Who graduated from Norwalk High School in 2000, graduated from Syracuse College in New York State in 2004, spent two years living in Ukraine where she served with the Peace Corps, and plans to leave Oct. 10 for 10 months in Burma?
Abby Vogus, that's who. Not to mention that she got married less than a week ago, and although she's leaving soon for Burma with her new husband, she doesn't speak a word of Burmese.
Is Abby worried about the fact that she does not speak the language of the country where she's going to live?
"I'm kind of just relying on the luck I had in the Ukraine. I was able to pick it (the language) up really quickly. With the wedding, I didn't really have time. When I get there, I'll be immersed in it and quickly pick it up," she said.
By the way, although she's just gotten married, she hasn't changed her last name. That's not because she wants to make a feminist statement instead, it's simply because there isn't enough time to bother with a detail like changing her name.
"We're leaving again. I'd have to get a new passport," she explained.
She's going to Burma because her husband, Matt Walton (whom she met while in college), is going to study there for a doctorate in political science. His dissertation is on Buddhism and democracy. Burma is a Buddhist country, and he has a fellowship to study the language.
It's no accident that I am writing about Abby. My own older daughter left last week for a year in China, and it caused me to wonder why some Norwalkians decide to go so far from home.
Abby's first decision to leave Ohio was when she was one of a handful of students in her graduating class to go to college out of state. She chose to study public relations and, later, international relations at Syracuse University.
"I was really excited and a little scared because obviously everybody else was going to places in Ohio like Bowling Green, and they had friends going with them. It was a little intimidating but I was excited to be going somewhere different. Norwalk is for the most part white and Christian. I wanted to be somewhere where there are other religions and races," she said. She went on to spend the fall semester of her junior year in London, England.
After graduating from college, she left in September to teach English in Ukraine with the Peace Corps. She also worked on a project there to educate people about AIDS, and to lessen discrimination against those who have that disease.
Did she have any hesitation about going so far away?
"There's the day before you go when you think, 'Oh my God, what am I doing?'" Abby explained, adding, "I just knew I wanted to experience those other cultures." Especially when studying international relations, Abby said it is important to understand how people in other countries think, and that's something you can't learn by being in a classroom in the United States. "Sometimes there's a different mentality, different things that are important in different countries. People aren't the same everywhere. I wanted to go somewhere where I could experience that." For example, she explained that people in Ukraine have a more collective culture rather than the individualism in the United States. Ukrainian students don't think they're cheating when they share answers. Rather, they think they are working together and helping each other.
But back to Abby's travels. Going to Syracuse...to London...to Ukraine....to Burma.....I asked her if it's hard on her parents to see her go so far away.
"I think they trust me that I'm not going to put myself in danger or anything," she replied. "They obviously wish I was closer....It's usually pretty teary when I have to go for a long time, but I also think they're excited for me because it's what I want to do."
And does Abby have any wish to settle down?
"It's a little hard...especially right now," she acknowledged. "Most of our friends around here are getting married, starting to have babies...I feel temporary. I don't like that feeling of being temporary. I want somewhere I can unpack my things and have a whole house to put them in, not living so that everything has to fit in two bags that I can check in and one carry-on.
"I obviously miss my family when I'm gone a long time," she continued. "Norwalk is a nice place where you know everyone....in that sense, it's kind of hard. I'd like to have a place that's really home. But then again, at the same time, when I'm home in Norwalk too long I start itching for some other adventure."
What does Abby see in her future? Will she and her new husband eventually settle down here in Norwalk? (I asked Abby this question, but perhaps I was thinking about my own children, too, and whether they will end up living nearby... )
Abby responded that when she and her husband Matt settle down and start having children, she'd like to live somewhere in the Midwest or perhaps the east coast. "Somewhere where I could drive in one day to Ohio," is how she explained it.
Within a day's drive of Ohio? That sure sounds a lot closer than Burma or Ukraine or China, for that matter. A day's drive sounds pretty good to me.
Meanwhile, to Abby and to all of our children who are far away, I wish you all many adventures and a safe return. And don't forget to write home.