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TOADTalk: The First Fisher Fellow Exits

Edgar Arceo delivers his first and farewell TOADTalks simultaneously
Once a week, the All-School Assembly launches with the Teacher On Active Duty (TOAD) sharing something of interest—a reflection, a story or song, a demonstration of some sort, or a simple poem. In this way, the community gets to know one of our own a little better. Edgar Arceo, whose TOADTalk is featured below, joined the Thacher faculty last year as its first Fisher Fellow. Since then, he has become an active member of the community: He lives in the Lower School dorm, coaches JV soccer and track and field, teaches AP Psychology and Spanish III, and is an advisor for the Christian Fellowship Club.

Good morning everyone!

I have to tell you, as I was sitting at breakfast check-in this morning, thinking about this TOADTalk, my watch gave me a notification: You just completed your 8-minute run. Average heart rate: 168. Again, I was sitting down, so to say I am feeling nervous for this talk would be a bit of an understatement.
 
Well as some of you may suspect, this is my first TOADTalk ever. And as many of you know, it’s also my last. So, before I make my final departure from this wonderful community that I’ve come to deeply cherish, I want to share with you how I got into education in the first place and how I ended up in this picturesque school called Thacher.
 
In doing so, I hope to encourage you, and dare I say, inspire you, to live a life of travel and to lead a life with a care-full heart. That’s to say, with a heart full of care.
 
Let me take you back to my time in college.
 
I started as a freshman at Kenyon College in 2010, and by the time I was a sophomore, I knew I was going to major in psychology. I was also convinced I was going to continue with graduate school in psychology, likely ending up as a clinical psychologist, perhaps even become a sports psychologist. Right before my last year in college, however, two really important things occurred: I took an educational psychology class, and one of my most revered professors of religious studies, Professor Royal Rhodes, asked me a simple question.
 
After hearing me address the Kenyon College’s incoming freshmen class that fall—in a program called Life on the Hill, where upperclassmen students (i.e., me) and faculty share college-advice for incoming freshmen—Professor Rhodes came up to me and asked, “Edgar, have you ever considered teaching?” To which I thought, “No. Not really.”
 
So, while the educational psychology class would later provide me with the interest in the power of thoughtful, reflective education, it was Professor Rhodes’ care-full, heart-full question that gave me the encouragement to begin considering education as a potential career path.

Thus, upon graduating from college, I was set on exploring the idea of teaching—I knew I had some questions to answer. Do I like teaching? If so what age group? What subject? What kind of school? Where, geographically? In an effort to address all of these questions, I cast a wide net and got involved in all things education. I started by working with middle school students in an outdoor leadership camp that first summer after graduation. I then jumped into a role as a college teaching assistant for first-year college students. I started substitute teaching at the high school and middle school level. I loved little kids so much, I even began working as a reading interventionist with elementary students. And of course, I was coaching soccer.

While I was gaining all of this great exposure and insight into teaching, you have to remember that I was not even a year out of college. And frankly, I couldn’t help but reflect on my college experience—upon the incredible people I had met, the meaningful work I had done, the fun, crazy times spent with my friends and teammates. I also couldn’t help but ruminate on what I had regretted most about my college years. In that process, one thing quickly made it to the top of my college-regret lists: Not having studied abroad in Brazil. Thus, shortly after graduation, I began to seriously consider traveling to Brazil. Wanting to continue my exploration of education, however, I looked for ways I could still teach while abroad, so I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship as an English teaching assistant in Brazil. [“The Fulbright fellowship is a United States Cultural Exchange Program whose goal is to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence between the people of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills.”]
 
Energized by the prospect of teaching abroad and hoping I would be the candidate the committee would be looking for, I threw my hat into the ring. At first, my application was sponsored by my alma mater, then, I made it past the next round, and then… I didn’t get it. I wasn’t selected for a Fulbright that year.

And that’s when the early-career existential questions began to emerge: Should I be going abroad to begin with? Shoot, should I even be teaching? What am I doing with my life? What should be doing with my life?
 
