Some assume that those driven by accomplishment and success don’t stop to smell the roses.
But Shoreline Community College graduate Emily Estep, a 4.0 GPA student in high school who slipped all the way to 3.95 in college, says au contraire, or more likely for Estep, “al contrario.”
In fact, the Shorewood High School grad had no problem at all with being the smartest kid on the block – or for that matter, the smartest kid in the Shoreline School District (which she was in 2003). She recognized early that her smarts could open avenues throughout her life and take her to the places of her dreams – like Mexico and Costa Rica – and immerse herself in a Spanish-speaking world.
“It was always Spanish for me,” said Estep, referring to her love affair with the language. She had taken Spanish since her freshman year in high school and started saving money even before that so she could someday travel to Spain, Mexico and other countries where Spanish is the mother tongue.
Graduating at the top of her high school class, Estep could have hand-picked any college in the country. However, Estep recognized the atmosphere that a community college would offer — the smaller class sizes, the clubs that provide leadership training — was a better value and that hometown Shoreline Community College had a good reputation. The strong transfer program and advanced Spanish courses made a perfect match for her goals. She was awarded an Academic Excellence Scholarship from the Shoreline Community College Foundation when she graduated from Shorewood.
At Shoreline, Estep found the diversity of students in her Spanish classes something she had not experienced in high school. Not only did the diversity provide a new level of opportunities to converse in Spanish, but the chance to talk with people who had lived in Spanish-speaking countries.
“One of them had lived in Costa Rica and it was great talking with her about that country and culture -- while practicing my Spanish,” Estep said. It was that relationship that motivated her to study in Costa Rica for two months that summer via a program through the college’s International Programs. The following summer she studied the language in Guatemala.
Estep joined the Association of Latin American Students club and found even more opportunities to master her favorite language. As the only non-Latin American in the club and the only non-native Spanish speaker; she said she found the language challenges extreme and helpful.
“I just couldn’t believe the opportunities I had right here on campus,” Estep said.
Besides Spanish, Estep also has a passion for teaching. She knew from an early age that she would someday teach, and Shoreline provided the foundational classes she could use toward a teaching degree after transferring to a four-year school. For Estep, that school was Western Washington University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree and earned a teaching certificate.
In the winter before her spring quarter student teaching assignment, Estep had another chance to immerse herself in her adopted language. This time, it included the opportunity to put her newly acquired teaching skills to the test, volunteering at a school for abandoned children in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her experience at the Movimiento de Apoyo para Menores Abandonados was life-changing and Estep says she’s grateful to have the opportunity to work with the children.
“They appreciated everything so much,” she said. While she was there to tutor, Estep said she came to realize the real value to the children was that someone was just paying attention. “I stayed after school and played with them sometimes. I will never forget them.”
While in Guadalajara, Estep also studied at the Guadalajara Language School in nearby Tlaquepaque. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. She got to know the staff well and when it was time to return to Shoreline, Estep said both she and her new friends found it difficult saying goodbye.
The experience was so good that just three days after completing her student teaching, Estep was on a plane returning to Tlaquepaque, this time to work for the language school she had studied at months earlier. For the next year, Estep worked as a program director, promoting the school’s English language program.
Although leaving Mexico proved emotional, Estep is back and ready to start a career here, teaching Spanish at Odyssey High School in the Highline School District.
“I’m so lucky to be doing exactly what I want to do,” Estep said. I’m so excited.”