Ethics Center’s Marci McPhee heading to the Marshall Islands for WorldTeach

Center hosts a ‘micro teach-in' to send her off

Marci McPhee

Marci McPhee’s world is about to get a whole lot different. The associate director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life will be leaving Brandeis, and her home comforts, far behind for a year so that she can teach English as a second language in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands.

“This is really a dream that I’ve had for a long time to go to the Marshall Islands,” McPhee told BrandeisNOW. “I had an opportunity to go 30 years ago and didn’t take it, and now I am.”

McPhee got her second chance when she applied to WorldTeach, a program that sends volunteers to teach in developing countries. The Marshall Islands, located in eastern Micronesia, range from quite rustic islands without running water, electricity or much commerce, to islands with basic utilities at least somewhere on the island. At this point, McPhee doesn’t know which of those islands she’ll be working on, and at which grade level, from kindergarten through 12, that she’ll be teaching. Those missing details, though, don’t bother her. 

“The more I learn about the Marshall Islands, the more I feel I have so much to learn from the people who live there,” McPhee said. “They are coping with hard lives, in a country without a lot of resources, doing the best they can with what they have. I feel that it’s important for people of privilege, like myself, to be both contributing to but also learning from societies like that.”

McPhee is also looking forward to bringing back what she learns and incorporating it into her work at Brandeis.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I feel that I could benefit from a fresh perspective, particularly where it relates to the work that I do overseeing the Sorensen Fellowship program. To have a direct experience of my own that’s similar to what the students do, I tell them that this is me field-testing their preparation phase.”

As part of her own preparation, McPhee took a course this spring, “Japan in the Modern World,” taught by History’s Parker James, to gain a better understanding of the region where she’ll be living for the next year. Not surprisingly, she wrote her final paper on the Marshall Islands.

Now, McPhee wants other members of the Brandeis community to be a part of her preparation as well. On June 17, the Ethics Center will be hosting a “micro teach-in” as a farewell celebration for her. Speakers will include Rachana Agarwal, PhD candidate in anthropology, who has just returned from a year researching youth and education in Palau in the Pacific, Vino Murugesan, PhD candidate in the English department and co-author of "Teaching English to Young Learners: An Illustrated Guide for EFL Teacher Development," and Nancy Nies, director of the English as a Second Language program at Brandeis. The teach-in will be in the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex atrium from 4 – 5 p.m.

McPhee admits, with a laugh, that the teach-in may be the last time her colleagues and friends hear from her for a while. “People keep asking me if I’m going to keep a blog or stay in touch through email while I’m away,” she said, “but it all depends on whether I get assigned to one of those islands with electricity or not.”

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage