Hometown: Laguna Beach, CA
Professional: Associate Professor at Santa Monica College; Language Specialist and Senior English Language Fellow, U.S. Department of State; Faculty Emeritus, California State University Long Beach.
Languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Swahili, and Shingazidja
Molly: What were your first professional teaching jobs?
LeeAnne: My senior year of college I was hired as a tutor for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Neglected and Delinquent Program. In that role I realized my potential as an educator. I also found that helping people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to succeed was very rewarding.
After college I wanted to keep lending my skills to others in need, but I also wanted to travel. With those ideas combined, I decided to apply for the Peace Corps. With the Peace Corps I worked in the Comoros Islands off the coast of Africa.
M: What was your next step after the Peace Corps?
L: I was proposed to while I was in the Peace Corps, so once I came home from the Comoros Islands, I got married and went to graduate school. I gave birth to my two daughters while I was still in school. Once I graduated, our family moved to Germany where I taught at a rural pre-school. Three years later, we moved back to the states and settled in Laguna Beach, CA.
At that point I decided to take time off from work to spend with my girls. Once my youngest daughter was in kindergarten I went back to work because I was going through a divorce and needed to start out on my own again.
M: After a divorce, it can be difficult to rediscover independence. What was your experience like?
L: Leading up to my divorce, we were living in an affluent town and we had a standard of living that very few people ever experience. We were living the dream, but honestly I often felt like a sell-out.
I wasn’t quite established in my career at the time, but I did have my education, faith in myself, and the core value that my dignity as a woman was more important than material things and a life of leisure. Most importantly I had 2 young daughters. I thought heavily about the message that I was sending them. My mother once gave me really great advice. She said, “You can have it all, just not all at once."
M: As a young woman, I am starting to seek out mentors. Do you have any suggestions about how to go about doing this?
L: I would encourage everyone to seek out mentors. Don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone you notice offering advice, or going a little above and beyond for you. Mentors don’t have to be in your field, there are life mentors and career mentors. Cultivate relationships and appreciate them.
M: Are there any mistakes that you see your students making?
L: Too often young people view getting an education as a stepping-stone to a job. There is something very valuable about being educated on a personal level, and that should never be taken for granted.
I also see young women falling into the trap that our value and strength lie in our beauty. Beauty fades, but stupid is forever. Whatever excessive investment we’re making in our appearance, we should spend twice as much developing our character, skills, relationships, interests and dreams.
M: You recently went back to Africa for research purposes; can you elaborate on that time?
L: I was recruited by the U.S. Department of State and Georgetown University for a language fellowship program. I worked in Tanzania for 10 months in a village called Bukoba and was also able to return to the Comoros Islands which was a dream come true. I worked at a small University developing their language curriculum. I was also fortunate to get the opportunity to work with a lot of young women to promote their education.
M: Can you comment on cultural expectations of women in East Africa vs. our western culture (US)?
While I was there I remember thinking that life was so different for women back in the U.S, but when I came home I realized that it’s really not. Here are some similarities and differences I’ve noticed since being home:
1. In Tanzania, the females are responsible for all the domestic work. I realized that here in the states, there are still glaring cultural gender based role expectations.
2. While teaching in Tanzania, when asking students a question the women rarely raised their hands. This never occurred to me in my classrooms in the U.S, but when I taught last semester I noticed the exact same problem. This was striking because there are more women than men attending and graduating from university, yet in my lower division classes, the women generally are less visible or audible.
3. In both cultures there is a huge emphasis on “beauty”. It’s become clear to me that anywhere you go in the world, you’re not allowed to be satisfied with your appearance. Insecurity is the basis for consumerism, and women around the world are buying into it.
On Nearly Getting Eaten by Lions
A friend asked me to go camping in the Serengeti and I jumped at the opportunity. I figured that if it weren’t safe, we wouldn’t be doing it. One night we were woken by the voices of the cooks yelling “don’t come out of the tents, there are lions in the camp!” One of the lions passed by the tent so closely that it brushed up against me and stopped. Instincts kicked in and I sat in the middle of the tent as quiet as possible. More lions came and joined the other, then the tent started to shake. A claw came through the canvas of the tent and two lions peaked in. At this point our tour guide had gotten in the Jeep, turned on the lights, and chased the lions away. After the lions were chased away I started laughing. I thought if I died my family would be so proud of me; they would have had a great story to tell!
LeeAnne's Advice for Young Women
Your biggest restrictions are those you place in your own mind.