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Meet Maria Etetere, Master Juggler

Any avid carnival or circus goer knows that there are many different types of juggler. There’s the toss juggler - one who always keeps at least one object (an apple, a ball, a running chainsaw, a flaming sword) in the air while handling several others. There’s the bounce juggler - one who keeps an object springing back from the floor, ceiling or wall (without even looking) while flinging and catching still others. There’s the trick juggler - one who blends together a range of styles and objects (rings, balls, pins, pineapples) while crossing arms, skipping, sitting or dancing.

And then there is Maria Etetere, our DIS Juggler Extraordinaire, who not only keeps at least a half-dozen tasks going at the same time in her role as Student Affairs Coordinator at the Waterview Parkway campus, but who also raises a family while working to complete her bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism at the University of Texas at Dallas - all without dropping anything.

“My most important role here is to watch over the safety of our students,” she says. “I monitor them at recess, during carpool pickups and throughout all of our other activities to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be at any given time. It’s a demanding job that keeps me moving and doing different things all at once.”

That’s one ball, maybe two balls, in the air already.

For Maria, who also serves as our evening receptionist and occasional substitute teacher when called upon, being fluent in three languages certainly helps. The native of Equatorial Guinea grew up speaking Spanish as her native language, but also studied French throughout her school years and then English after coming to the United States to, as she says, “learn lots of new things in a big, faraway place.”

Maria studied journalism for a full year in her home country, but left to learn the craft of reporting and writing in a world that didn’t urge journalists to self-censor for political reasons. “I’ve always been interested in the broader world and learning new things. I like meeting new people and learning about them, or just finding and following good stories that others might want to know,” she says. And she welcomes the opportunity to do that in a country that cherishes its tradition of a free press.

“The basics of journalism are the same everywhere - you hunt down facts and report a story around the basic pillars of truth, fairness and accuracy,” she says. “But in many parts of the world - including where I come from - you are also taught that there are certain things that you shouldn't write about. It’s not quite like Cuba or China, but it’s still a place where journalists learn to live and work within certain limits.”

Add another two balls to the juggling mix, maybe an egg and a ping pong ball for good measure.

Maria traveled to the Dallas area to study at nearby Richland College, where she earned an Associates Degree. She followed this with steady work as a freelance journalist for Rambler Newspapers, a group of online newsletters that serve the Dallas suburbs. Gaining the English proficiency needed to report and write major local stories in little over a year, Maria was especially drawn to writing profiles. “They would assign me a story to go out and report on this person or that person - a doctor or local official - and I really liked doing the research in advance and then getting to know them. I’ve always been curious about people and places.”

Add another ball - and a watermelon just for fun - that she can toss from behind her back and over her head.

But the frenetic pace of the freelance journalism world became increasingly problematic for Maria, who also manages a busy family life (a husband and two children ages eight and ten) in addition to her school and career. With a family move south to Houston, Maria quickly found a place where multiple languages and a penchant for wearing many hats were valued commodities - the Lycée International de Houston - where she served in administration, human resources, marketing, accounting and even managed classroom systems for academics.

“I was there for four years and really enjoyed it, working with the teachers and the students on nearly every aspect of the school,” she says. But then the Covid pandemic came into play.

One ball dropped. Okay, maybe two. Oops.

Maria had taken a trip back to Equatorial Guinea to visit family “for a month,” she says, when the world came to a grinding halt due to the Coronavirus. “The entire country came to a stop and the borders were shut down so I couldn’t leave for six months. By the time I headed back to the United States, my job in Houston was gone. So we headed back to Dallas.”

Bitten by the bug of working at an international school, Maria hoped to find something similar here. Conveniently, the position she now occupies at DIS opened up and - voila - here she is. “DIS is a place where everyone can feel comfortable and secure, and it's also very diverse in terms of multiple cultures,” Maria says. “It’s not just about the different languages, it’s about learning all about different customs and ways of living - students here get to learn what’s outside of our little world, and that is knowledge that will help them wherever they go or whatever they do in the future.”

What lies in Maria’s future? Asked where she would like to be in five years, she responds quickly, “In a classroom as a main teacher. In addition to journalism, I also want to get a teaching certificate and then work with younger students." Why younger students? "Because they’re so curious and eager to learn.” And what does she wish to teach? “English, or maybe Spanish Literature. And I want to work at a private school like DIS where we have such a great opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with students,” she adds.

In the meantime, Maria Etetere is managing to keep everything in the air, bouncing, spinning, twirling, dancing - but not dropping. Her weekends are filled with outdoor activities - everything from kayaking on White Rock to hiking to finding new places for family adventures. Such a busy life!

DIS is happy to be one of many things that Maria safely juggles. As long as she doesn't mix us up with the whirring chainsaws or flaming torches.