Tilly Jagelski: the barefoot-walking, world citizen

Freshman Tilly Jagelski with her homemade cookies in Solberg’s kitchen. Photo by Jessica Ruf.

From the glossy floors in the Humanities building to the jagged concrete in Solberg’s parking lot,  freshman Tilly Jagelski often treads across campus without shoes, regardless of rain or shine.

Of course, her bare feet often draw concerned looks from strangers. And to those who don’t know her, she’s sometimes referred to as “the barefoot girl.”

But to the people who do know her, there’s a whole lot more to Tilly Jagelski than just her eccentric walking habits.

For starters, Jagelski, an elementary education and theatre major, isn’t from any single place. And while she is both a U.K. and a U.S. citizen (her mother and father are from these countries, respectively), she had previoiusly lived in neither country.

Having a father who works for the U.S. embassy, Jagelski can hardly recall the number of countries she has lived in. Counting off of her fingers, she listed Suriname, French Guiana, Guiana, Georgia, Brazil, Zambia, South Africa, Turkey, Ankara, Trinidad and Tobago and now—the United States.

In case you weren’t paying attention, that’s five continents.

“I’ve always felt more of a world citizen than a citizen to a particular place,” Jagelski said, her accent a unique British/American/five-continent hybrid. “When I think of home, I think more of all the general places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.”

She said it was during her childhood abroad that she picked up the habit of regularly walking barefoot.

“It’s not like shoes aren’t a thing overseas,” Jagelski said. “It’s just maybe not as set in stone as it is in America. We would often go out into more rural areas, such as the Amazon where shoes were even less of a thing. So, since everyone else was not doing it, I just didn’t do it.”

When her family moved to Turkey, Jagelski said she continued to go without shoes, despite the strange looks she often received.

“Strangers would come up to me and be like, ‘Are you okay? Do you need shoes?” Jagelski said. “And I’d be like ‘Nope, It’s okay, I’m fine, I’m just barefoot.”

Even when her mother encouraged her to wear shoes (Jagelski emphasized, “my mom does not support this habit”), she said it was difficult to get used to the feeling.

“Being so used to going without shoes, it feels so clunky,” Jagelski said. “They’re like little prisons on your feet.”

Jagelski says she’s developed thick calluses which prevent her from getting injured, even in times when she’s stepped on glass. In fact, she says she’s received more injuries to her feet while wearing shoes.

“I like the feeling and the texture of the ground,” Jagelski said. “There’s something really nice about walking and knowing and feeling each step and making contact with the ground. Every texture has its own place, and it’s nice in that sense. Plus, my feet never stink.”

While some argue that walking barefoot improves foot mechanics, balance and calf strength, it’s hard to find scientific studies supporting these claims. However, given that great thinkers and philosophers—Buddha, Ghandi, Jesus and Mohommed, to name a few—all advocated bare feet, maybe there’s something to it.

But, for Jagleski, it’s not so philosophical.

“I’ve just never been a shoe person,” said Jagelski.

Of course, that’s not to say she never wears shoes. There are exceptions, such as eating in the commons, working on theatre sets and braving days with subzero temperatures.

Used to living in mostly tropical climates, Jagelski has adapted to South Dakota’s weather to the point where she can comfortably go without a jacket during the wintertime.

In response to any stares she might receive, Jagelski mimicked the penguins from the movie Madagascar in true theatrical style, saying her response is to “just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.”

While she’s enjoyed experiences in the U.S., such as grocery trips to Walmart which she describes as, “huge, scary and like Narnia,” she wonders if she will grow anxious to leave by the end of her four years at Augustana.

“It’s really weird because I’m used to moving every couple of years and so the idea of staying here for four years is strange,” Jagelski said.

She said that although it is difficult to leave friends and navigate a new country (often with a new language) every two years, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

“It can be tricky, but at the same time you get to meet so many wonderful, incredibly diverse people,” Jagelski said. “And you get to experience things that some people would give their left arm for.”

Over the course of her lifetime, Jagelski and her five siblings—Hugo, Lulu, Jack, Finn and Oscar— have swam in the Amazon, explored Cappadocia and visited Victoria Falls.

“That was my childhood,” Jagelski said. “And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

But for right now, at least, Augustana is Tilly’s current home, where she has not-surprisingly adapted quite well.

“Tilly is magical,” said her friend Elizabeth Dobbe in the basement of Solberg, as Jagelski slid her made-from-memory cookies into an oven in the nearby kitchen, which she has turned into her own humble, baking haven.

You can frequently find her cooking there—barefoot, of course—preparing meals and picnics for her friends, even providing vegan options for some.

“She is genuinely the nicest person I have ever met,” freshman Sky Nockels said.

With her daily sticker on her right cheek (“purely a fashion choice”), Jagelski slid the cookies onto a tray to cool.

“I figured this is the life I’ve got, so I might as well live it and do what I can to enjoy it,” Jagelski said. “And if that means going around barefoot, then barefoot I shall go.”

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