The Advancement Office sat down with Ms. Noël Carmichael, 9th grade English teacher and class dean to find out what prompted her move across the globe — and back again — and the things she loves to do both in the classroom and out.
AO: What inspired you to travel to Tanzania?
NC: I was working in professional theater as a director, and I became very sick with ovarian cancer. I was in my early 20s and as you might imagine, surviving it was a very spiritual experience. I decided to travel and see the world. Within four months of remission I was in Tanzania. I went with a project out of Rhode Island called Industrial Revelation which works to fight global malnutrition. I worked for three years building a factory there. We succeeded, it’s still running – even exporting. By the time we had finished, I had already met my husband and decided to stay in Tanzania. And that’s also when I went into teaching.
I was at Dar es Salam International Academy for six years. Dar es Salam means Harbor of Peace. I started teaching the performing arts since that had been my career. Then I began teaching English as well. Then I went on to become program coordinator and manage the International Baccalaureate program.
AO: How did you find your way to Northwood School?
NC: The boring answer is that I was job searching on the Internet. I was interested in coming back to New York if possible since that’s where I was born. I had just returned to Tanzania from a trip to New York for a round of interviews and decided to take one last look at the Northwood website and there was a job posted. It all moved really, really fast from there. Linda D’Arco was a great first face of Northwood, and I thought, I want to work somewhere where people are that nice. I did a marathon Skype interview with 12 people; it was a four-hour call and the middle of the night for me. I got off that call and I was high from it. I called my mom and said I just talked to 12 different people and I think I liked them all. But I had never set foot on campus until I moved here.
AO: What was it about the job posting that interested you?
NC: I was born in Albany and my grandparents had a summer home in Raquette Lake so I grew up summering in the Adirondacks and have always had an affinity for it. My family is still in Albany. I have three sisters in Albany. My mom’s in Albany. My dad’s in Albany, and I have a brother just slightly further south in Westchester.
AO: What do you want the Northwood community to know about Tanzania?
NC: There’s so much to say about it. It’s not a culture that is developed in our modern sense of the word, but it’s a culture that still puts emphasis on many of the things we’re now coming to value again as a society. Things like a sense of community. Like slowing down and eating meals with our family rather than staying connected to the Internet. And there are true neighborhood watches there, people care and know about their neighbors. The sick and elderly don’t go live somewhere else, they are cared for by their family and neighbors. The same is true for childcare.
AO: Your husband and children have never lived outside of Tanzania. How’s it going so far?
NC: As a result of some visa and immigration delays, I am still trying to get my husband, Chisondi, and my daughter, Monica (13) here. My daughter Taika (3) has just become incredibly American, incredibly quickly. She just trick or treated as Princess Elsa – I don’t even know where she learned of Elsa and Frozen! And she’s talking about Santa too. I’ve never done the boarding school thing so this is all new. Coming from Tanzania where everything is very community-based it is very comfortable. It’s actually more like reality in Tanzania, with 60 big sisters for my daughters. It does worry me that Taika’s not speaking Swahili and she’s not eating the food that she’s grown up with though.
AO: What do you miss most about Africa?
NC: Other than my husband and daughter, I miss living a bilingual life. It does change the way you think about things. In a couple of months I’ll probably be missing the sun too.
AO: Do you have a passion?
NC: Many. I write. I’ve been published a few times. I also dabble in music a bit. I’m a tap dancer. I had a tap/Afro-fusion group (Taprica) in Tanzania which was killer.
AO: How would you describe your own personal high school experience?
NC: It was great actually. I always loved school. I was president of my class and valedictorian. I was also an athlete. I played volleyball. I went to a performing arts magnet school. I started as a dance major and then switched to theater. It was great because you could do all those things and not be pigeon-holed into just one thing. I hope that we can create opportunities like that at Northwood, for students to thrive in their many areas of interest and talents simultaneously.
AO: If you could do it all over again (high school), what would you want your younger self to know?
NC: In order to do all those things I did in high school, I was a super overachiever which I then carried into all of my careers. It was only after I became an adult and had cancer that I learned how to slow down, take care, and breathe. That’s what I would share with my younger self and my students today too. It’s ok to say no sometimes. It’s ok to slow down, meditate on the moment, and just be.
AO: If you had an afternoon free to spend any way you wish, what would you do?
NC: That’s easy. I’d be out in the middle of the woods – but not if it’s cold — writing. I’d be out there with a blank paper and pen.
AO: Tell us one surprising thing about yourself.
NC: My husband and I were married at 19,000 ft. on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. It certainly cuts down on the invite list!