Young woman with dark skin, smiles by palm tree on beach, large body of water behind her

Afro-Caribbean Childhood Grounds Teaching Dream

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By Samiya Mcmiller

Felicita Arzu Carmichael’s journey began in the country of Belize and continues in the United States of America. She reminisces the glorious summers of her childhood, remembering the mangos being her favorite post-dinner snack.

Arzu Carmichael is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at Oakland University. She spends mornings at her computer grading assignments and her nights bonding with her family.

SM: Where did your journey begin? 

Arzu Carmichael: My journey began in Belize, a small and beautiful country in Central America and the Caribbean. My professional journey started early in high school. More specifically, when I was in high school, I had a bright and fun-loving English teacher, who made class exciting! It was in my early high school years that I knew I wanted to be a teacher, where I could challenge young minds to engage with important social issues, in hopes of effecting positive changes. 

This journey continues at Oakland University, where I work as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. My teaching and research interests meet at the intersection of social justice, inclusion, composition pedagogy, and online writing instruction.

Belize flag by palm trees, large body of water, sail boat in the background
Felicita Arzu Carmichael captures the flag of Belize in her hometown in March 2013. Photo credit: Felicita Arzu Carmichael

SM: Describe the place where you grew up. What was your life like there? 

Arzu Carmichael: I grew up in Orange Walk, a predominantly Hispanic town in northern Belize. Orange Walk has a population of just over 13,000 people, and I lived there for all of my childhood and most of my adulthood. My mother was born and raised in Dangriga though, a town in southern Belize. As a child, I spent many summers in Dangriga, a town also known as the “culture capital” of Belize because it is home to the Garinagu people. The Garinagu are descendants of Arawak Indians and Afro-Caribbean people, and they speak a language called “Garifuna,” which is an Arawakan language. My family and I identify as Garinagu people, so although I was born and raised in Orange Walk, my roots are embedded in Dangriga because of my culture. 

My life growing up in Belize was blissful! I have a very close-knit family. Growing up, my days consisted of me riding my bike to and from school. In the evenings, my dad would climb the coconut tree to pull coconuts, and my siblings and I would enjoy fresh coconut water with our meals. After dinner (called tea in Belize), my family and I would relax in our hammocks, which were tied to mango trees in our backyard. My father loves to plant, so we always enjoyed fresh fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, mangoes, plums, all grown in our backyard. 

SM: Why did you leave? Where did you go? 

Arzu Carmichael: In pursuing my lifelong goal of becoming an educator, my first full-time job in Belize was that of an English teacher. For three years, I taught college composition courses at Muffles Junior College (MJC), a two-year college in Belize and the only college in my town. My institution had an exchange program with New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This meant that students from NMSU would travel to Orange Walk, Belize for teaching practice, and MJC would place them at schools and house them during their stay. Our MJC teachers would then have the opportunity to pursue tuition-free graduate studies at NMSU. This exchange program allowed me to pursue a Master of Arts degree in English Studies for Teachers. While pursuing my master’s degree at NMSU, I was introduced to the concept of “rhetoric” and my interest in the study of language was heightened! I decided to apply to NMSU’s doctoral program in Rhetoric and Professional Communication. 

SM: How did you feel when you left Belize? 

Arzu Carmichael: Change is such a natural process of our lives, but it can still be terrifying. When I left Belize, I was excited about the possibilities of obtaining a graduate degree and experiencing life in a new place. However, I was also worried about being away from the only home I’ve ever known and away from my family and close friends. 

SM: Describe how your life is different where you live now. 

Arzu Carmichael: Today I am an Assistant Professor. I also have a wonderful partner and three energetic children. My family and I live in Michigan, which is a stark difference from the desert of New Mexico and the tropics of Belize. I have learned so much more about myself over the past years though. The process of pursuing graduate studies, raising a family, and becoming faculty have challenged me in meaningful ways.

SM: Are you happy about your journey?  

Arzu Carmichael: Very. I believe that I am where I am supposed to be and that every choice, I have made in the past was on purpose to get me to the point I am today. This is not to suggest that every aspect of my life has been positive or without difficulty. I have endured some challenging times throughout my journey. However, those experiences taught me important lessons that I needed to learn in order to progress.

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