Maggie Schmidt ’12 graduated from Providence College this spring with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education. Yet her teaching education already has been rich with experiences abroad that shaped her outlook and her goals.
“My first time going abroad was going to Honduras at Gilmour,” Schmidt says. “That really sparked my interest in doing service outside of the United States.”
Schmidt’s passion for that goal only has grown since high school, thanks to the many places she experienced as part of her Providence curriculum.
As a college freshman, Schmidt spent spring break in the Dominican Republic, teaching global health. The following year she was awarded the Fr. Phillip A. Smith Fellowship, designated for students who desire to do mission work in a country where the Dominican order has a presence. The fellowship took Schmidt to Tucuman, one of Argentina’s most impoverished cities, for six weeks.
“My goals were to teach English and focus on the students there who are living in difficult situations,” she explains. “I wanted to give them the hope that they can get out of that situation. I wanted to help them learn English and empower them to follow that path.”
Schmidt was the first student from Providence College to teach in Tucuman. It was a challenge.
“The education system in Tucuman is very corrupt,” she says. “It was hard to go to these schools in violent neighborhoods. Students wouldn’t show up to school, and when they did, they weren’t prepared to learn because their home lives were so hard.”
Schmidt lived with Dominican sisters in their convent while she was there. It was the safest place in town.
“Tucuman was the most challenging experience of my life,” Schmidt says. “It pushed me to my limits and out of my comfort zone. But it helped me to grow in my teaching ability and my faith.”
But her international travels didn’t stop there. Schmidt spent the fall of her junior year in Florence, Italy, teaching fourth graders English.
“My college classes were focused on teaching others from different cultures,” Schmidt says. “While I was in Florence, I was taking college courses that taught me how to be culturally competent. I did my best to understand my students’ culture and teach to their needs.”
Not being fluent in Italian made communicating with her students a challenge, so Schmidt used songs, gestures and games to break through to them. “It shows you can make connections with other people even if you don’t have a common language,” Schmidt says.
What did you learn from living with the Dominican nuns in Argentina?
They opened my eyes to a new way of living in service. I was able to live my faith while I was there.
What’s a unique experience you had during your travels?
While I was in Tucuman, I spent a week with the indigenous people. I rode eight hours on a horse up a mountain to get there. It was so cool to experience this unique culture, absolutely incredible.
What’s next for you?
I have accepted a job at the Julie Billiart School as a Kindergarten Intervention Specialist. I have always loved working with children with special needs.
What keeps you grounded?
God and my family. I would be lost without both. I strive to follow the path that God has laid out for me and I'm lucky to have the support from my family to keep me on track.
What do you hope to achieve with your career in education?
The reason I fell in love with education was seeing the growth in the young people I have worked with. No matter where I end up, I hope to impact children's lives in a positive way and give them the love and support they need to have a hopeful and successful future.