Finding Humanity Wherever She Goes
March 2020 Issue
by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Photos courtesy of Marie Benson
When Marie was 7 years old, she and her cousins had a lemonade stand. Growing up on Hilton Head, they made a lot of their own old-fashioned fun. But for little Marie, it wasn’t just about earning a few quarters to buy candy; she had bigger stars in her eyes.
“I told my cousins, ‘Let’s go somewhere!’” she recalls. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go but I literally tried to hitchhike. From an early age I always had that impulse. That was my path.”
Now she’s in her early 40s, raising a family and holding down a successful career as a teacher—but she’s not doing it in a cul-de-sac. She’s doing it in Egypt, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and wherever her finger lands on the spinning globe next. She’s thinking about what it means to be a citizen of the world, to see the commonalities of the human experience rather than the dividing lines. She’s raising her kids—who might go to Jordan on holiday, and who’s classmates are from dozens of nations—without limiting cultural boundaries. She’s making good on her lemonade stand dreams.
“Wherever we’ve traveled—Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East—people are so incredibly nice,” says Marie, who currently resides with her family in Cairo. “You realize you don’t need a lot to be happy. People who have so little are willing to give to us who have so much.”
The journey began at age 22 when Marie moved to Hawaii with a coworker. It was her first experience of being a minority, one that helped prepare her for international travel. At age 28 she went backpacking in Guatemala and met her future husband Jaime, a Texas native. Rather than getting on her plane home, Marie went roaming around Central America with him, and they are still roaming together 15 years later. They moved back to Hilton Head and had their daughter Mackenzie, then moved to Texas and had their son Stirling. But after buying a house and spending six months in it, they decided cul-de-sac life wasn’t for them, so they attended an international job fair and landed teaching positions in Bangladesh. They loved it, but after a fatal terrorist attack struck too close to home, they returned to Hilton Head. Within months the kids were begging to go abroad again.
“One of the biggest things when we come home is people asking if we’re safe,” says Marie, who has lived in two Muslim countries and tries to respect cultural norms, even as she finds people to be extremely friendly and helpful. “We actually feel less safe in the U.S. with all the shootings going on than we do overseas. Places like Egypt don’t usually get positive press; you only hear about it if something tragic or shocking happens. But if the U.S. were given that kind of coverage people would have the same impression of it.”
The attack in Bangladesh remains the only negative experience she’s ever had. Rather than dampening her cosmopolitan spirit, it’s far outweighed by the joy in seeing her children and students think outside the box about what their legacy will be, the stamp they will leave on this world. They consider themselves global citizens just like she does.
Careers: Marie teaches middle school language arts, Jaime teaches design technology
Nat Geo moment: Riding elephants in Bali on Christmas
Memories she’s proud to have given her children: Stirling surfing in Sri Lanka, Mackenzie learning to swim in a lake inside a volcano in Nicaragua
Up next: 35 days hiking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route in France
What she misses from Hilton Head: Eating at Santa Fe Café, Wild Wings and Bullies BBQ
How she stays close with friends and family: By coming home to HHI and TX every six months and being completely present with no other distractions
Biggest lesson from their travels, as put by Jaime: “Recognition that in all the different cultures we’ve been in, people are essentially the same. They want the same things and are mostly good. The world is not always as scary a place as people make it out to be.”