|1 Feb 2023|
While some might think our oldest alumni have the greatest perspectives on what they learned from spending time at AES, the freshest perspectives come from our most recent graduates. Esther Rubin–a recent graduate from AES, now in her first year at Brandeis University, has much to share about her time at AES and how it is shaping her experience as a college freshman in the US.
Esther was born in Atlanta, Georgia; moved to Kisumu, Kenya when she was only a year old; moved to Delhi when she was eight; and now for university, lives in the much colder but sadly not yet as snowy as she’d hoped, Boston, Massachusetts. Esther is clear that going to the US for college does not represent some kind of a return. She is also clear that home for her is always more about where she currently lives than a more, perhaps romanticized, global nomad definition of home.
Esther explains how the language of making friends at AES invariably includes questions about where you have lived before, what languages you speak, what unusual cultural delicacies you have enjoyed. With 70 countries represented by the school’s student body, there is much of this back story to talk about. Esther has found that the language of making friends at college in the US is quite different; in fact many US college students make faulty assumptions about students who have lived outside of the US—the main one being that they are wealthy—and so talking about what other countries you have lived in doesn’t lead to the same shared bonding that it did at AES.
Still, Esther quickly figured out how to make friends in college, in part because—while she had to configure a new box of questions—with her same AES spirit, she has embraced putting herself out there and reaching across any little divides to connect. Esther elaborates that because people are so often coming and going at AES, there is a constant and open invitation to make new friends. She got lots of practice, and this proved to be helpful in college. As a university student, Esther found particularly close connections with other students and professors through her Pre-Orientation Course: “Queer Academics and Activism” and through BaRuCH, the Brandeis Reform Chavurah. Through both the course and the chavurah (a Jewish fellowship), Esther is connecting with people who share her values and beliefs, and who like international students and teachers at AES, help her further connect with her best and deepest self.
Esther communicates with the enthusiasm and confidence of someone older than she is, and so it is clear why she already has a couple of leadership responsibilities at Brandeis: she leads her school’s chavurah and is a coordinator of TAPS (Teaching Assistant in Public Schools initiative). In both roles, she needs to be able to confidently address a group as well as give people the individual attention they need. At AES, Esther was known to be able to easily go between groups and help identify the needs of group members and of individuals. She was also comfortable with speaking up and speaking out, a skill she says she developed in the IB program and especially with one of her favorite teachers, Ms. Patterson. Through Esther’s close connection to her AES teachers, she developed the confidence and expectation that faculty/student relationships—even mentorships—are central to not only helping a student grow intellectually but also socio-emotionally. At Brandeis, Esther has already found a beloved mentor in Professor Roach of AAAS (African and African American Studies) and WGS (woman and gender studies); Esther looks forward to taking as many of her classes as she can.
Just as much as Esther appreciates her teachers, her future students will undoubtedly feel the same. In fact, Esther is already working hard toward a career in teaching; she’s gained first hand experience from teaching Tae Kwon Doe as a 6th grader to younger AES kids and now working as a teaching assistant in the Waltham Public Schools. Esther’s dual interest in education and psychology demonstrates how much she cares not just about teaching content but also about facilitating a healthy emotional response in her students. Striking this balance seems to be in her nature as well as in her background: part of the AES mission is that school should be about the “joyful pursuit of excellence,” that school should be about pursuing knowledge and skills but always with joy.
Esther loved being at AES and has already made a visit this year. She feels she developed great roots that she can continue to grow anywhere. She feels this is well put by her classmate and good friend, Ananya, who explained that at the end of their AES senior year, they were like house plants whose roots were coming out the bottom of the pot. Now, transplanted in their respective Massachusetts forests, they have miles to expand.