I met Tanya on a flight home from Rome back in 2016, after I’d spent the summer in Palestine, and she’d spent hers in Italy. We were total strangers to one another, mere seatmates on a nine-hour flight.
Instead of ignoring each other, or sleeping through the flight, we had an intense nine hour conversation…about education! And she initiated it, not me. She was at the time a 17-year-old high school student, and I was a 47-year-old college professor, but our thirty-year age difference melted away in nine hours (sooner, really). We became friends, and remain friends five years later.
I’ve taught thousands of students over a span of 26 years at nearly a dozen colleges and universities—on two continents, in three countries, and in three US states. Given that quantity, lots of really good students blur into other students in my mind, or get lost in the mists of time, to say nothing of the mediocre students or worse. Not Tanya. She really was unforgettable.
I didn’t literally teach Tanya as a matriculated student at an official institution, but we had the equivalent of a non-stop nine hour academic seminar from Rome to Newark. And I’ve avidly followed her academic career ever since.
Tanya is one of maybe the five most promising “students” I’ve had in my career—from a field of literally thousands. I would put her in the top 0.001% of the students I’ve “taught” (scare quotes because I didn’t literally teach her), including the ones I taught at Princeton and Notre Dame. I went home after our conversation feeling genuine grief that she’d never be on the official roster of a class I’d ever get to teach. She was the pedagogical equivalent of the Holy Grail, the student one spends a career or even a lifetime seeking out.
Tanya’s official subject of study is international business, but in a sense what she’s studying is an interdisciplinary form of cultural anthropology. She’s fluent in more languages than I can keep track of, and as a Maryland “girl” (I mean, a young woman from Annapolis, Maryland) who’s traveled for years across the breadth of Europe, she has a cross-cultural knowledge of European culture I could never hope to have.
Her cultural knowledge certainly impressed me more than that of any of the foreign correspondents or diplomats I dealt with in Jerusalem, including the ones I met at parties at the US Consulate, or the famous ones doing the Jerusalem beat for NPR, The New York Times, or The Atlantic. She is an example of multicultural education at its best, the proficient version of what I was so clumsily trying to achieve when I took Arabic and did Near East Studies in college thirty years ago. And she’s head and shoulders above the ideologues who command attention in our mainstream press, with their shallow, one-eyed “coverage” of life and politics abroad.
I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you or embarrass her more than I have. My financial resources are stretched thin at the moment, but I intend to contribute what I can. I hope you’ll consider doing so as well.
Here’s the description of her fundraiser in her own words:
Hello, all! My name is Tanya and I am a graduate of Annapolis High School and the IB Programme. I currently am undertaking a degree in Business Administration and a Minor in Travel and Tourism. I would like to apply for a summer program to help with my language skills ( I already speak Italian, French, and Spanish and know a few others at a conversational level) and cultural knowledge so that I can work in Croatia next year in the hospitality industry. Due to COVID (and living in Italy), I have not been able to work enough and anything I have been able to save has gone to necessities. I would greatly appreciate any help to cover the fees for the program and for living there this summer. It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to live and work in Croatia. Unfortunately, I am still not yet ready to embark on that journey and this program would help me to become more prepared. This is a very hard time for many and there are certainly many people in need of help, more so than myself. I realize that I have been very fortunate during this time and I cannot ask anyone to spare what they cannot. However, I would appreciate any kind of support! I will also provide updates at the end of the course to show the results of the program.