to try to beat them at their own game,” says Mayer. She went back to school, getting a master’s in advanced global studies from Sciences Po, which in France is as prestigious as an Ivy League university. Today, she runs her own organization, One Climate Action, “a training organization that helps people influence others to support climate actions,” she says. Mayer’s programs focus on solutions over fearmongering.
France is a good place to live for someone tackling these issues. “It’s taken more seriously here,” says Mayer. Even the national channel now calls its weather broadcast “weather and climate,” with something about climate change in each report. At first, Mayer had been hesitant to leave Paris, but now she works from home with canals, trees, and hills just outside her door. “I don’t miss Paris at all,” she says.
Jessica Mathewson ’92 always had a passion for languages. After college, she got a job in Washington, DC, but she really wanted to work in France. She found an international internship program and applied but was offered Italy instead. “And I fell in love with Italy,” she says.
Mathewson was hired for an internship in the library at the International School of Trieste. “That was when I decided I wanted to be a librarian,” she says. She returned to the U.S. to get her M.S. in library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2002, she accepted a position in the library of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The job was in Rome.
She’s still in Rome today, though Mathewson now works on the publishing side of FAO. “I became a specialist in copyright,” she says. “I’m responsible for practically all intellectual property that is managed and produced by our organization.” The position would typically require a law degree, but her boss knew she was right for it. “One of the things I learned from being at Goucher is persuasive writing skills,” says Mathewson. “Even though I’m not a lawyer, I do understand FAO’s intellectual property policy backwards and forwards. And one thing I’m very good at is negotiating.”
As she prepared to move to Rome back in 2002, American friends asked Mathewson if she feared the big change. She remembers thinking she knew everything she needed to know about living in Italy—she’d lived in Trieste, in the north. But she was surprised at how different Rome was. People in Trieste tend to be reserved, while Romans seemed to argue in the street. Mathewson eventually realized that they weren’t arguing; it was just a different style of communication. “The thing about Italy is that each region has its own culture—almost every region has its own dialect that is technically considered a distinct language,” says Mathewson. “The language they speak and the accent they use in Rome is so different from Trieste’s. But even more than that, it’s just a different way of life. I felt like I was in another country.” Mathewson is now married to a man she met just before the COVID-19 lockdown. “Being married to an Italian is another kind of culture shock altogether. But I’m loving that too.”
Elaine Levine ’67 wanted to spend her junior year in Spain. This was before all Goucher students studied abroad; at the time, only language majors could do it. Levine majored in economics, but she convinced Dean Geen that she had the support of the Economics and Spanish departments and would still fulfill her curriculum requirements. So off to Spain she went.
While there, Levine took a yearlong course in Latin American society and politics. It was the mid-1960s, and she became enthusiastic about what was happening—the rise of the counterculture, the promise of social change.
She came back to Goucher to finish her degree and figure out her way back to Latin America. Then she saw a poster on a bulletin board about a summer course on Mexican society and politics at the National University in Mexico. “I was scheduled to do graduate work for a master’s at Georgetown in the fall, so I came to Mexico and thought it was just a summer adventure,” she says, “but of course it ended up being more than that.”
She went back to Georgetown for a year, then returned to Mexico City to teach at the American school. Soon she moved into college teaching and was hired at the Institute for Economic Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), one of the top universities in the country. She transferred to UNAM’s Center for Research on North America shortly after it was established.
She decided to focus her scholarship on migration, as it affects the U.S. and Mexico. “As soon as I started delving into that, I became passionate about the subject,” Levine says. “My doctoral dissertation was on the socioeconomic situation of the Latino population in the U.S.,” which was later published as a book called Los nuevos pobres de Estados Unidos: los hispanos (The New Poor in the United States: Hispanics). “I went on to work on that topic with a great deal of passion.” One aspect of Levine’s research that surprised her was how many Mexicans in the U.S. plan to come back to Mexico, much more so than Central American populations do, even though most end up only returning for short visits. Levine understands that desire. She has been in Mexico for 55 years, she has Mexican citizenship, and she has no plans to leave.
Bonnie Kemske ’80 was focused on Japan—and yet ended up in England. Kemske was born on a U.S. military base in Japan and mostly grew up in Delaware. At Goucher, her major was religion, but her interest was Japan. “I took as many courses where I could fit Japan in as possible,” says Kemske. “I studied Zen Buddhist aesthetics. I did eastern religions. I did everything I could think of.” She took Japanese language classes at Towson State (now called Towson University) and planned to spend two years in Japan once she finished college. But then she met Tony Holland, a British junior psychiatrist on exchange at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
It was a whirlwind romance. When the summer was over, Holland went to England, and Kemske to Japan. They wrote to each other every day. “I cut my trip short, and I came straight to England from Japan,” she says.
