Cesar Parreno

For this March edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement spoke to César Parreño.  César is a first year vocalist from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Read on to learn about César’s quick stint in business school, his experience coming to the US, and his true love, Sasha, his dog.


César and Sasha

Can you share with us the first time you were involved in the vocal arts?

I’ve always enjoyed singing, ever since I was a kid; [I] didn’t know that singing would end up being my profession. My mom tells a story that [she] once saw a 1-year-old toddler (me) singing and dancing to a music video on TV. My mom interpreted those mumblings, and probably not so pretty sounds, as singing and since then she knew I liked [music]. At around 10 she signed me up [for] a music school back home, and there I had my first lessons. I stopped around 2 years later.

Why did you stop?

I quit for a while after a horrible performance. I always kept singing in my high school’s band. We performed in events throughout the year, but it was always pop, rock, or Latin music, not classical at all. Then high school ended and I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life, so by default I started business school back home. Because it was really close by, I started taking lessons with my teacher back home, Beatriz Parra. There, I started taking lessons and almost immediately joined their choir. Eventually, music started [to steal] me away. In Ecuador classical arts [don’t] have the space they deserve. It is very difficult to have a career as an opera singer when the classical environment is so [limited]. Saying that it is challenging and against the norm is an understatement. Years passed and I realized I didn’t enjoy business. I was only taking the liberal arts courses and avoiding the business core. I allowed myself to accept the fact that I could indeed have a chance in studying classical singing and [make] it my profession. I have to admit, the choir and the environment of artists I spent time with was one of the most determining factors in my decision.

I  always wanted to study abroad. I have to confess I didn’t know about conservatories and music schools in the U.S., I heard of Juilliard before, so I went online and googled: “Best music schools/conservatories in the US” browsed around 3 lists, picked and researched my 4 favorites, [then] applied. Just like that. I didn’t know about any specific teacher I wanted to study with; I didn’t know anyone from there; I just did it. Talk about crazy things, right?

Can you tell us your relationship with music and the arts as you were growing up?

While growing up and during high school I thought of music as a hobby. I never really thought about it as a career until I actually dropped business school. I didn’t really have a person to look up to. I am the first professional musician in my family, too. My parents don’t really listen to classical music at all. I was never exposed to a real artistic community. This is why the choir was so important to me. It gave me a little taste of the musician community. Culturally, being a musician is not a “regular” career choice, thankfully my parents saw my potential, and have been supporting me every step of the way.

Do you mind sharing any information about your family and pets?


Cesar and his family

Of course, I don’t! I am the elder of two brothers. My younger brother’s name is Sergio. He is currently in high school and not worried with the “What will I do with my life?!” dilemma yet. My dad’s name is Patricio (actually César Patricio, but lets not talk about that) he works in an insurance company. Funny thing, he loves soccer and almost all sports, while I don’t. We both enjoy action TV shows though! And last but not least, my mom, Katia. She is a dentist. She has her own office and we talk A LOT. It’s our favorite hobby. She is also a really musical person! She enjoys music and always wanted to learn how to play piano. Her dad, Pablo, is also a singer at heart. You can always hear him sing around his house, and even recorded a CD with two guitar accompaniment! I guess I got the love of music from my mom’s side!

I have a cat named Juana; she is not that friendly. She will sometimes just run to you and bite you. But we love her anyway. However, the real star of the show is my Pekingese dog, Sasha. She is the best dog ever, period. She is super calm and really enjoys human company. She would follow me around everywhere and would let anyone pick her up for a long time (as long as you pet her). She is also a terrific hunter. Just wanted to let you know. Don’t be jealous.

You’ve had many performances already in your career, do you have any favorites? Or any that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Of course, 3 come to mind.

The first one is a really big performance celebrating the city’s (Guayaquil) anniversary in which I was hired to sing one of the main roles. It was also the inauguration of a giant statue in the middle of the city. This giant even had a full orchestra and was live-streamed on TV and social media! It was a huge thing! I’m so happy I was a part of it!

The second one is when the choir I was in (in spirit I still am) went to Peru to an international choir festival. We had so much fun traveling and going to Machu Pichu and gasping for breath at 11,152 feet over ocean level! It was an unforgettable experienced singing with my friends and traveling to do music outside Ecuador!

