Challenges and risks don’t scare Monica Anderson (’17). As a track athlete at Oregon State, she competed in the steeplechase, the oft-overlooked yet grueling endurance race where runners leap over hurdles and a 12-foot water pit.
And, Anderson changed her major to English.
“I started out in pre-veterinary science,” she says. “Becoming an English major was a risk. I had an incorrect idea that OSU was a science and engineering school. And I didn’t think it would be practical to have a degree in English.”
But Anderson was passionate about reading and writing. The courses, from Latin American literature to Post-Humanism Theory, demanded an open, flexible mind and the ability to articulate herself in writing. They awakened a need for creative expression and helped fuel her interest in the world beyond the U.S. They helped make her a better ambassador for international and domestic students and a better teammate.
Not only that, the major made her braver. Anderson was the very first OSU student to sign up for an internship teaching children English in Vietnam.
“I only took English classes for one year before I went to Vietnam. The major empowered me to take chances and risks,” she says. “It seemed too good to be true. I realized I could take English classes, travel the world and work with some of the smartest professors at Oregon State.”
Anderson spent the first half of her internship teaching English to secondary school students in a rural Vietnamese village and the second half — unexpectedly — as an English tutor and teaching assistant in Hanoi. The switch, due to visa complications, kept her nimble.
“I learned a bit about how to navigate cultural differences, and I think I became more adaptable from that moment on,” she says. “The personal and cultural challenges renewed my mindfulness and empowered me to do anything. And I never stopped running. That experience solidified my desire to teach English internationally after college.”
This past summer, she spent a month in the Peruvian highlands volunteering on a horse farm. This fall, she’s traveling to Kenya to work as a tutor for the East African Scholar’s fund, an organization that helps Kenya’s brightest low- and middle-income students study for the SAT and TOEFL tests. The organization’s students regularly get accepted at Ivy League universities in the U.S. Next, she plans to spend two years in the Peace Corps teaching English internationally.
Contrary to her earlier thinking, she’s found her English degree to be very practical.
“There are of course problems with romanticizing English as this language everyone needs,” she says. “But in rural areas, kids who learn English have more opportunities when they’re older.”
Afterward, the possibilities are endless. As Anderson contemplates careers and graduate school, she knows her degree means her writing and communications skills are in demand.
And she’s not afraid.
-Story by Joe Donovan