Never Stop Traveling

By Katherine Jamieson

Oscar Baez '08

When Oscar Báez chose to come to Amherst, his parents weren’t happy. “They thought going to Western Mass. was going very far,” says Báez, whose family lives in Boston. Little did they know that their son would soon be studying and working around the world.  

Báez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and became an American citizen while in college, told Amherst magazine in 2008 that a life goal was “to never stop traveling.” After studying Latin, Chinese, Italian, Arabic and Portuguese, he won a Watson Fellowship to study language policy in five countries. In places as disparate as Turkey and South Africa, he interviewed sociolinguists, NGO workers and government officials about their efforts to preserve languages that are in declining use or in danger of becoming extinct.

He was visiting family in the Dominican Republic when the January 2010 earthquake struck nearby Haiti. He connected with a friend at the Clinton Foundation, which was looking for Spanish-speaking volunteers to help run emergency operations. “It was the hardest I’ve worked,” Báez says. “The most was at stake; it wasn’t just research. If I didn’t get the truck there and the gas, then people wouldn’t have water.”

While doing earthquake relief, Báez also applied and was admitted to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His parents are happy to have him back in the Boston area, but he won’t be there for long: A State Department fellowship requires that he work as a U.S. Foreign Service officer for at least three years—a “dream job,” Báez says, as he’ll be paid to learn languages and follow political changes. He doesn’t know what he’ll do long-term, but his goal hasn’t changed since graduation. “I’d like to go back,” he says, “to all the countries I’ve gone to.”

Photo by Rob Mattson