Nineteen minutes after accepting an offer to pursue her master’s degree at Syracuse University, Maeve King received an unexpected email with a life-changing opportunity.
The 23-year-old Dunmore native and 2020 graduate of West Chester University had the chance to spend eight months teaching in South America.
From March to November 2022, King will be a Fulbright teaching assistant in Uruguay, South America, working approximately 35 hours a week: 20 hours teaching in a classroom and 15 working on a community service project. She will learn further details on both soon.
“I really wanted to know more about [Uruguay],” she said. “How they’ve maintained such political stability when other countries in Latin America are struggling with that.”
King was one of only six accepted applicants as part of the Fulbright ETA Program for Uruguay. The program places recent college graduates and young professionals as English teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools or universities overseas, according to the website.
After an arduous application process that included an interview with the commission for Uruguay — in which King fielded questions in both English and Spanish — she had not heard any news. Aware of the program’s limited acceptance rate, King assumed she didn’t get the position and accepted Syracuse’s offer to begin her masters in international relations.
Then, an email popped up in her inbox with a notification that her Fulbright application account had been updated. She logged in and saw the letter of congratulations.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.”
King has never been to South America but has had experiences abroad. She spent the summer of 2018 in Austria and volunteered at an elementary school in Spain during the spring semester of 2019.
In fact, King began her undergraduate studies at WCU as a Spanish major and credits her skills in the language to her Dunmore School District’s Spanish teachers, whom she “can’t thank or praise enough.”
“My high school Spanish teachers were so amazing,” she said. “I left high school almost fluent. They prepared me so well.”
King enjoys learning languages — so much so that she eventually took on German as a second major because of “how different it is from Spanish,” she said. During a few semesters, she would have back-to-back classes that rotated between Spanish and German, resulting in getting her linguistic wires occasionally crossed.
“I would walk into the classroom not knowing what language I was supposed to be speaking,” she said.
After reading more about the university’s political science department, however, King decided she wanted to take on a third major. She received encouragement from one specific teacher: Linda Stevenson, Ph.D., a professor of political science, who inspired King and made her “realize she could do something really powerful.”
“I knew I wanted to do something that was actually making a difference in people’s lives,” King said.
Stevenson, also a Fulbright Scholar, describes King as motivated, engaged, curious, persistent, a delight to work with and a shining light during a dark year.
“She’s one of the most agile and hardworking students I’ve ever had,” Stevenson said.
Wanting to do work on immigration, King approached Stevenson early on in her studies. The two eventually made arrangements to conduct research in Mexico, but the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent global pandemic disrupted their plans. Wondering what to do instead, the pair began meeting to brainstorm an alternative. After King wrapped up her shifts working as a chimney sweep, she would head over to Stevenson’s home.
“Maeve was working full time, working on roofs,” Stevenson said. “Then she would come over to my house, and we’d wear masks on my porch at eight at night. That’s the kind of human she is. I don’t know many students who are willing to do that — (it’s) a testament to her tenacity.”
Their meetings eventually blossomed into a project using oral history as a qualitative research method. Then it bloomed into a co-written article illustrating the allyship between a Montgomery County Mexican migrant and an ESL teacher working toward developing racial equity and justice in their communities.
Stevenson, who was thrilled to hear that King had been accepted into the Fulbright program, describes her as well-deserving of the honor.
“I truly think, ‘how can they reject her?’” Stevenson said.
Stevenson also recommended her for a job as housing program manager for Latin American Community Action of Montgomery County, where King offers families aid and works to prevent evictions.
“Every single day is so different,” King said, “because you never know the type of situation people are in.”
King has deferred her acceptance to Syracuse until the fall of 2023 and will continue her position as program manager until she goes abroad — an experience which, for King, spurs positive self-development.
“Putting yourself out of your comfort zone, living a life so different than the one you are used to, promotes so much personal growth,” King said.