Taylor Ross '07
Two days before graduating from Brentwood School in 2007, I was under the impression that I was going to attend the University of Michigan in the fall. That all changed the moment I came home one day and saw an overstuffed envelope with a Massachusetts postmark awaiting me on my bed. My acceptance to Boston College off the waiting list sent me into a memorable state of exuberance. BC had always been my number one choice, and my admission to the university was the culmination of my time at Brentwood.
I immediately advised BC that I would accept their offer of admission. Even though I had never visited the campus, I had this intangible feeling that it was the right place for me. I packed my stuff and headed east without a clue of what to expect. Little did I know that this type of mindset would soon become the driving force behind all of my major life decisions.
At BC, I majored in History with a minor in Philosophy. Outside of the classroom, I was a member of the Rugby team during my first two years. After an injury caused me to hang up my cleats for good, I decided to obtain my Massachusetts Real Estate License and begin leasing off-campus houses to students. With my earnings, I was able to fund various memorable endeavors, including going on a cross-country road trip, attending Mardi Gras and Super Bowl XLV, and even embarking on a six-week trip across Europe by myself.
Soon enough, as if a direct message from above, my roommate Eric approached me with a proposition, “Come with me to Paraguay to teach English.” Eric’s brother was currently the director at a small school in a rural town in Paraguay, called Tobati. Eric was going to take over directorial duties after his brother left, and the school needed a new English teacher. Without thinking twice, I replied, “Are you crazy? I don’t even speak Spanish. Thanks but no thanks, bud.”As commencement neared, I couldn’t bring myself to seriously consider permanent employment in the States. I felt mentally fatigued, most likely from having been a student for the past 15 years of my life. I knew that I needed a break from the confines of the classroom, and I had an urge to see the world and to experience and learn from different cultures. I wanted to do something memorable, something unconventional. I just didn’t know what.
In retrospect, I see my initial dismissal of Eric’s offer as the voice inside all of us that tries to limit us from doing something great or outside of our comfort zone—the one that whispers to you that you aren’t strong enough to take on the obvious challenges that would come with accepting such an imposing opportunity.
In the ensuing days after my brief conversation with Eric, the thought of moving to Paraguay kept eating at me. The more I considered the offer, the more I realized just how invaluable of an opportunity this was. I had lived a life full of comfort and privilege, and this seemed like the best chance to throw myself into a completely foreign environment, away from my family and friends, and to find out if I had the strength to persevere and thrive on my own.
I arrived in Tobati in September 2011, and immediately began teaching English at El Instituto Cultural Reinaldo Macchi (ICRM). The school’s mission is to educate the smartest and most economically disadvantaged children in the area. Each student receives a full academic scholarship to study, is provided with three meals a day, and receives full health care. The ICRM is funded completely by private donations and by an annual community service trip run through Kingswood Oxford, a college prep-school much like Brentwood, in Hartford, CT.
Adjusting to life in Tobati was very difficult at first. I was unable to communicate with anyone given my nonexistent background in Spanish (I had studied eight years of Latin between Brentwood and BC). The bucolic setting of Tobati was a stark contrast from the fast-paced, comfortable university life I was used to in Boston. I was 6,000 miles away from everything that had been familiar to me, and I didn’t have many friends or family to help me through this transition. But this is what I had signed up for.
I soon became inspired by my work with the students at school. Their determination had a profound impact on me. Whereas my biggest concern was not understanding Spanish, the students didn’t even know if they would have food on the table at dinner time. The kids’ ability to persevere in the academically rigorous atmosphere at the ICRM, while living in dire poverty, inspired me to improve in every facet of my life. I began studying Spanish for hours on end, refusing to be embarrassed if I made a mistake.
One day, a student of mine by the name of Joel Unzain approached me and expressed his dream of one day studying at a university in the United States. I began working with Joel two hours every day after school for about eight months in order to help him prepare for the application process. We covered TOEFL/SAT I & II prep, and I even assisted him with the completion of his college applications. Joel’s drive and passion humbled me. Here was a kid who came from a modest home, with a family income north of just $500/month, yet his perseverance exceeded that of anyone whom I had ever met in my life.
This past year, Joel received a full financial aid grant to study at six universities in the U.S., including Trinity College (CT), Amherst College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Joel chose to study at Penn, and is currently in the midst of his first semester there.
Joel’s admission to these schools represents one of the happiest periods of my life. It symbolized to me that no matter what you desire in this world, it is completely attainable with the proper mindset. The slogan for the ICRM is “Todo es Posible,” which translates to “Everything is Possible.”
I’m planning a cross-country bicycle trip, with the current Director of the ICRM (Darren Lafrenier), that will help raise money for the school. In January, we will embark from St. Augustine, Florida, and finish in San Diego, California. Our goal is to complete the trip in less than 50 days (in time to be home for my mother’s birthday), and to raise at least $20,000.As my time in Tobati comes to an end this December, I am looking ahead to what my next step will be. I have been humbled to the core by the experiences of these past two years of my life in South America, and I look to carry with me what I have learned to whatever venture may grasp my attention in the future.
Only God knows what the next step after the bike trip will be. I have an interest in applying to the U.S. Department of State, working in Real Estate, or pursuing any work where I can utilize my passion for Spanish or writing. I have learned to adapt to whatever life throws at me, and to make sure that I am ready to pounce on an opportunity when it presents itself. All I can do is to make sure that I live life passionately, the way my students in Tobati taught me to do.