International bent

26 Apr

03-23-13 MICHELLE 173F9359

Michelle DeFayette speaks fluent Portuguese and dabbles in French and Italian. She once danced in a Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, and she loves to dance the samba. She was the Brazilian team liaison for Women’s World Cup soccer tournaments in Washington, D.C., and she has worked for the Peace Corps and USAID.

But sometimes she’s happy just to sit on her front porch.

Michelle (’87 political science) lives in Silver Spring, Md. (just north of Washington, D.C.) in a cozy house built in the 1930s with her partner, Shannon England, to whom she’s been married for nine years. They live in a neighborhood of older homes where all her neighbors know each other. Michelle says she loves the diversity of her town.

“I love the international aspect of this place,” she says. “You can sit here and watch the world walk by.”

Michelle’s passions are twofold: international understanding and soccer. Her international experience started when she was in an exchange student in France during high school. She moved to Italy for six months after college and then lived in Brazil for nearly two years, where she fell in love with the language, the people, and the music.

“When I moved back here, I had an international bent,” she explains. She worked as a training specialist for the Peace Corps and for Youth for Understanding International Exchange. She served as the training unit manager for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, training teams to respond to disasters in Sudan and following earthquakes, droughts, and the South Asian tsunami. She’s currently the project manager for USAID’s flagship training program and holds a master’s in international communication from the American University.

Michelle’s second love – soccer – began when she was 8 years old. She played high school soccer in Damascus, Md., and helped start the women’s soccer club at Iowa State, competing at tournaments throughout the Midwest. She continues to play competitively (and for fun), on both indoor and outdoor teams.

“The beauty of soccer is that you only need a ball and a couple of people,” she says. “You don’t really even need shoes.”

Jim and I spent a laughter-filled day with Michelle in March, going from her home to downtown Silver Spring to a nearby soccer field for her portrait, in which she insisted she was “trying to look heroic.”

Despite the cold wind and rather ridiculous circumstances, Michelle never stopped laughing – or talking about how much she loves soccer.

“I’m kind of addicted to the joy of motion,” she said. “Playing well is like moving to music, but in this case it’s moving to the rhythm of all the players on the field, the flow and tempo of the game. It’s joyous when everything is working and the synapses are firing correctly!”

And, she added, her Brazilian friends would definitely want her to point out that the jersey she’s wearing is from the Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo – and it’s the coolest jersey in her closet.

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