Students see Ms. Atwell as Marlborough’s own international woman of mystery. From the rumors of her being a CIA agent to her being a Russian spy, her students make their own hypotheses about Ms. Atwell’s true identity. In reality, Ms. Atwell’s upbringing and her independence of character sparked her worldliness and language skills.
Moving around frequently as a child, Atwell has always loved to travel, thereby spurring on her love for languages and cultures. Atwell lived until she was three in Nairobi to be with her biological father, who taught African History at the Teachers’ College and later worked for the US Government. She then moved to Claremont, CA, because her stepfather was the President of Pitzer College, and lastly she settled in Washington D.C. Atwell credits her moves for her comfort in new situations and her love of learning about other cultures. The first time she traveled independently was when she studied Spanish in the south of Spain for six weeks when she was 16.
In spite of the rumors, Atwell’s aptitude for languages came not from her training in the CIA, but from living in Nairobi, Kenya, making Atwell’s first language Swahili. She also spoke the local language Kikuyu with her friends in the neighborhood, and later English. By having a trilingual upbringing, Atwell picked up other languages, including Spanish, Russian, Czech, Ecclesiastical Latin, Old Church Slavonic, French, German, Portuguese, and Arabic. Her language skills contributed to her love for other cultures and other’s lives.
“I’ve always been curious about the way other people live. I love art and architecture, and I love being outdoors to be in a different environment is really appealing to me,” Atwell said.
Some of Atwell’s favorite travel destinations include Mongolia, Myanmar, and the coast of Oman. As Atwell’s past AP students know, she loves the Mongols and found the large Genghis Khan statue incredible and referred to Oman’s coastline as one of the best she’s ever seen. Atwell also enjoyed traveling Myanmar with the former head of UNESCO.
“I love ecclesiastical architecture of all sorts and so going to see all the Buddhist stupas there was really magical.” Atwell said about her trip to Myanmar.
Atwell said she still hopes to go hiking in Patagonia, go on the western part of the Silk Road, and even travel to Antarctica, all destinations she has never been to before.
Atwell explained that when she travels, she likes to challenge other countries’ opinions of women’s roles by driving when it’s out of the norm or illegal, as she did in Oman, when driving up the treacherous mountainside to get a better look at the beautiful scenery.
Her various experiences in world cultures have helped her create an exciting classroom environment that her students appreciate.
“She is easily one of the most intelligent and well rounded teachers I’ve ever had.” Haley Adams ‘19 said about her former teacher. Her various experiences in world cultures have helped her create an exciting classroom environment that her students appreciate.