Maggie Mixon, Mount Vernon Class of 2017, credits the School’s Interim program for greatly influencing her career goals and life aspirations. Throughout her four years in the Upper School, she participated in Interim travel opportunities gaining valuable experiences, influencing her career path and ultimately planting the seed for where she currently calls home: Paris, France. Today, Maggie is a Business to Business Account Rep at the headquarters for French tech startup, PlayPlay.
We sat down with Maggie to learn more about how her specific Interim experiences shaped her views on education, international travel, and cultural immersion. She fondly recounts moments and experiences that sparked her passion for traveling and learning, from her time in New Mexico to her experiences in London, Paris, and New York. Moreover, she offers advice to current students participating in Interim abroad or participating in other Interim experiences.. Maggie also shared specific Mount Vernon’s mindsets that have helped her succeed in her professional life abroad, including helping her to shape PlayPlay’s American operations playbook.
MV: What was your experience traveling with Mount Vernon’s Interim program and how did it begin to shape your global perspective?
MM: Every interim experience that I had was incredibly transformative – even the ones that weren’t my first choice. I remember my Freshman year being starry-eyed over the international trips that the upperclassmen had priority for and when I found out that out of my choices I was going to be placed on one of my last pick trips – the art department’s tour of New Mexico – I was a little disappointed at the lack of croissants and city lights. However, once I got on the trip with the hodge podge group of students and Mr. Kunath, MS. Carol and Mr. Campbell, I felt like I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time and the company of the older kids that I didn’t really know. I was right. I got back from New Mexico with a newfound passion for Georgia O’Keefe and multiple buffalo sightings under my belt.
New York, London, and Paris I had expected to adore, which was exactly the case. What surprised me most about every trip, domestic or international, was how connected I felt to the teachers/administrators chaperoning as well as our local guides. I distinctly remember being in New York my sophomore year with Mrs. Tumbleson and Dr. McCubbin when they told me they could see me in New York for university. I think that was the first time anyone outside of my parents had said that they thought I was bound for a bigger city and maybe a different life than the one I was on my way to.
London my junior year further confirmed this hope as I realized that it was possible for me to dream even bigger than New York for myself. Even if I wouldn’t have said it out loud at the time, just being there soaking up every museum and historical plaque gave me the necessary boost in self-confidence to seriously dream beyond the US.
MV: How has your experience with the Interim program impacted your views on education? Can you share any specific examples or insights you gained from your time there?
MM: I think that Interim has really shaped my views on education because the program proved to me firsthand the benefits of experiential learning. You can lecture young people all day long and even that can be fascinating and gripping from time to time, but once you bring a student face to face with a subject, a period of history, or a craft, it’s like you implicate them in the lesson and therefore make them reconsider their own life. I feel as though Interim took a desire that was probably always in me and made acting on that desire not seem so insane or impossible – the novels that I’d been reading didn’t have to be a world away, the cultures I’d been learning about didn’t have to be totally foreign to me and the history that I’d studied didn’t have to be totally in the past.
MV: Was there a particular moment or experience during your Interim experiences that sparked a curiosity or interest in continuing your education internationally?
MM: I had always thought that I had a “get out” itch within me and this all reached a boiling point my senior year when I first touched down in Paris surrounded by my best friends, some of my favorite teachers (Mr. Baroody and Mr. Piligian) and our local guide – Angel – truly an angel. The 2017 Interim trip to Paris and Normandy wasn’t necessarily focused on immersion in the “real culture of France” but rather the crown jewels of the city and its historical foundations. I drank all of this up, often hanging back with Angel to further discuss his time in France. I began to look around at the regular people living their regular lives every day but doing so in the shadow of the world’s great wonders. Starting then, an infectious desire to live in Paris started festering within me…spoiler alert, less than two years later I transferred from George Washington University in DC to The American University in Paris, saying “c’est la vie” and arrived at my new Parisian apartment with two suitcases and zero knowledge of the language.
MV: In what ways do you feel that Mount Vernon specifically prepared you for working abroad, both in terms of skills and mindset? How did those preparations help you navigate and succeed in international professional environments?
MM: I would say that Mount Vernon prepared me for my professional life abroad by instilling in me a mindset of “why not?” and “okay, let’s try again.” Working abroad as an American often means that your role will include helping an organization grow its presence in the US or among other Anglophone countries. In my case, I have been working for a French startup that has a massive presence in France, but virtually no name recognition in the United States. So, my colleagues and I on the US team have had to create the playbook for the largest potential market in the world. This has involved a lot of daring trial and error and experimentation that I’ve always felt pretty comfortable with because Mount Vernon made sure when I was 14 years old that I got comfortable with “failing up” and then asking “how might we do this” over and over. Long story short, Mount Vernon made me feel empowered enough to try, fail, re-evaluate, and then try again…which is basically all that living and working abroad amounts to.
MV: Do you have any advice for students who are going abroad, participating in core, or volunteering this interim term?
MM: As cliché as this may sound, take advantage of every opportunity and offer. I understand that it’s enticing to try and get a “second spring break” where you can just chill at the beach or get Chick fil A every morning before hitting the mall, but you have all your future days in the metro Atlanta area to do just that. The fact that we have even been offered such a program and especially with as many options as there are now (I’m seriously jealous) is so rarely heard of and the kind of thing that a lot of students would dream of. Traveling and trying new jobs will never be as easy for you as it will be now and in the next few years. While you have the wide open offer of these experiences domestic or abroad, do your future self a favor and say “yes.” What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t like the food that much? The weather isn’t ideal? The internship proves not to be your dream job? That is awesome! Really, it is, because just by trying, you’ll have figured out something you don’t love which will only get you closer to finding what you do.