I realized I needed help, so… I prayed. I remember saying, “God, I don’t really know what I’m doing here—please… help a brotha’ out!”  
 
And… No answer.
 
During God’s down time—I don’t know, he must have been playing golf or something, because he did not seem to be in a great hurry to get back to me—but during his down time, I thought, maybe it would be wiser for me to go to a Spanish speaking country, instead. After all, there are 20 countries in Latin America whose official language is Spanish, and I picked the one whose official language is Portuguese? This was ironic, seeing that my mother tongue is Spanish and all I knew how to say in Portuguese at the time was “abacaxiand “ondefica ou bañero?—”pineapple” and “where is the bathroom?” Thus, at that point, I started thinking, “What if I instead go to Argentina!?… And if all goes well there, I could always head north and wind up in Brazil…”
 
And that’s when I met Los Boludos.

The date was Thursday, November 26, 2015—Thanksgiving Day. After monopolizing the kitchen, and having the house smelling absolutely delicious, my mom eagerly hails me into the kitchen,
 
Mijo, Mijo, I forgot the gravy! Can you rush to the store and buy some?
 
I knew that the chances of the store being open were slim to none, seeing that it was Thanksgiving Day, after all, but also knowing that Maria was not going to take “No” for an answer, I grabbed the keys from her hand and said, Claro, I’ll be back soon…”
 
So I drive up to the store. It’s closed. Trying to suppress my hangriness that had begun to kick in, I started the drive back. And as I’m cruising down the empty main street, I look ahead and see this lone, strange looking vehicle driving in the other lane ahead of me. The odd, squat, yet elongated shape of the car naturally caught my eye, but the thing that really pulled my attention as I drove closer to the car was the fact that in celestial blue letter, the license plate read Argentina.
 
And I thought, “Oh my… God had finally gotten off the golf course and decided to write back!”
 
On top of that, there were two poster signs taped to the back of the car—one in English, one in Spanish. They stated something in likes of: We have just completed our dream! We have traveled from the southern tip of Argentina, all the way up to Alaska. We’re currently on our way back home, but we are running low on fuel. If you’d like to help us out, we’ll happily exchange some souvenirs from our trip.”
 
Naturally, I didn’t read all of that, as I was driving, but I saw “Argentina… fuel… help.” So immediately I thought, These people have to come over for dinner!” As quickly as I could, I called my mom:
 
Edgar: Ma! Ma! Can I invite some friends over for dinner!?
Mom: What? Now? Mijo, we’re about to start eating—we’re just waiting for you and the gravy.
E: Look, Ma. Bad news on the gravy. But I think it would be great to have these friends over… I don’t think they’ll be with family tonight…
M: (long pause) Hmm, yeah. Okay, fine…
E: Great!
M: Mijo, wait, how many friends are we talking about here?
 
And as I, ever inconspicuously, peer over the passenger side window to count the number of heads I could see in the odd-shaped mini-van, I replied:
E: Uhm, I don’t know…. Maybe two or three...
M: Okay, fine. Oh, and, Mijo, do I know these friends?...
E: Uhm… No, I don’t think you do… Okay, okay– bye, Ma!
 
Seeing that we were about to drive past the turnout to my house, I frantically flag down the driver to roll down his window, and I shout:
 
Edgar: Oye! Quieres venir a mi casa a cenar?
Driver: [weird look] ¿¿Queeeeé??
E: Hey! Do you want to have dinner at my place?
D: [weird look] Whaaaat?
E: Pull over, I’ll explain everything…
 
So we turn off the street and park in a gas station. As I get out of my car to walk over to the odd shaped van, I think to myself “How weird is this? I’m a stranger to these people and I’m about to insist they come over for dinner?” So I put on the friendliest face I could muster, which, in hindsight, was probably the creepiest thing I could do, but hey!...
 
So as I approach the two individuals, Federico and Betina, who would turn out to be a newlywed couple, I explained to them:
“Hi! My name is Edgar! Look, I’m not sure if you know what day it is, but on this particular Thursday in the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving Day… and my mom has cooked way too much… So really, you’ll be doing us a huge favor if you come and eat our food. Would you like to join us for dinner?”  
 
