Class of 2013
out listening to the car radio with her cousin in the early
1970s, Jill Johnson may have appeared the typical American
Except that Johnson’s
knowledge of the United States was not based on experience.
As a so-called “third culture kid,” Johnson had
spent her early life residing with her American parents in
Amman, Jordan, and Katmandu, Nepal.
So at 16, when Johnson was back
in the U.S. to complete high school, she occasionally slipped
on cultural nuances.
“I remember sitting in
the front seat of the car and saying, ‘What a great
song,’” recalls Johnson. “My cousin said, ‘That’s
Now 60, Johnson will be the
oldest Ada Comstock Scholar to receive her bachelor’s
degree this year. But for her, being outside the norm is
Even her introduction to college
studies was not the typical choice for a young white American
woman. Following high school, Johnson pursued her first year
of higher education at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria,
a path that faltered early on. “I just bailed. I wasn’t
happy,” she says.
Instead, within a few years,
Johnson was married and living in New Hampshire. For a while
afterward, Johnson worked for food distribution companies,
serving as the liaison between restaurants and suppliers.
When she was accepted to the
Ada Comstock Scholars program a decade ago, she continued
working. Throughout her time at Smith, Johnson has commuted
to campus from Brattleboro, Vt., for two classes a semester
while working part-time.
But, with her degree in hand,
Johnson now plans to leave the typical 9-to-5 job in favor
of writing and continuing her education.
If being a third culture kid
had some drawbacks, it also had an upside, according to Johnson.
“I have a wealth of stories
in me,” she says.
Johnson earned her degree in
English and plans to be a writer. She envisions her next
step to be enrolling in the master’s of fine arts program
in creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Johnson wants to continue studying with Pamela Petro, a travel-based
nonfiction writer who lectures at both Smith and Lesley.
One of the stories Johnson would
like to tell is the third culture kid experience.
She is considering returning
to the schools in which she studied while her family moved
around the world because of her father’s work. She’d
like to interview children of expatriates and put together
an anthology of their experiences juxtaposed with her own.
But, she’s in no rush. “Someone
gave me a piece of advice that really makes sense,” she
says. “’Enjoy the time when you are just writing
and not yet published.’”