Name: Louis Wheatley
Years attended FAIS: 1997-2006
High School: Lincoln High School
College: Dartmouth College*
College Majors: History and Romance Languages
Job Title: Editorial Contributor
Employer: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
*Graduated magna cum laude, with high honors in history. Received 2015 Chase Peace Prize, awarded for the best thesis at Dartmouth College in any discipline treating the subject of war, peace, and conflict resolution.
How did your FAIS education prepare you for Dartmouth and beyond?
If critical thinking is the bedrock of liberal arts education, then I think my years at FAIS indelibly shaped my intellectual growth and curiosity. To study even basic elementary concepts through a non-American lens empowered me with a wider, more three-dimensional worldview. Along with my upbringing in a Czech-American home, this kind of education normalized the idea that different perspectives work better in concert than in opposition. Looking back, I also think attending FAIS sparked a gut instinct to question any status quo. In first or second grade, I came home one day with a revelation, stunned to have discovered that kids and teachers at other schools spoke English in class, as opposed to French. Over the years, I recognized that attending immersion school was a huge privilege, offering me experiences that other kids in my neighborhood couldn’t easily access. It taught me to think twice about anything labeled as “normal” or “the way it’s always been,” including in my own life. It’s a gut instinct that has served me well. And a lot of credit goes to my great teachers for trusting us to tackle difficult issues at a young age. I remember broaching how colonialism had brought the French language to West Africa and Southeast Asia (in second grade), or debating whether the Catholic Church was prepared to elect a pope from a community of color (seventh grade). Interacting with the world beyond our own horizons was a formative lesson in critical thinking and empathy.
Did your FAIS education have an influence on your career choice or your field of study? If so, how?
Perhaps it’s cliché, but FAIS erased the borders that otherwise might have held back some of my most pivotal life experiences thus far. To write my senior thesis, I insisted on getting out of the library and traveling as far as Argentina to directly interview the activists I was studying. When charting the path for my first year after college, I embraced a rare chance with the UN to live and work abroad in Budapest. In no small part thanks to FAIS, I’ve been able to take these opportunities quite literally as far as I possibly could.
Are there skills you learned while at FAIS that you have applied to your career?
I remember being coached to find beauty in precision. Under the surface of every assignment, whether it was reciting poems par coeur or casting angles with a compass, my teachers gave a lesson in paying close attention to detail without requiring perfection. It’s a value and a skill that I carried with me through college and now into my career, knowing it has made me a more thorough researcher and a more meticulous writer. In the same vein, I probably owe a great deal to the French language itself. Francophones value their language more than any other people I’ve come across. Take, for example, that the humanities formed the core of my early education, or that French comedy sets itself a step above the rest with its hallmark acrobatic wordplay. French has always inspired me to approach language as a creative tool. It’s a trait I can’t imagine developing through a different language, although it has absolutely influenced the way I express myself in any language. And I can’t be the only FAIS alum who indulges in reading about the latest study lauding the cognitive benefits of multilingualism. It’s self-gratifying to be sure, but I think most of us would agree that we’ve gained a great deal more than just linguistic fluency.
How many languages do you speak, and what are they?
I speak five languages: French, Spanish, Italian, Czech, and English.
What do you envision for your career for the next five years? The next ten years?
This year of editorial work for the UN, which focused on international development in the post-Soviet region, has inspired me to pursue a career in writing and journalism. I hope to start off doing investigative work in the U.S., perhaps graduating someday to international reporting. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than neck deep in a story, connecting dots that aren’t plainly linked and picking up insights that change how we understand our society. Among my many personal projects, I am perhaps most excited to continue growing Mission: Citizen, a Portland-based non-profit organization that I co-founded with a cohort that included FAIS alumna Emilie Segura. Through Mission: Citizen, passionate high school students are helping immigrants across the Portland metro area prepare thoroughly and thoughtfully for the U.S. naturalization exam. The work is incredibly rewarding, and working side by side with a classmate and friend from my days in Maternelle has made it that much better.