Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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New adventure

Mary Bisbee ’12 to pursue her passions for travel and languages as a Fulbright teaching assistant in the Czech Republic.

As a child, Mary Bisbee was shy, and more interested in books than in people.

Then her grandmother started taking her on trips to such distant places as Ecuador and Italy. The exposure to foreign cultures opened her mind and kindled in her “a sense of adventure and a desire to learn about other languages,” says the Wheaton senior.

Now her enthusiasm for language will take her on an adventure to the Czech Republic, where she will spend a year teaching English with the support of a Fulbright grant.

At Wheaton, Bisbee has pursued language learning through a major in English and a minor in Italian. She spent the fall semester of her junior year at the University of Edinburgh and the spring term in Ferrara, Italy, where she studied in an Italian language immersion program.

Though she struggled at first with the new language and unfamiliar culture, she persevered and soon learned “to converse, read, write, and even joke in Italian,” she says. “By the end of the semester I could express my opinion on Dante as easily as I could order a gelato.”

During her year in Europe, Bisbee visited the Czech Republic for one weekend and fell in love with its historical and literary heritage. As a lover of literature, she is strongly drawn to the home country of Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera, and during her Fulbright year she plans to see as much of the country as possible.

“I always knew I wanted to travel after graduation,” says Bisbee, a resident of the rural town of Princeton, Mass., “but I never thought that I would be interested in teaching. That interest blossomed just last summer, when I used my Trustee Scholar stipend to intern at the Telling Room, a creative writing camp for children in Portland, Maine. I loved working with the bright young kids, and being surrounded by their frenetic creative energy, and I realized then that I could imagine myself as a teacher.”

Bisbee has additional teaching experience as a peer tutor in writing and Italian at Wheaton. “I really enjoy the feeling of helping students work through and understand new concepts,” she says.

In her senior year, she switched from a concentration in creative writing to one in historical linguistics, a course of study that she designed herself with the help of English Professor Michael Drout. She is also working on a senior honors thesis, studying how the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” has evolved over four centuries and in different cultures.

A member of the Ultimate Frisbee team at Wheaton and at the University of Edinburgh, Bisbee understands how sport can help connect people of different backgrounds. If there is no Ultimate Frisbee team where she’s placed, she says she intends to start one. “It would be a great way to interact with Czech students and get to know them as individuals.”

After her Fulbright year, Bisbee hopes to attend graduate school in linguistics, which appeals to her because “it’s such a comprehensive field of study—it has branches in psychology and neuroscience, literature, philosophy, computer science and anthropology—but it also has very real implications for everyday speech and writing.”