The following four St. Thomas alumni have stepped out of their comfort zones and challenged themselves by pursuing international opportunities – through jobs, programs and postgraduate schooling. Their experiences are offshoots of the foundations they built at St. Thomas. Each day they give back to their communities, but more importantly have allowed themselves to be open and to grow to become more well-rounded citizens of the world.

Maia Martucci ’12

Hiroshima, Japan

English Club students promote club events during a cultural festival. (Photo provided)

English Speakers Society students promote club events during a cultural festival. (Photo provided)

Teaching English in Japan is a collision of Maia Martucci’s interests. While at St. Thomas, Martucci developed an understanding for teaching English as a second language at the Hmong Academy in St. Paul and visited Japan as part of her Intercultural Communications course.

Now, Martucci ’12 teaches English at two schools as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.  Her main school is a high-academic high school in the suburbs of Hiroshima. There, she teaches three to five classes a day, and her responsibilities include assisting in grading presentations and essays, administrating interview tests, and reinforcing pronunciation and difficult grammar points. Once a week, she also runs an English Speakers Society. The society plays English-speaking games, cooks American foods and goes on field trips.

At her other school, she works with visually impaired students.

“My students continuously amaze me with their curiosity and creativity. I never realized how interesting an American supermarket was or American high school life until I’ve listened and answered student questions,” Martucci said.

Martucci emphasized that the importance of the JET Program is in its focus on developing relationships and creating international exchange. As part of that, she’s learned a lot and continues to enjoy the culture around her.

She arrived in Japan not knowing any Japanese, but hopes to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test before leaving Japan.

One of her favorite places to visit is Itsukushima Shrine. She lives across from the island, where the buildings are constructed to resemble the Edo era and deer wander through the park.

“It is very enchanting to wander around while eating momiji-manju (a locally made maple leaf-shaped cake filled with various sweet and savory fillings) and grilled oysters (the island’s specialty) while taking in all the beauty of the island,” Martucci said.

Through the JET Program, Martucci can teach in Japan for five years. She just signed a contract for her third year.

Benjamin Watson ’13

Nairobi, Kenya

Benjamin Watson ’13 challenges himself to say “yes” to things that are easy to say “no” to. When Watson received a call asking if he was interested in going to Nairobi, he said, “Sure why not,” and didn’t take the question seriously. Three months later, he was at Nairobi International Airport.

Benjamin Watson (photo provided)

Benjamin Watson (photo provided)

Watson is part of General Electric’s Financial Management Program (FMP). FMP is intended to groom recent college graduates for leadership roles at GE by placing them in four rotations over two years. Nairobi was Watson’s second rotation.

There, he worked as the middleman between banks and GE customers by helping the customers secure financing from banks and other financial institutions so they could purchase GE equipment. However, his day-to-day activities differed.

“On any given day, I can be called upon to join our commercial team on a customer call or be running around downtown Nairobi, meeting with local banks, exploring potential partnerships,” Watson said. “Before starting this role I had no idea this job even existed.”

He also has worked with another St. Thomas alum: Okwudiri Njoku, who leads the GE sales and project finance division for west and central Africa.

Watson graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in marketing management, but said that going to a college out of state (he attended high school in Wisconsin) and taking classes outside of his degree helped to encourage him to step outside of his comfort zone.

“Classes like philosophy and world religion gave me lens through which I could better understand the world around me, and to be honest, I would have never taken those classes if they hadn’t been required to graduate,” Watson said.

Watson said Kenya was easy to acclimate to, and that while many of the media-driven images of Africa can be true, such as poverty, hunger and violence, those aren’t the attributes that define the region.

“Kenya (Nairobi especially) is very modern and its people are honest, kind and hardworking,” Watson said.

Watson rotated back to the U.S. in February.

Sara O’Neill ’12

Derry, Northern Ireland

One semester of studying abroad wasn’t enough for Sara O’Neill ’12. O’Neill had participated in a program between Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs and the University of Ulster. She enjoyed her experience so much she applied to the University of Ulster for her Master of Science.

O’Neill ended up on the Magee Campus, which is located in Derry, Northern Ireland, and was in a program on applied peace and conflict studies. She said she enjoyed the work she was doing because, as a justice and peace studies and international studies double major, it built on what she had learned at St. Thomas.

“(It) also offer(ed) the real-life experience of living in a country coming out of conflict,” O’Neill said.

The people she met through her program and the independence she developed were some of the most rewarding parts of her program.

“When you are abroad, you have to rely on yourself even if you are shy,” O’Neill said. “I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone and this helped me become more adaptable to new situations.”

She said that while the teaching style is different in the U.K., she felt well-prepared for her studies, and enjoyed learning the different perspectives her classmates brought to the table, especially because many of them were working in areas of peace and conflict studies.

“Some classmates worked in cross-community work in Northern Ireland, one was a retired military man who had experience in the U.N. Peacekeeping force and others were international students involved in human rights work or development work in their own countries,” O’Neill said. “I was constantly learning from my classmates just as much as I was from my professors.”

O’Neill currently is doing a one-year working holiday visa for young people in the Republic of Ireland.

“I wasn’t quite done traveling,” she said.

Ann Hale ’14 M.A.

Greenwich, London

When Ann Hale ’14 started taking classes at St. Thomas while also working in the Philosophy Department, she was doing so for fun. What started as fun ended in her obtaining a master’s degree in English literature, deciding to pursue a Ph.D. and “completely changing my life.”

Hale, who already had an undergraduate and law degree from the University of Minnesota, knew she didn’t want to spend another year in a classroom. A research-based degree from the U.K. would allow her to begin her own research immediately, which led her to University of Greenwich. Her research focuses on the role 19th century legal periodicals played in the development of the legal profession in England. She said legal periodicals and legal subjects of the 19th century have received little attention, so she feels “like a bit of a pioneer in the subject.”

Pioneer though she may be, Hale already has received accolades for her work. She won the VanArsdel Prize, which is awarded annually to the best graduate student essay investigating Victorian periodicals and newspapers. Her essay, “W.T. Stead and Participatory Reader Networks in ‘The Link’ and ‘The Review of Reviews,’” was based on her St. Thomas master’s essay.

“I was absolutely shocked when I was told I had won. Shocked! At the same time, it was fantastic,” Hale said.

Her essay will appear in the spring 2015 issue of “Victorian Periodicals Review.”

Hale has enjoyed her time in London thus far because of the breadth of academic opportunities available to her there, including the wealth of easily accessible research libraries, universities and archives, and diverse range of academic communities.

“There is no way I could have undertaken my research of the U.K. because the resources I need are concentrated in this city,” Hale said. She added that, like any postgraduate student, she’s spent a lot of time at the British Library, which now “feels like home.”

(She does note that she misses the facilities and staff of St. Thomas’ library tremendously.)

Outside of her academic pursuits, Hale enjoys spending time at the theater and Wilton’s Musical Hall, which is an arts venue house in the oldest surviving 19th century music hall.

She plans to finish her Ph.D. within the next two years.

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