Taylor Smith ’15 said her recent decision to work abroad was not a surprise to anyone, but eyebrows were raised when she revealed the location.
She’s moving to Iraq.
Taylor Smith '15 has accepted a teaching job at an international school in Iraq. (Courtesy Photo)
“I’ve always wanted to be thrown into the middle of history,” she said. “This is the perfect opportunity to do it.”
Smith’s decision to work in the region was made on her own after graduation and is not affiliated with any of Emerson’s study abroad programs.
The Kurdistan region of Iraq is known as the least violent part of the war-torn country, but the State Department urges U.S. citizens to avoid the area.
“Terrorist attacks within the Iraqi Kurdistan Region occur less frequently than in other parts of Iraq, although the Kurdistan Regional Government, U.S. Government facilities, and western interests remain possible targets,” reads a statement on the U.S. Department of State website.
“Of course, I’m worried,” said Smith’s mother, Ann Marie Schiavitti. “But I do think it will be a great experience considering her long-term goals.”
Smith’s former Political Communication teacher, Scholar-in-Residence Spencer Kimball, admits he’s “a little concerned” for Smith, but said, “I also know she’s very talented.”
“If you really want diplomacy, sometimes we have to travel to places we might not want to visit and start a conversation,” Kimball said.
Smith, of Leominster, Massachusetts, is not the first recent graduate who has opted to become a teacher in a country affected by war: Caitlin Collins ’13 is currently a teacher in Egypt.
“My friends think I’m insane,” Smith said. “They said we thought you’d want to do something like this, but we never thought you’d go through with it.”
Smith, who spent much of her youth traveling to Italy to visit family, worked for several weeks as a teacher in Morocco last year for the UBelong nonprofit organization.
Smith said she will teach the equivalent of Kindergarten in English at the international school but plans to learn Kurdish and Arabic.
“It’s going to be a huge adjustment,” she said. “It’s an Islamic society, so my way of dressing is going to completely change, for example.”
Schiavitti said her daughter signed a detailed contract with the Sabis International School, which includes provisions about security.
“She basically has to get permission to travel,” Schiavitti said. “And you’re not allowed to travel in some areas. They were very up front with her.”
Smith said her career goal is to work in international public diplomacy. When she participated in Emerson’s Washington, DC, Program in 2013, she interned at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, which helps citizens traveling abroad and works with foreign governments to promote and build relations with the U.S.
During her time in Iraq, she hopes to gain connections with foreign diplomats—and expand her horizon.
“I’m not going to be able to do any of the things I’d like to do in my career if I can’t even live in these areas,” Smith said. “It’s going to force me out of my comfort zone, and I’ll have to learn how to assimilate and build relationships with people who are not necessarily like me.”
“I'm not going to be able to do any of the things I'd like to do in my career if I can't even live in these areas.”
Smith participated in international learning initiatives through Emerson’s Communication Studies Department, including the Global Communications Project, the Discover Rosarito (Mexico) project, and a public relations project for the Blanquerna Communication School in Spain. She has also worked for the American Jewish Committee in Boston.
Smith and Schiavitti plan to schedule regular conversations over Skype once she arrives in Iraq.
“I’m proud that she has the courage to follow her dream,” Schiavitti said. “It’s not my dream. But I have to step back and respect that this is her goal and her life and her dreams.”