Our Stories

No Grass Growing Under Her Feet


When Paige Folsom '06 talks about all her adventures since leaving Willamette, this seems like the appropriate response. She's only been gone two years, but in that time she has worked as a sternperson on lobster boats in Maine, taught English in Spain, and returned to her hometown of Tacoma, Wash., where she now holds three jobs: writing for a quarterly health publication, assisting community college students with their writing, and acting as site coordinator for a middle school mentoring program. And she just enrolled in a master's program for teaching at the University of Puget Sound.

Folsom recently was awarded a Fulbright Grant for U.S. Students that will take her to Argentina, where she will work in a training college for English as a second language (ESL) teachers. It's an exciting prospect, but how will she find the time?

"Attaining balance has been a challenge for me," she admits. "But I'm motivated by love of languages and art, love of learning, and by feeling compelled to serve, heal and connect in the community, even in small ways. I try to dedicate myself to things that combine all three."

Even while she was at Willamette, Folsom was active. An English major for whom all disciplines converge in English language and literature, Folsom also found time to play lacrosse and intramural soccer, be a resident assistant, study abroad in Spain and India, participate in the Take a Break alternative spring break service program, and volunteer at a local school and a youth program, among other activities.

She obviously isn't afraid to try new things. Like catching lobsters in Maine, which she did during the summers after her junior and senior years.

"While visiting a friend, I overheard her older brother teasing their mom about needing a summer sternman on his lobster boat," she says. "She told him that rotten bait wasn't her thing, and that she preferred to keep her day job. After thinking about it for a moment, I walked up to him and said, 'Well, I'll do it,' and he hired me to work on a boat called the Spicy Pepper. He taught me a lot about fishing and eventually I worked my way onto other boats."

After returning from her second venture into East Coast fishing waters, she crossed the ocean to spend eight months in northern Spain. She taught conversation classes and helped middle- and high-school English teachers in Gijón the Asturias principality. She also became a private English tutor. "I stayed in Spain for the summer to continue classes with my private students and experience all the seasons of Asturias. Summer festivals are an important part of the region's culture. I also wanted to hike at higher elevations in Los Picos (a mountain range in the area) with mountaineer friends as the snow melted, participate in some swimming events and spend time on the coast in warmer weather."

Her work as an ESL instructor helped her discover her calling to teach, and her eventual goal is to teach high school English. Her time in Spain also piqued her interest in Argentina. A burgeoning international film scene in Gijóxposed her to a variety of Argentine films, and she learned about strong transatlantic connections between Europe and Argentina.

"Most of my Galician (a northern Spain community) and Asturian friends speak about entire branches of their families who immigrated to Argentina in the early 20th century. I heard similar stories from Italian travelers I hosted in Gijóhrough an online project, and from Croations I met while reconnecting with my own extended family and Slavic roots in Croatia."

Folsom hopes to spend part of her time in Argentina studying "lunfardo," a set of invented words known worldwide as the vocabulary of the tango. Lunfardo was influenced by the immigrant community in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century, and today it is celebrated in tango lyrics and has been absorbed into colloquial speech. Folsom wants to interview people about the use of lunfardo and create an illustrated lexicon of the words and phrases she learns.

Until she heads to South America, Folsom will work on her master's -- she plans to complete the first half before her Fulbright and the second half when she returns. While studying, she will scale back her work hours at her three jobs, which include matching adults in her community with students through the Mentor253 program of the Northwest Leadership Foundation (NLF). The foundation is a faith-based nonprofit that develops and supports social justice programs.

"Our team partners middle school students with adults for one-on-one mentoring and organizes activities for the pairs. Meanwhile, the kids and I have developed our own strong mentoring relationships. These students are teaching me a lot. This summer, I'll have the opportunity to continue working with many of them at an NLF camp sponsored by Tacoma Housing Authority."


For more information on the Fulbright Grant and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the third floor of Putnam University Center, or visit www.willamette.edu/dept/saga.