I am the third of seven sisters from a working-class White family and grew up in the rural Midwest. I began working as a housekeeper for my parents’ small vacation rentals business in Michigan as a child. I first left home at 16 to live for a year as a Rotary Club-sponsored exchange student in a small town in the Netherlands. After high school, my college plans were put on hold due to financial constraints. Instead, I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) to children in China and Thailand for a cumulative 1.5 years and worked as a housekeeper and server in Florida, Vancouver, and Arizona.
At 22, I began my undergraduate studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. I studied tropical ecology and environmental sustainability in Costa Rica for one semester, and spent another semester studying Latin American political history in Argentina. Throughout college, I worked at a grocery store; nannied; waited tables; tutored students in writing, ESL, and Spanish; graded the writing section of standardized tests; and taught ESL to Spanish-speaking adults. I graduated summa cum laude in 2011 with a BA in Spanish and having minored in English and in Latin American Studies.
After college, I worked for several years as a public high school English teacher in the Rio Grande Valley on the Texas/Mexico border and in a Yupik village in rural Alaska. I also worked for one summer as a National Park Ranger in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
I earned my PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2020.