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Michelle Traub’s Calling Brings Her Around the World and Close to Home

by Adam Zielonka ’16 Oct 22, 2020

A typical day in the life of DeSales alumna Michelle Traub ’11 is full of what she loves most: teaching those around her.

It begins at school, where she might draw upon her travels in Spain or Ecuador to infuse a Spanish vocabulary lesson with more color. It continues after the final school bell rings, as Traub goes to see Kylie and Beaux, two children she helps raise. She wants to teach them to connect with others, to see beauty wherever they go, to love themselves.

Traub, 31, has spent much of her professional and personal life finding ways to have positive impacts on others. Her love of teaching reinforced by a Fulbright fellowship program that took her to Senegal, Traub is focused on making the world her classroom.

“To be able to teach my students about the outside world—things like open-mindedness and peace and really respecting other people’s views and values—those are all things you can get by learning a language, but they’re internal skills that you forever will use in other places.”

 Michelle Traub ’11

A tailored education

 Though she’s now visited around 30 countries, Traub only left the country for the first time for a study abroad program while at DeSales. It’s difficult for elementary education majors to fit study abroad into their schedules, but Traub was inspired by her admissions counselor, Nicole Boyer ’05, who’d designed her own semester abroad as a DeSales student and told Traub the University could help her do the same.

By moving up many of her education courses, Traub was able to set out for Universidad de Granada in southern Spain as a junior. She returned with enough Spanish credits to make it a second major.

There were other ways Traub says DeSales let her tailor her college experience to get the most out of her time in Center Valley. She knew she wanted to swim competitively, but DeSales didn’t have a swim team—so Traub started one.

“It’s something I had prior to DeSales, but it was solidified at DeSales, that if you really want something and you want to make it happen, then you’ve got to find the right people to help you and you can do it,” Traub says.

Rev. Doug Burns, OSFS, coordinator of the sport and exercise science major, was the swim team’s faculty adviser, but he says Traub played a crucial role in scheduling practices and meets. Traub became more coach than swimmer later in her college years as an onset of Lyme disease limited her endurance.

Fr. Burns remembers Traub’s infectious smile, one that always would come out whenever she was near a pool.

“And the word enthusiasm, I can’t think of a better word,” he says. “It was her drive, her energy, her time that helped get things organized [for the swim team] and made them run.”

A global perspective

 Traub couldn’t kick the travel bug after college. She spent time living abroad in Guatemala and Ecuador before settling back down in her home state of Connecticut.

“I feel like I can have homes in many places,” Traub says. “Guatemala forever has my heart. So does Spain, and many other places. I always try to come back to where my roots are, but then be ready to grow and explore other areas.”

Travel isn’t just vacation, Traub emphasizes. Her aim when traveling is to connect with new people and learn about their cultures, knowledge she then passes on to her Spanish students at Canton Intermediate School and Canton High School, as well as on to Kylie and Beaux. 

That passion also drew her to apply for the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms program, a selective exchange program for teachers funded by the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She was selected in 2018 and spent the last month of the 12-month program in her randomly assigned host country: the French-speaking Western African nation of Senegal.

From teaching English and Spanish to students in Senegal, and from interacting with another teacher in her cohort, the program crystallized for Traub that it was her calling, not just her career, to “be a teacher in every moment” inside and outside the classroom.

A new family

 After returning from DeSales, Traub spent some time babysitting a young girl named Kylie when her single mother had to work. Soon, Kylie’s brother Beaux joined the family. Traub would head to their grandparents’ house in a nearby town and help take care of them.

Tragically, Kylie and Beaux’s mother passed away from an opioid overdose in May 2018. Traub says she recognized right away that the children—at the time just nine and five years old—would be in her life “forever.”

Their grandparents took custody, but in a spiritual sense, Traub says, they decided to stick together and become a family of five—an unexpected twist in Traub’s life that she now considers part of God’s plan.

“I’m the oldest of seven children,” Traub says, “so my entire life I have been taking care of kids. I have an amazing mom whom I inspire to be like and an incredible father who taught me how to love and care for those who need it the most. Having them as role models prepared me to follow God’s path of helping to raise Kylie and Beaux.”

Seeing firsthand the impact of the country’s opioid crisis, Traub wanted to bring some honest discussion into her school. She was in the process of starting a Rotary Interact Club at Canton when Kylie and Beaux’s mother died. So, through the club, Traub organized a fundraiser for a local mental health treatment facility and hosted an expert panel with doctors and social workers that attracted listeners from around the state.

Bailey Jeffko, another Spanish teacher at Canton, became friends with Traub through their department. She’s been impressed with not only how Traub lights up a classroom teaching Spanish culture and language, but also with how she treats Kylie and Beaux—how she isn’t afraid to discuss difficult life topics with them.

“She’s always talking about really important things with them that I think a lot of times parents will shy away from,” Jeffko says. “She’s just very real with them and she treats them like adults, and I see how mature they are and how worldly they are because of the lessons she teaches them.”