Zack Devlin-Foltz

By Reilly Pruitt

By now you must recognize the name that has been making headlines across campus. As one of Macalester’s recipients of the Watson fellowship, Zack Devlin-Folds is a man with a plan. We sat down with him to discuss international trash talk, why he wants to serve our country, and why he will always have a seat at the baseball table. MW: Tell us a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

ZDF: I was born in Brooklyn, but only lived there for two years then my family moved to Zimbabwe. My parents were directing an exchange program for American kids. We moved to Maryland and have lived there since I was 5 – that’s where I really grew up. But I first learned how to play baseball while living in Zimbabwe, which was funny because they had never really seen it there.

What made you choose Macalester?

Well, my parents had Macalester students that they really liked in their program, and they encouraged me to apply. I came to visit and liked it a lot. That’s how I wound up here.

Did you always know you wanted to major in Economics?

No, not at all, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I showed up. I was interested in everything – that’s because I am a dork. I took an econ class second semester of freshman year with two of my good friends. They decided to take another econ class the next semester, so I decided that I might as well. I ended up liking both of the classes and figured why not be a major? I really liked most of the professors, and the classes – like I said, I’m a dork.

You mentioned you are big baseball fan. Did you play at Macalester?

Yeah, I played baseball for the first three years at Macalester – I still sit at the baseball table at lunch. It’s a for better or for worse kind of thing. In short I wasn’t good enough, and sort of got cut. But I still love all of those guys – they’re my best friends. I live in what was formerly named “The Baseball House.” We still call it that even though there is only one guy who plays there. It’s just to piss off our girl roommates. The team is really closely knit and likes to party a lot. I really think it has calmed down since I have been here.

How have you spent your summers since being in college?

I’ve never stayed around here – I’ve always gone somewhere. The last two summers I was in Cairo trying to learn Arabic. The first time I enrolled in a school that helped me find an apartment. The second summer I knew people who were there and they helped me get settled. This summer I had an internship with an environmental education firm who were working to get more sustanibility information into the Egyptian schools.

What made you want to learn Arabic?

Arabic is a really difficult language and I want to see if I could learn it. I’m not fluent, but I’m conversational in Egyptian Arabic – the dialects are really different, and I can’t talk with people who speak other dialects of Arabic. I’d really like to go back there. I have good friends there and I’d love to work in the region – I like Egyptians.

Do you speak any other languages?

I speak Spanish pretty well. I spoke that growing up. I applied to the Peace Corps and they wanted me to learn French, so I got the basics of that, too. It’s really fun to learn different languages. I really like being able to surprise people by speaking their language when I’m in another country.

Tell us about your big senior project.

I’m doing an honors thesis in political science about the failure of the state and its relation to Islamic extremism. So everyone knows how Afghanistan failed as a state, and Al Qaeda gained strength and rose from there. It’s what I am really interested in. I think that my econ classes have definitely come into this project as well. The two majors have worked really well together for me, and really reinforce each other. I have had a lot of my classes planned out for me ahead of me, and I do worry that I haven’t branched out enough academically. I haven’t taken enough science and stuff.

What prompted you to apply for the Watson?

I was just looking at different options for next year, and I think my dad mentioned the idea to me. It’s basically this wacky scholarship that allows you to explore what you enjoy. I decided to base my proposal on what I have liked the most in recent years: sports and learning languages. So I came up with this idea involving sports language and sports slang. Basically it’s centered on the various trash talking in different countries. The Watson committee here suggested that I do it in Spanish since I can speak in fluently.

So where exactly are you going?

It’s supposed to start in August, but I will already be down in Panama for the summer doing some volunteer work. The first Watson country will be Paraguay. I guess I will work it out as I go. I’m planning on getting in touch with some athletic organizations with each country. I really just want to be around sports, whether that being through coaching kids’ teams or watching sporting events and just listening to the sports talks. The Watson is a pretty crazy thing, they decide they like you and your project and then they just give you the money to go do it. So I will be in Paraguay, Venezuela, Argentina, and Puerto Rico. My best friend from home is from Paraguay, and I have always wanted to go there. Plus he can come visit me there. They also have really good soccer there. I chose Venezuela because I think it will be fascinating to be an American there right now and they have a really strong baseball vase. Argentina is obviously a soccer powerhouse, and one of my roommates will be living there next year as well. They wouldn’t let me go to Dominican Republic because it has a similar Caribbean feel. I wanted to go to Cuba but obviously couldn’t because of the embargo.

Have you experienced any anxiety about leaving Macalester and the country for so long?

I have felt a little bit, but not too much. That’s how I am about things. I get really excited about it and maybe second-guess myself later.

Do you have any plans post Watson?

For now I am planning on joining the military. It will be either be the army or the marines, with marines being my first choice if I can cut it physically. I want to serve. I think it’s a form of service that’s vastly overlooked at places like Macalester. It’s not fair that the entire burden gets carried by people unlike us. So I could either say something about it or do something about it.

Has the current situation in Iraq influenced your decision at all?

I would be lying if I said it didn’t. I think we need a military, and if people only volunteered when they were 100 percent sure of the current mission then we wouldn’t have one. If I were ordered to go there, I would go and use my morals to the best of my ability. I obviously can’t univade Iraq. I think regardless of what I think about the war there are important decisions being made on a daily basis. If I’m not the only helping make those decisions that I can’t ensure they are being done the way I want them to.

Do you have a specific favorite memory that you will take from Macalester?

It’s really hard to choose one. The baseball team has been very important to my experience here. Starting with beginning my time here with a ready-made group of friends. I guess my best memory would be just sitting at the table listening to ridiculous jokes throughout lunch. I think that cohesiveness in general is really important and I have really appreciated getting to know the freshmen this year.