Being back in an English-speaking country made Kemske feel like she had come home. “It was the second year that I began to realize how fundamental the cultural differences were,” says Kemske. For example, in casual conversation, she could be too familiar for English people’s tastes. While Americans might share their life stories with strangers on a bus, Kemske says, English people never do that.
Kemske is a ceramicist and author. She started working with ceramics during a January Term at Goucher and became interested in Japanese ceramics while in Japan. In England, she went on to get a Ph.D. in ceramic art, eventually meeting with a Bloomsbury editor about turning her thesis into a book. The editor mentioned she was interested in someone writing a book on tea bowls.
“I stopped dead still on the sidewalk,” Kemske says, “and I said, ‘I’m the only one who can write that book, because I’m a ceramicist, I write, and I do Japanese tea ceremony, and have done for 30 years. Let me write that book.’” Kemske did write that book, called The Teabowl: East and West. She then published another book, Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend, about the Japanese art of repairing ceramics with gold lacquer, turning something unintended into something beautiful. Now, she’s venturing into a third book, one that will hopefully take her back to Japan this spring.
Aman Pant ’18 is always moving around. He was born and raised in Nepal, although his mother’s family is from Myanmar. He came to Baltimore to attend Goucher in 2014 after finding the college online; he liked the idea of a small classroom setting.
As an international student, Pant didn’t have to study abroad, but he went to Berlin anyway. He likes being thrown into new environments, even relishes it. “Just the idea that I get to go to a new place and feel a kind of positive culture shock is very exciting,” he says.
Pant was in Berlin for about six months. “It was really wonderful, but it kept me wanting more,” he says.
After college, Pant went home to Nepal. In 2021, he moved back to Germany, this time to Leipzig, to start a master’s program in global studies, with a focus on peace and security in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia). Pant was there for a year before going to Ethiopia to study at the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University. He then went to Copenhagen to wrap up the program while working on his thesis. The journey culminated in two degrees, one from Leipzig University and the other from Roskilde University, in Denmark.
After graduating in 2023, Pant took some time to travel and reflect. He stayed with a friend in the Netherlands while making trips through parts of Europe and beyond. Pant tries to integrate travel into his life as much as possible, but it is not easy being a Nepali passport holder, as he faces institutional barriers and discrimination every step of the way. Despite the barriers, he is highly motivated to continue traveling. “It’s a desire to see the world and understand the people living in it while connecting with them at a human level,” he says.
He finds it incredible how humans can connect with each other despite lingo-cultural differences. “It is beautiful to be able to communicate in the human language with someone who has a very different lived experience than you have and in many cases whose language you cannot speak. If you make an effort, you can feel many of the emotions and experiences people live through, allowing you to bond as fellow beings.”
Kyra Smith ’16 didn’t have any plans or dreams to go to Chile. She was living in New York City when she met Vicente Atria, and they fell in love. He was from Chile, and soon they were taking trips there to see his family. After the COVID-19 pandemic started, they spent six months living in Santiago. “That solidified for us that this place makes both of us really happy,” said Smith. They agreed that if they liked living there even during lockdown, then this was the place to make their lives. After her partner finished his doctorate in New York in May 2022, they packed their bags and headed south.
Smith works remotely for Columbia University as an administrator in their technology transfer department, connecting researchers to outside opportunities. While she works New York hours (one hour behind Santiago), she is otherwise immersed in life in Chile, a country she found easy to fall in love with. “Santiago really surprised me,” says Smith. “[Chile] has a lot of history, but Santiago itself has a kind of young, energetic, alternative, punky, artistic vibe that I wasn’t expecting, and that was really fun and exciting.” She’s met tattoo artists and people who make their own clothes or pottery. “Everyone I meet is doing something interesting and unique,” she says. “On top of it being a beautiful place, the people are all very warm, very fun to be around, and made me want to be part of that community.”
Smith has made good friends in Santiago, but she’s had to get comfortable with a different way of making plans. In New York, where being busy is a given, Smith scheduled time with friends. “If I want to see my friend [in New York], I’m going to text her two weeks in advance,” says Smith. “Here, you see someone in the street, or someone texts you, ‘I’m by your apartment, do you want to hang out?’ And then you’re hanging out for the next five hours. It’s a lot more spontaneous, more relaxed, which is really lovely.”