Coming Full Circle
Senior Catherine Jockell was itching to get away.
She knew the Poultney area all too well, having grown up just ten minutes away from GMC, where she had spent time at the campus library, eaten at Perry’s diner, and most of the other small-town trademarks. But the general milieu was taking its toll on the aspiring traveler. Soon enough, she’d have her ticket out of Vermont—and the country, for that matter.
Not wanting to break the bank in order to travel overseas, Catherine looked into a suggestion from a friend about serving as an “au pair”—a nanny who travels to another country to live with a family and care for their children. Out of her various offers, Catherine (a fluent Spanish speaker) was most interested in a family from Guatemala. After a preliminary meeting in Montreal, it was a done deal.
“The family was nice and the kids were the cutest I’d ever seen,” Catherine says. “We had initially decided I would stay with them for five months. I loved it so much there I ended up staying for a year and a half.”
Catherine loved spending time with the kids, who she regards as her brothers and sisters, as well as her host family. In addition to her 50-hour work week, Catherine was taking a full course load of rigorous classes at The Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (or the University of the Valley of Guatemala).
“There aren’t a lot of international students in Guatemala like we have here, so there was a lot of pressure to immerse myself in the culture,” she explains. Catherine’s background in theatre helped her be more outgoing and adjust on the fly. Even still, to lighten her load, Catherine decided to switch jobs, abandoning (somewhat reluctantly) her au pair position in favor of teaching English for another year and a half.
Three years had passed before Catherine was heading back to Vermont. She had collegiate experience under her belt, and a newfound sense of academic vigor. One of kids she cared for in Guatemala had a learning disability which inspired Catherine to pursue psychological research in that area. Once again, she found herself making quick adjustments, going from the heat to the cold, and from a larger, more rigid university to a campus where the atmosphere was more laid-back, but still outfitted to help her cultivate her interests.
In particular, enrolling at GMC gave Catherine a chance to rekindle her passion for theatre—with a touch of nostalgia. She had first performed on the stage at age four as part of a dance recital. After spending time half a world away, she was back in Ackley as a student.
“My favorite part about theatre is creating the character and finding all of the fun parts of being someone else. I think it’s also the challenge of maintaining the energy in doing something you’ve rehearsed so many times, while making it seem new,” she says.
Since transferring, Catherine has participated in numerous productions, including Dentity Crisis, Waiting for Lefty, The Glass Menagerie, Run!, and Blackout or Get Out. Most recently, Catherine played leading female roles in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The 39 Steps, which premiered last Friday and will run again this weekend on the Ackley Stage.
“I like trying on the different scenarios on stage. There are a lot of things I’ve never gone through, but I’ve played a character that has onstage. It sort-of prepares you for new experiences,” she adds.
But Catherine does more that probe the minds of her various characters. In fact, she’s been a model student of psychology here at GMC, which culminated in her conducting her own research project.
“Last year, I began studying the way language interfaces with empathy. I wanted to examine the way in which we use specific language, like programs, with levels of empathy,” she explains.
In the end, Catherine says she’s gathered publishable findings that there is a direct correlation between the use of pronouns and the demonstration of empathy. All of her hard work cemented her future plans, earning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Houston where she will be studying developmental cognitive neuroscience. She’ll have the chance to delve deeper into her interest in language-based learning disabilities, as well as get her travel fix once again.
“I have no problem with parachuting into some new place and figuring out my way,” Catherine laughs. “I guess I don’t mind the unexpected. I never thought I’d go to Guatemala, or end up attending school here at GMC, or make plans to go to Texas, but things change and you have to be open to them.”
By Chad Skiles ‘12