Forging Her Own Path
Becca Macdonald ’11 has never been one to take the conventional path through life. From her success as a grade-school violinist to her achievements rowing at Notre Dame, she tends to approach interests not with a gingerly dipped toe, but with total immersion. Consider her senior year at Williston: although no study abroad program existed at the time, Becca persuaded the administration to give her that chance, and she spent her spring semester studying in a remote mountain village in northern Patagonia.
“The biggest gift that Williston has given me,” she says, “one that I will forever be grateful for, is not only did they facilitate my curiosity, but they encouraged it, both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Becca’s parents—both self-employed chiropractors (her mother is also a physical therapist)—realized that her consuming curiosity would need more then what the public schools of Topsfield, Massachusetts, could provide. The camaraderie they saw on the Williston campus won them over. Equally important was the school’s financial aid package. “Without that I wouldn’t have been able to attend,” she notes.
Given access to all Williston had to offer, Becca set about creating a custom course of study to focus on her central passion: languages. And, to her great relief, Williston supported her. Having previously studied Arabic, she worked with her advisor to take an advanced class through the Five Colleges her junior year. She also took AP Spanish, French, and an independent study in Russian literature. “Those are the four languages that I still use and work with today,” she says. “I’m sure I made the administrators’ lives trickier requesting what I did, but it felt like they were excited for me to do these things.”
Helping shape her own academic program at Williston gave Becca the confidence to pursue a similar strategy at Notre Dame. At the time, the university did not encourage women to spend an entire academic year in the Middle East, but Becca’s advanced knowledge of Arabic—combined with her considerable persistence—proved persuasive. She spent her junior year studying in Jordan. The summer before, she traveled to Paris to study the Arab diaspora and the assimilation policies of the French government.
And her scholarship continues today. Taking a leave from her job in Boston with an international firm, she spent the past year at SOAS University of London, working on her master’s degree in Violence, Conflict, and Development. She chose the program in part for its international diversity. “When you are in a classroom learning about violence that has ravaged countries, and you have a classmate who can speak to that experience, it adds a whole new dimension,” she explains. This appreciation for the insights of others, she says, had its start at Williston. “Almost all of my best friends were from other countries,” she says. “I learned so much about becoming a cultural chameleon and understanding other cultures.”