I met Leslie in July in Washington D.C. at Fulbright orientation, but in the flurry of those quick days, I didn’t get to know much about her beyond my observations that she is intelligent, poised, organized, and professional. It was clear why she’d been selected as an English Teaching Assistant (now living in the city of Grodno). In the months since the orientation, though, as we’ve shared so much of this experience in Belarus, I’ve developed a deep admiration for this fine young woman — whom we call “Good Mom” (contrasting with my highly appropriate tag of “Bad Mom”). She’s rad, Leslie is, and not just because she was the first to return a completed survey to Allegra.
Here. Meet Leslie.
What teacher in your life has made the biggest impact on you? How?
My favorite teacher in the world is Mrs. Bell from high school. I had her for 9th grade English and critical thinking skills, when I was desperately trying to be a “cool” kid. I remember vividly her pulling me aside telling me she was disappointed in my B for the first quarter because she knew I was being lazy and could do better. Her tough love was… tough in 9th grade, but I had her for 10th and 11th, and English soon became my favorite class. She taught me to write, analyze, think critically, public speaking, grammar, and so much more. She also helped me study for the SATs on her own time and was IB thesis advisor my senior year. I truly think that without her lessons and love I would not be the learner, worker, and thinker I am now. I’m still in touch with her on Facebook and meet up sometimes when I’m home in Tampa.
What song is a lifetime favorite of yours, and why?
“Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root. I went to a summer camp in Colorado from age 10-17 and then became a counselor. Every Thursday was the all-camp dance at a big partially-covered area called the pavilion (pav for short). It was very PG but the perfect opportunity to dance with your camp crush. I was definitely in it for the butterflies from age 12-14, but then I did leadership programs with a small group of people who became my best friends overnight. Then, the dance was just an excuse to be crazy, to dance like you could never dance at homecoming or prom back home. As a counselor it was incredible to be with so many free spirits and amazing people, but also to see camp through your campers eyes. Anyways, “Send Me On My Way” was the last song that played at the dance before the closing campfire and it always played at sunset. They would blast Rusted Root and everyone would run down from the pav into a valley surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. There was no routine or special dance, we would all just run around dancing and hugging. This is probably the closest thing I have ever felt to magic.
Do you have a go-to question or story to use when there is a lull in conversation?
LOL I feel like living abroad + being in a sorority + being a smiley American has forced me to come equipped with an arsenal of questions. Honestly, I usually bring up food and my love for pizza to break the ice and get people talking. Everyone – no matter their level of English, background, age, or job – adores food.
Can you identify a turning point in your life? What happened?
I can pinpoint a few turning points in my life but I think the one that impacted my the most was going to Poland for my gap year. Not necessarily the “sexy” living abroad part, but I had the hardest few months of my life there. I was unhappy at my local school, gaining weight from only eating pierogi and potatoes, missing my family since I didn’t go home for Christmas, and it was the longest winter Poland could remember for a few decades. In retrospect, it was probably seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely was depressed but couldn’t identify it. Getting through those few months was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. But I didn’t give up, I didn’t go home and I didn’t turn to any destructive habits. Now my mom and I joke that I can literally do anything after a “winter in Lodz.” Nothing seems as difficult as those months did. And I think that attitude has shaped the way I approach challenges. I’m not afraid and I don’t let the potential of discomfort or obstacles stop me (i.e. Belarus).
What is your favorite word in a language that is not your native language? Why?
This is lame but I love the word przedsi?biorczo?? in Polish because it looks like gibberish to English speakers and has too many consonants next to each other. It’s not a cool weird, it means “enterprise.” I also love ???? in Russian. It basically means “crap” or “dang” but it literally means pancake. I just think that’s so cute.
What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
This is a cliche but skydiving. I was in Estonia and I was dating this U.S. army paratrooper (the guys who jump out of helicopters and planes). One morning we were talking and I was talking about how much I wanted to try his job, so he said “let’s do it.” So we called a place and he drove us to the middle of nowhere in central Estonia. It turned out there were no other newbies jumping, just a group of people with over 40 jumps each training to be instructors. They also spoke zero English, only Russian. The army guy bailed on the actual skydiving because he didn’t want to be attached to someone else (fragile masculinity, lolz). The plane was from like 1945 so I got in and was thinking “well, the only way I’m getting back is to jump because I don’t trust this thing to land.” The pilot let me sit in the cockpit and put my hand out the window. After the jump I felt high for the next two hours. It was amazing.
What is your favorite sound?
My favorite sound is the sound of wind rustling aspen tree leaves. You know, I had never thought about it until doing this survey but it came to me so quickly.
What is your ultimate dream vacation? Who would it be with and what would you do?
Hmm dream vacation. I think backpacking in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park to be specific. I want to go with a group of friends or my dad. With my friends we can disconnect, bond, and sleep under the stars. My dad and I would play word games on the trail and cards at night. Some of my greatest memories are camping in Colorado with friends and family and I miss it.
If you could become an expert in a specific area of something, what area would you choose and why?
So I kind of hate the word “expert” because I think the more you study something, you should learn that you really can never know enough. I did my master’s in Baltic Sea Region Studies and after two years, I realized how little I know. I would love to become a go-to for the Baltic Sea region and American public diplomacy in the region. This region has my heart – despite it being cold, dark, full of impossible languages, and having a largely meat-based diet. Doing public diplomacy is my dream professional goal so to combine the two would be ideal.