One day this spring, after taking the kids out to dinner, I checked my Facebook feed before I set out to drive home. I saw the news that my high school French teacher, Mrs. Warren, had passed away.
I began to drive home, and I felt such an emptiness, and I began to cry. I hadn’t seen Mrs. Warren since I graduated high school in 1994. That was 21 years ago. But, the impact she made to my life was so grand that I didn’t realize that there was a part of her that was always with me.
Mrs. Warren was an amazing French teacher. However, her greatest impact was not what she taught us about French, but what she taught us about life. For me, she was a teacher who peeked through hypothetical doors with her students, and said, “Look what is possible!”, and then said, “Go do it!” She listened to us, and she knew that we all had different wants and needs.
I remember that Mrs. Warren had a husband and two sons who she loved and spoke about very much and who were very into camping. So ironic because she, herself, belonged walking the streets and museums of Paris.
Every year she arranged to lead a bunch of school kids to France after school let out. She treated us all like her own. In the 1990s we had lectures at every step of the way: about the value of the Franc at that time compared to the dollar, our safety and what not to do and what to do in the French culture. She went over everything and then set us free to make our own decisions.
She led us up to the top of the Eiffel Tower and as much as she treasured the view, she seemed to be more excited about us seeing it for the first time.
Before this trip, I had only been on an airplane once to go to Florida and my parents had never been out of the country at that time. Mrs. Warren extended our boundaries. She taught her students that there was life outside of Brick, New Jersey, USA and how fun and interesting it was to explore the world!
The next year, after having exhausted my summer job savings on the trip to France, Mrs. Warren told her class about a scholarship competition from our town’s Board of Education for a summer foreign exchange. Since I had already been to France, I chose Japan because I yearned to see more of the world, and it was the country I knew the least about on the list. Everyone else who was applying chose a country which coincided with a language that they were learning at school. I realized that I had to come up with a different strategy for my essay and interview because I didn’t know any Japanese.
I wrote down all the stereotypes of Japan that I could think of and explained that I needed to go to Japan to get answers to questions such as, “Were the Japanese really obsessed with American baseball?” and, “Did the women walk around in kimonos everyday?”
However, although it was a very formidable obstacle, winning over the Board of Education, wasn’t the toughest thing in my way to get to Japan. After telling my parents about the scholarship for the foreign exchange, they said that I wasn’t allowed to apply.
As I mentioned before, my parents had never traveled internationally at that time, and I had extended them beyond their comfort zone when I went to France. But Mrs. Warren had been with me for that trip, and she had reassured them at the time, so that had been ok. This was different. There was no way they were going to allow their 17-year old daughter to go to another country on her own when she didn’t know the language. So, that was that.
Well, not really. I wrote and submitted the essay anyway. Not quite Malala standing up to the Taliban for her right to an education, but for me, it was rebellious.
My mom actually came into my room the night I was writing the essay and asked what I was doing. I didn’t lie. I told her the truth. I assured her that I probably wouldn’t win anyway and writing the essay was good experience for me. She looked at me, gasped in disbelief, and then since it was so late and she was tired and going up to bed, she said, “Ok, just don’t tell your father.” So, I didn’t tell him.
I remember the day I was in my AP Biology class and Mrs. Warren was standing outside the door. I had no idea why she was there. I waved to her and she kind of hid. I thought it was strange. It turned out she was trying to surprise me, and when I got out of class, she handed me a folder from the nonprofit foreign exchange organization, Youth for Understanding, and beamed as she gave me the news…
I couldn’t believe it!! I had won the scholarship, and I was going to Japan!! But, OH, NOOO!!!! Mrs. Warren didn’t know that my dad forbade me to apply. I had to tell her. So, I did.
My mom worked at the time as a teller at a bank, and without my knowing, Mrs. Warren went down to the bank and spoke with her. What teacher goes through the trouble and gets involved like that? Linda Warren did.
