A recent Ursinus graduate has been living in the Dominican Republic in order to further her personal and professional goals. This year, Kelly Johnson ’17 was selected as one of the 31 winners of the Princeton in Latin America (PiLA) Fellowship.
PiLA partners with non-governmental organizations and multilateral organizations to place 31 recent graduates in year long service fellowships with non-profit, public service, humanitarian, and government organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Although one may be selected as a finalist for the program, he or she does not become a Fellow until they are matched with a partner organization,” Johnson said. “I was fortunate enough to be partnered with an organization and therefore officially became a PiLA Fellow.”
According to the Ursinus website, fellows address issues such as accessibility, inclusion, community health, conservation, education, and girls’ and women’s economic empowerment.
Johnson’s fellowship consists of being an English teacher at Liceo Científico Dr. Miguel Canela Lázaro, a STEAM based (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) school for students in grades 6-12 located in Provincia Hermanas Mirabal, Dominican Republic.
There were several things Johnson did with her time at Ursinus to set her up to receive this award. Johnson majored in Spanish and Peace and Social Justice Studies and minored in Latin American Studies.
“The combination of these courses of study allowed me to gain theoretical and experiential knowledge of the socio-historical context in Latin American countries,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained that her participation in the Bonner Leader program piqued her interest in learning about social justice issues in Latin America, as well as teaching English to native Spanish speakers.
Her role as coordinator of the Ursinus ESL program was especially formative in shaping her desire to participate in a program like PiLA. Finally, her study abroad experience in Argentina left her with a desire to return to a Latin American country and further her research and work.
All of Johnson’s hard work paid off in the end. “After I found out I was selected for the PiLA Fellowship I was ecstatic. I had spent the previous year as a Fellow for Border Servant Corps in the US-Mexico borderlands and was hoping to have the opportunity to live abroad again.”
Johnson explained that once she was accepted into the program, there were slight changes to her placement organization, but once everything was set, she was excited and nervous.
“I had never been to the Dominican Republic before, and my Honors thesis at Ursinus focused on Bolivia and Mexico, so I knew that there would be a large learning curve once I got here. At the same time, I felt grateful for the opportunity to learn about a new region of Latin America.”
As for the future, Johnson said, “The long-term plan is to go to graduate school and pursue a degree in Sociology with a concentration on Latin America as a region or Latin American migration to the US.”
In regards to short-term plans, Johnson said that she wants to “return to the US-México border region to continue working with migrant communities there.”
Johnson is confident this award will help her with her ventures, not only now in the Dominican Republic, but in her future as well.
“I’m fortunate to work with a group of colleagues who come from all over the world: France, Germany, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Macedonia, Canada, the US, and the Dominican Republic. All of these educators have helped me to implement new pedagogues in the classroom and have guided me through some of the challenges of being a first-time teacher. Moving here has helped me to learn to advocate for myself and to persevere in the face of adversity. All of these aspects will help to guide me in my future endeavors,” Johnson said.