With a mixture of hesitation and beaming excitement, they turned to each for what seemed to be an hour, then turned back to me, and in synchronized fashion, both said,
Sí, ¡Está bien! [Sure, sounds good!]
 
So in presidential fashion, I escort them to my parents’ house. I park, jump out of the car, and run straight into the house ahead of them. In a whispered shout I tried to rally everyone:
Edgar: “Ma, Pa, you’re not going to believe this, I picked up two Argentinian travelers; they’re joining us for dinner!”
Mom: What?? Mijo, no! I am not having strangers in my house on Thanksgiving. You don’t even know them, what if they are… [Federico and Betina walk into the house]
Oh, hola! ¡Bienvenidos, bienvenidos! ¡Entren, por favor! ¿Apoco son de Argentina? [Oh, hello! Welcome, welcome! Please, come in! So you’re really from Argentina, huh?]
 
After sufficiently awkward introductions, we gather around the dinner table to eat. Not before long, it became apparent that Federico was one of the funniest guys I had ever met; he had us gasping for air with his sly comments and clever jokes. Betina, as it turned out, was a psychology teacher, so she and I also hit it off right away.
 
Naturally, the whole family was interested in hearing about their trip—how long had they been traveling, what had inspired the journey, what stories did they have, etc.
 
As it turned out, due to unexpected and tragic deaths of loved ones, they had decided that life was too short. Since they had always romanticized traveling to Alaska, they decided to sell all of their belongings, purchase the odd shaped van (name Perlita, little peril), and outfit it with a bed in the back, and shortly after began their journey. When they began their travels, they had left Argentina with $2,000 USD; when they arrived to Peru, they had zero dollars. And, according to Federico, that’s when “the real traveling began.”

I remember him telling us, “When we ran out of money, we became absolutely dependent on the good will of others. Could they offer us a job? Could they share a meal? We had to become sensitive to each culture’s customs and ways of life. Through this, we began to understand, and better appreciate, others as well as the adventure that was unfolding before us.” However, they had originally planned to travel for one-year tops, but December of that year was going to put them at 21 months of traveling. As they put it, they were starting to feel travel fatigue…  
 
By the time we were finished sharing stories over dinner, however, it was pretty late. In all her motherly nature, my mom stated to them that it was far too late to drive, and insisted that they stay the night, in order to get a warm shower and a decent night sleep. Seeing that my parents owned a little breakfast diner, she also suggested I take Federico and Betina to the restaurant the next morning so that they could get a full meal before continuing their journey. Expressing only polite reluctances, they agreed to stay the night and the next morning we would be off to The Diner.
 
Because pretty much everyone and their mothers cook for Thanksgiving dinner, it’s not uncommon for most folks in my hometown to go out to brunch the day after Thanksgiving. So, when we arrived at The Diner on Friday morning at 9 am, the place was packed. Stunned by the sight, Federico somewhat jokingly chimed: “Hey, maybe we should work for your parents; it seems like they can use the help.”
 
Remembering that the weeks leading up to Christmas were always a busy time at The Diner, I replied: “Hey, that’s actually not a bad idea!”
 
After pitching it to my parents, they were fully open to it—Federico and Betina could stay with us throughout the weekend, buss tables at The Diner, and earn a bit of money for their travels. Going back to Federico and Betina, they both agreed; they would stay with us through the weekend. As it turned out, however, that was the worst decision we could have taken…

By the end of the weekend, after working and living with Federico and Betina for only two days, the whole family had fallen completely in love with them. They were so kind, sweet, and thoughtful—and not to mention, funny—that we didn’t want them to leave. Then my mom called a family meeting. Mind you, my mom has never in my life called a family meeting.
 
Mom: Guys, I don’t know. I just feel so bad that they are sleeping out of their car, and they are so kind, and they can use the money! What if we asked them to stay a little longer? They can keep working at The Diner if they want, and at the minimum, just rest from being on the road.
 
Knowing that whatever Maria thinks or says, ultimately, goes, my dad, my sisters, and I, all nodded in agreement and said, “Yeah, you’re right, mom.”
 