Mrs. Warren’s support justified to me that dreams were possible. That anything was possible! Even getting past my strict father and his sometimes totalitarian rule. (He doesn’t read my blog, so I can be all high school dramatic like that here.) It took a lot of convincing, but I did finally get permission to go to Japan for the summer. And, it definitely was one of the best experiences in my life.
Since Mrs. Warren encouraged me to travel internationally as a student, I have now visited sixteen countries. But perhaps some of the best things that have come out of my love of all things international are my English husband who also loves to travel, and the amazing opportunities the women at World Moms Blog and I have created together. We’ve spoken on a panel at the World Bank in support of the universal education for all children; accepted invitations to the White House and the United Nations; been on various delegations around the world to view health and education programs, and I still feel like we’re just getting started!
I can’t help but think that World Moms Blog may not have been, if I didn’t have Mrs. Warren’s support and invitation to the world when I needed her most.
Au revoir and thank you, Mrs. Warren. I am so grateful for your life. You are an inspiration. You are very missed, and I promise, I know now that everything IS possible. Your impact exceeds the number of the many students who had the opportunity to have you as a teacher.
Your life lessons proved much more valuable than what we thought we were getting when we signed up for your French class in high school. You were much more than a French teacher to me. Thank you for sharing your life with your students and inspiring us.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by founder, Jennifer Burden of New Jersey, USA, who is greatly missing her French teacher today as she heads to a memorial mass for Linda Warren.
Photo from the Brick Memorial High School Class of ’94 Yearbook.
On December 9th, 2014, WorldMomsBlog.com, a global community for women that writes from over 20 countries on motherhood, culture, humans rights and social good, will join media influencers and top government officials at The White House in Washington, D.C. The goal of the discussions will be “to increase awareness among young people and encourage their participation in educational, cultural and professional exchanges.”
“I am extremely honored and enthusiastic to be invited into the conversation around millennials and global and cultural exchanges at the home of the President of the United States of America.” — Jennifer Burden, Founder of WorldMomsBlog.com
In 1993 Jennifer won a scholarship from her hometown of Brick Township’s Board of Education to live with a family in Japan for a summer during high school. Her experience through Youth for Understanding was life-changing, and she still remains close friends with the Miyaji family in Japan.
“We’ve attended each other’s weddings, watched our families grow and exchanged support during tragic events of September 11th, 2001 and the tsunami that impacted Japan in 2011. It has been a mind opening experience to have such a connection with a family elsewhere on the globe, similar to the connections we are now making to mothers through World Moms Blog.”, says Burden.
However, Jennifer is just one of the many WorldMoms Blog.com community with a story of an early experience abroad that has made an impact. The invitation to The White House inspired us to ask our globally minded contributors about their early abroad experiences, if any. What we learned may surprise you!…
Our contributor, Ana Gaby from Stumble Abroad, is a Mexico native, who studied abroad in Canada during high school and in France in college. Karyn Van Der Zwet of Kloppenmum in New Zealand worked in London for four years during her 20s. And, Jennifer Iacovelli of Another Jennifer studied abroad in London, England while a junior at Syracuse University in New York, USA.
Dee Harlow, The Wanderlustress has lived all over the world and is now in Lesotho. She told us that during her 20s she was working abroad from the US in Singapore. K10K in Belgium of The Penguin and the Panther volunteered in Rumenia fixing up a local birth clinic and in Morocco helping to install an irrigation system in her early 20s. In fact, her husband proposed to her on that Morocco trip!
Kristyn Zalota of Cleanbirth.org went to Russia on an exchange just after the Soviet Union collapsed. And in college she did a semester in Luxembourg and went back to Russia after graduating and lived with a family. While, Kirsten Doyle of Running For Autism in Canada grew up in South Africa and lived and worked in Israel at age 23. She started on a kibbutz and then worked on farms.
Elizabeth Atalay of Documama spent a summer in Israel at age 17 after high school, a summer in Bolivia as college student at age 19 and backpacked around South America for the summer at age 21 and for 6 months through Africa when she was 24. She also spent four months backpacking around Asia/Pacific at 26 after college pursuing her work as a documentarian!
