For one month during her summer vacation as an 11th-grader, Willa Abel, Instructor in Biology, trekked through the muggy Sri Lankan rainforest with a scientist, tracking a single monkey and recording its actions every 30 seconds.
Abel said, “For the longest time, living abroad was all I wanted to do.”
Returning from maternity leave this term for her third year as a Biology 100 teacher at Andover, Abel recounted how her passions for travel and teaching tie together.
“It’s simply a curiosity about the world. I would say that underlies everything I do. Just wanting to discover everything, whether that’s the genetics of a fruit fly or the different cultures of people around the world,” said Abel.
According to Abel, her travels allow her to be a better teacher by giving her a “database of experiences” from all around the world that allow her to interact more personally with her students.
Abel said, “I feel like I have a large sample size in terms of interactions that I’ve had with people around the world, and that helps me a lot with students because it has really enabled me to see people as individuals without getting too hung up on certain ways of thinking or doing things.”
While growing up on the coast of Maine, Abel said that she had always felt different from her peers, so traveling became her solace.
“When I was abroad, it finally felt normal to be different. I found that really, really liberating because suddenly [I] could just be [myself,]” said Abel.
After visiting Sri Lanka, Abel took advantage of every spring break and summer vacation to wander the world. Since, Abel has ventured to France, India and Ecuador, spending three months in each. She then spent two years in each South Africa and Slovakia.
“I love it when everyday you have all these little adventures,” said Abel. “[When I was in South Africa,] I’d have to lug my laundry to the ramshackle stall in the dodgy part of town and interact with the local guys. Every part of your day was fun.”
According to Abel, despite her long-standing passion for travel, her love for Charlotte, her seven-month-old daughter, now trumps everything else. “It was the first time in my life I had to actually put someone else first, and it surprised me how much I didn’t mind,” said Abel.
Abel said her favorite thing about Charlotte is her smile. “Whenever she sees someone new, she’ll smile,” she said.
According to Abel, adjusting to motherhood was difficult at first. Being with her family in Maine over the summer helped ease her into maternity, but it was those first few weeks back at Andover alone with Charlotte that were hardest on Abel.
“That was quite an adjustment because I was spending the whole day alone, at home. I would get to 4 [p.m.] and be fine and then I’d still have to wait a couple hours before I had any help,” said Abel. “It was just a long day. Little things you never thought about before, like taking a shower or even going to the bathroom, suddenly, those things were much harder.”
Abel said she often daydreamed about work while on her maternity leave. “You find when you’re on maternity leave you have lots and lots of time to think about things but no time to actually do them,” she continued.
She said that the time commitment required to be a parent has forced her to be more efficient with her work as a teacher.
“I was always the first one in the office and I would log huge amounts of hours preparing for classes and grading. Now I discover that I have an hour a day maybe to both grade and prepare. It’s made me much smarter about how I use my time,” said Abel.