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Katherine Johnson-Bravay 1981

I recall visiting a foreign country for the first time, Canada, during its centennial celebration, learning to say a dozen phrases in Japanese at Vacation Bible School one summer in Chicago and then for a 6th grade assignment, spending hours playing travel agent, creating a personalized “Mediterranean Cruise” travel plan, complete with maps, pictures and descriptions of all ports of call. It seems that I have always felt a lure to everything international.

As soon as the public-school system allowed, I began studying Spanish, adding French when a second elective could fit into the schedule. I accompanied family members across the Atlantic for the first time to Spain as an eighth grader. The travel bug had bitten and it continues to bite more than four decades later!

My introduction to Central College came from student teacher Gwen Barnes-Karol ’77. Her love for Spain, its language and its culture, were apparent in every lesson plan. Gwen had recently returned from her year abroad on Central’s program with contagious enthusiasm and a growing mastery of Spanish. With Gwen as a role model, a plan was taking shape in my mind!
Shortly thereafter, on a first visit to Pella and Central, I met Jim Graham. He confirmed that I could live and study for twelve months in Spain, followed by another twelve months in France and still complete all other graduation requirements within the four-year time frame.

Four years later, this dream came true!

I only spent five trimesters on campus while earning my undergrad degree. In addition to the two rewarding years participating in Central’s programs in Madrid and Paris, I lived at home in Des Moines while student teaching at my high school alma mater, Roosevelt. Perhaps that was the reason that my post grad relationship with Central College and Pella continued another three years, as you’ll see below.

Hobbies/Activities: Duplicate bridge, hiking: north and south rims of the Grand Canyon and Denali, visiting art museums and listening to operas. Have I already mentioned travel? Most recent trip: visiting family in Provence and our daughter who lives and works in Berlin.

What I’m reading/Or book I’d recommend: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

Memorable Central College moments: 3N Graham Lemming Sisters singing at the very first Lemming Day in 1977, performing for visiting high school students at Language Days, walking up to the Holland Theater to see the weekly movie offerings, Dutch dancing during Tulip Time (I still have a pair of wooden shoes!), performing in French in Le Guichet de Jean Tardieu on the old Douwstra Auditorium stage.

As for courses and professors, three on the Pella campus and two in Europe stand out:
Introduction to Philosophy with Dr. William Paul. Nothing like a little Cescartes or Plato at 9 a.m., five days a week, to stimulate brain activity as a freshman!
The nature of Science with Dr. David Creighton. A non-major’s dream: talking, reading and writing about the world of science without spending time in a lab!
Educational Psychology with Dr. Norm Ryerson, who dubbed this overview course as covering the period “from womb to tomb”.
In France, Prof. Quoy’s French class at L’Institut Catholique de Paris. I can still hear his “Si j’ose dire…” (dare I say…).
In Spain, Prof. Misol’s amazing History of Spanish Art course. In those pre-internet days, we all collected post cards of the works studied and quizzed each other as if with flashcards about the significance of the art. Living with a family near the Retiro Park enabled me to frequently visit the Prado Museum and contemplate its rich collections.

My life after Central College: French Professor Denise Murray offered me my first job post-graduation. As an English language assistant, I was privileged to return to Paris for a second year. While there, I learned that my former student teacher Gwen Barnes-Karol ’77 was going to pursue her doctorate and thus leave an opening at Central for an International Studies representative. I eagerly applied and was offered the position. For two years, I had the opportunity to share with university students and administrators across the nation my enthusiasm for Central’s study abroad programs. It was always a thrill to tell others that their dreams of international study could also come true, all the while earning their degrees. If I could do it, they could, too and Central College was the vehicle to get them there.

Dr. Putnam recently wrote about the importance of relationships at Central College. I was blessed to learn from and work with many of the pillars of our alma mater while studying at and working for the school. I’ve already mentioned Gwen Barnes-Karol ’77, Jim Graham and Denise Murray. Other influencers for me include Ken Weller, Harold Kolenbrander ’60, Maxine Huffman, Martha Chiarella Betancourt and Don and Barbara Butler ’58. Each of these individuals contributed to my understanding of the world, of human beings and of myself.

Next came a year in the Arizona desert where I earned a Masters of International Management with a concentration on marketing. Thunderbird is also where I met my life-long partner, Michel, whose father was French and mother Quebecoise. This meant that I would always have opportunities to speak French with family members both in Canada and in France! Michel convinced me that winters in Montreal were not so bad and once married in June 1986, we spent nearly 25 years there. The first five years in Montreal, I coordinated a group of 15 instructors who taught small group and private business English courses to Quebecois business people. Our daughter Marguerite was born on our fifth wedding anniversary.

It was not time to go into business for ourselves and be present during Marguerite’s early childhood. We began buying, managing, renovating and selling residential rental properties, always living in one of our buildings. When we sold our last Canadian real estate, we spent a winter in the south of France, enrolling Marguerite in a local school. When she began university at McGill, Michel and I started looking for warmer climes in which to retire. We traveled in a small motor home from Florida to California, seeking the ideal fit.

In 2010, while visiting our alma mater in Arizona, Thunderbird, where we had met 24 years before, I dropped by the Exec Ed department. They were hiring adjunct English professors to prepare arriving international students in intensive courses for the rigors of an American MBA program. This was right up my alley, so we parked the motor home in Phoenix for several years. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Presentation Skills to bright and ambitious pre-MBA students from around the world. The team of adjuncts was always so proud to hear our students make their final business presentations in English, selling us on product introductions into foreign countries. I continue to keep up with and follow the careers of a few of my Thunderbird students.
Alas, the long hot summers in Arizona became too much and that travel bug kept biting!

We discovered Panama in 2013 and moved here permanently a year later. We purchased a property in the mountains about 90 minutes away from Panama City. Here, the year-round temperatures are between 70 and 85 F with a four-month dry season punctuating the eight-month rainy season. There is no need for either an air conditioner or a furnace here! We are currently renovating and furnishing a one-bedroom and a studio apartment with the idea of holiday and short-term rentals. We believe that many winter weary North Americans would enjoy an escape to the tropics where toucans fly by and sloths slowly crawl through the trees in search of tender leaves, where meandering riverside trails lead to waterfalls and swimming holes and where one can feast on the sweetest bananas and coconuts. Another advantage is that we live only 40 minutes from the Pacific beaches.

So far, Panama is a perfect fit for us at this stage in our lives. We enjoy straddling several cultures, spending time with natives and expats alike. We speak Spanish and English daily. Surprisingly, we come across a number of French speakers as well.

Central College and its wonderful people came into my life at the ever so critical time of making college decisions. Central, too, was the right fit at the right time. The bridge on campus is symbolic of the bridge that I sought to cross as a high school student. This bridge served me well, spanning my late teen and early adult years.

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