Jennifer Prestholdt, The Human Rights Warrior, took a semester off from Yale University when she was 20 and enrolled as a Norwegian student at the University of Oslo’s faculty of political science. She also worked at a barnehage (day care center) when in Norway. During law school, she spent two summers living in Geneva and working at the United Nations.
Nicole Morgan of Sisters from Another Mister went to college in South Africa, then spent a year traveling Europe, where she backpacked through Italy, Greece and Turkey. She volunteered for a while with the YWCA, and then spent six months working in a London advertising/graphics company while waitressing at night. Polish Mom Photographer, grew up in Poland and worked as an au pair as part of a cultural exchange program in U.S when she was 26. She also worked as a waitress in London, England for 2 months when she was 21!
Susie Newday of New Day, New Lesson grew up in the US and went on a program to Israel when she was 18. She lived and worked on kibbutz, and now resides in Israel. And, Olga Mecking, The European Mama, grew up in Poland and studied french in Nancy, France for a month. She then went on to study in Germany for a year, went to Canada for 4 months and then moved to Germany. She has now been living in the Netherlands for the past 5 years.
Tina Santiago-Rodriguez, Truly Rich Mom, of the Philippines grew up and studied in Brunei from kindergarten to secondary school, and then went back home to the Philippines to attend college. After graduating, she became a mission volunteer for her Catholic lay community and was assigned to Borneo (East Malaysia and Brunei) and Timor Leste for about 2 years, to do ministry work for youth and kids. She was then assigned to Manila for a year, then to Timor Leste with her parents and fiance for another year, before getting married at 26. She returned to Timor with her husband as newlyweds and stayed for another 4 years or so before returning to the Philippines.
Nicole Melancon, the Thirdeyemom, studied in Paris when she was 21 and worked as a fille au pair (nanny) and French intern the following year. While, Hannah Ashton moved to the US from the UK when she was 17, went to university in the US, but did her junior year back in the UK. She ended up staying in the US for three years after she graduated. And, Erin Threlfall went to Germany to study at a university and then went volunteered at a refugee camp in Ghana, where she stayed for 11 years!
Sophia Neghesti Johnson of Think Say Be from Tanzania volunteered in Santa Cruz, CA at Bosch Baha’i School for a year at 18. She then studied in Los Angeles, CA and Tampa, FL in her mid 20s with a focus on psychology. At 24 she worked as a freelance photographer for celebrity events in Los Angeles, CA, & has continued freelancing in Florida to sponsor girls’ education in Zanzibar at Regeza Mwendo School.
Our contributor, Anne Marie Wraight in Greece, went to Germany on a cultural exchange programme from the UK. Her choir and orchestra played several concerts together with the youth orchestra from Berlin. They also had a musical to perform which was a great hit!!! She was part of a group that stayed with the musicians from the host orchestra so they could practise our foreign language skills. This exchange took place every 2 years. She says it was, “Great on EVERY level of cultural exchange!”As a result of the experience, Anne Marie did her gap year in Berlin, where she volunteered with retired people who lived on their own and had special needs and taught English. She then moved to Greece in her early 20’s and still resides there today!
Jennifer Burden will be bringing these stories of the WorldMomsBlog.com community and more to Washington. The invitation to The White House is a big milestone for World Moms Blog, and we are over the moon about including our community in these top-level discussions of global importance for students and young adults! This honor is a true reflection of the hard work of our entire global editing and contributing staff toward running the site and opening minds to what life is like for mothers all over the world. Congratulations to every single World Mom!!
Did you travel abroad when you were in your teens or 20’s on a trip that has impacted your life? Tell us your story in the comments, and we will take it to Washington!
WorldMomsBlog.com is a community that shares the stories of over 60 contributors from over 20 countries on motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. We have been named a FORBES Woman Best Website for Women, ’12 & ’13; a NY Times Motherlode “must read” and recommended in the “The Times of India”.