So we all walked out to the living room where Federico and Betina were sitting, and my mom shot off at point blank: “Federico, Betina, we have all really enjoyed having you with us, and we were thinking… Christmas is right around the corner—would you like to stay with us until Christmas?”
 
Visibly dumbfounded, they looked at each other again, turned their gaze back at all of us, and again in synchronized fashion replayed, “Yes!” So the plan was that they would stay with through Christmas and head out the 26th of December.
 
Fast forward through first few weeks of December: everything has gone well. Federico and Betina became regular employees at The Diner and were like older siblings to me and my sisters. And then, Christmas Eve hits. The night before Christmas a massive snow storm blankets the Carson Valley with several feet of snow, essentially shutting down the two potential routes Federico and Betina were planning on traveling through two days later. Distraught by the thought of overstaying their visit, I remember Betina growing very apologetic about the weather. And then, my mom interrupted: “Well guys, I know this throws off your plans, but… New Years is right around the corner—Would you like to stay until New Year?”
 
And so the story went on: Federico and Betina, who we now consider full members of the Arceo Family, stayed with us until January 1, 2016.

Now, I tell you this wild story because through Federico and Betina’s approach to life, I was re-inspired to travel. So, upon their departure, I registered for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, and by the summer, I began my travels. I first flew to Peru, where I worked with a soccer organization aimed at connecting young people from both the U.S. and Peru through the game of soccer. With that organization, I helped build a soccer field in a rural village in the Sacred Valley. By August, I moved to Brazil and served as a volunteer teacher in a Montessori community school, called Project Favela, in Rio de Janeiro. It was really neat to me, because volunteers not only helped finance the school, they also had to live in the Favela, fully immersing themselves in the community. Moreover, the school was serving some of the most marginalized children in city, namely those living in Favela Rochina—the largest urban slums in all of Latin America. Furthermore, my setup was this: In the mornings, I would work with swanky Brazilian professionals from one of the alleged engineering companies wrapped up in the ongoing investigation of the Lava Jato, currently considered the largest corruption scandal in all of Latin America, and in the afternoon and evenings, I would teach in the Favela. Thus, I would get paid by this swanky company for teaching English to its engineers, then I would take that money, and invest every cent into the school. I suppose it was my own kind of poetic justice.
 
Once I served out my term at Project Favela, however, I began my travels south, toward Argentina. On the first of November, I left Brazil. On the 26th of November, I arrived at Federico and Betina’s doorstep in Buenos Aires. So in exactly one year to the date, we reunited for an Argentinian style Thanksgiving meal in their home.

As fate would have it, the day I arrived to Argentina, on my way down to Buenos Aires, was also the day I got my first email from Jeff Hooper—at the time Thacher’s dean of faculty. In his email, he laid out the Fisher Fellowship program, and expressed interest in having me apply for the role.
 
Thus, upon returning to the states in January, and after working as a substitute teacher at a local high school and loving it, I decided to apply for the fellowship. In February, I met Mr. Hooper at a hiring conference in Los Angeles, and by March, I was visiting campus for an interview. By the end of that March day, I was hugging Jeff in his office, accepting the role as The Thacher School’s first Fisher Fellow. And the rest is history...

So as I round out my last month as a member of this wonderful community, I would hope to leave you with two simple things: Always choose to travel—whether it’s with family, a Thacher sponsored trip through the Marvin Shagam Program, studying abroad while you’re in college, or heading off on your own to visit some old Argentinian friends. The fruit you will bear from your experience will be invaluable. Second, and most importantly, choose to lead your days with a care-full heart—that is, a heart full of care. The best way to do this: Leverage your God-given talents and share them—whether it’s sharing your mom’s delicious cooking, coaching and helping build a soccer field in a rural school in Peru, or teaching English in a Favela—share your talents. Long term, you never know what kind of pink-sky, orange-scented mountain it will lead you to. And who knows, it may even lead you to a community where the people are as sweet as the Pixies.
 
From my heart to yours– Thank you.
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