And the last one is the one I hold dearest to my heart. It was during the final performance of the classical singing international festival organized by my teacher, Beatriz Parra. This was the last performance I had before moving to the states to start my studies [at] Juilliard. As you can imagine, emotions were high. My final song was “No puede ser”, [a heavily emotional piece] by Pablo Sorozábal.  At the end I hit that long, final A. I see my friends and family’s faces, smiling, clapping, cheering. And I lost it. I tried bowing with a smile, but my face started trembling. I started crying. I resumed full crying backstage. It was not as much happiness that I was leaving, it was more of a sense of accomplishment, closure if you may. That will be one of my most treasured memories. Because it had all that was important to me; music, friends and family, all in one place, all in one moment.

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You currently are an active participant on campus and in the residence hall. Which events have been your favorite so far this school year?

Oh so many to pick from. I have to admit I enjoy all diversity dialogues. I’m always surfing through science videos in youtube, and diversity dialogues are like those but interactive and with people! In the residence hall I loved geek movie night with people from the Geek Coalition! We watched Galaxy Quest and I loved every minute of it! Another one of my favorites was Breakfast and Cartoons. Had two of my favorite things: cereal and cartoons. What else could I ask for?

Your hometown is Portoviejo, even though your family lives in Guayaquil. Can you explain your relationships with both places? Are there any cultural differences?

It’s funny because I always say I’m from Manabi, Portoviejo. Even though I used to live in Guayaquil since I was 2/3 years old. I wouldn’t say there is much of a cultural difference though. A good thing that comes from being from two different places its that you get to travel during Holidays!2017-06-09 21.35.07-1

Ecuador has experienced many challenges recently politically, and environmentally. Can you explain what this is like?

Sadly, 2 years ago my hometown was devastated by an earthquake. A lot of people around the upper west coast lost their lives. This made the economy more challenging than it was for me and my family, given that we had to help family that lost their homes back in Portoviejo. Things are looking much better now. One day, Portoviejo will be back better than ever.

Can you compare life in NYC to Guayaquil?

I’ve always lived in a big city, so its not that different. Funny thing, for me the transition from Guayaquil to NYC was not that harsh (if at all) it just felt like: “Welp, I’m here. Let’s get to business.” I also never felt quite like home in Guayaquil, I was always lacking something, and I think I’m still looking for it.

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As you’ve shared before, Ecuador does not have as developed of an opera culture as other countries. How was the transition (musically) from Ecuador to Juilliard?

It was overwhelming. I came from a place where we did a couple of opera scene shows, but nothing too big. I am not that familiar with the classical music world yet. Coming to Juilliard showed me how much more music there was to listen to and how many stories were told through music. It was a humbling, exciting, and overwhelming sensation. I also didn’t have any music theory or ear training back home.

Although opera is not a tradition in Ecuador, what are the other musical or art-related traditions?

Being from the city I’m afraid I am not that familiar with more rural traditions of Ecuador. However in Ecuador the Pasillo is a very popular song genre. I’m also very fond of it because It was in a Pasillo competition when I first won a singing competition! I remember making the artistic decision of ending the song knelling in the stage for dramatic effect. My young self knew that I was supposed to be a singer, I don’t know why I didn’t listen to 12 hear old me!

2017-08-04 20.54.36Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 25?!

I really have no idea. I don’t even know how the classical music world works yet. I do know I want to make my family and my country proud. Although, I do know I want to travel and sing all around the world. Hopefully one day *crosses fingers*.

Is there anything else you would like to use this space to share?

I just want to let everybody who loves music [know] that they should never discard music as an option for a career. It is never too late to start singing. You never know what might happen and people who know about music might see something inside you that you don’t know is there yet. Always give yourself a chance.






Thapelo Masita

For the Office of International Advisement’s February Eye-on-Culture, Thapelo Masita was interviewed. Thapelo is a first year graduate student studying cello from Blomfontein, South Africa. Read on to learn about his experiences touring with KZN Philharmonic, studying in the United States,  and his brief stint as a violinist.


According to my sources, you started playing cello when you were 12. What were your musical experiences previous to the cello?

Before cello, I played violin for about a year. I switched to cello because I still sounded horrible on violin after a year. My friends were getting better than me on violin so, I went to the director of our program and asked to start cello. He agreed and when I got home, I told my parents that I had graduated from the small one to the big one. Being non-musicians they were proud and surprised.

How do your parents feel about your pursuit of music?

Both my mother and father were very supportive from the beginning, they both love music. In fact my mother used to be the choir conductor for many years.

You’ve studied music at various institutions, such as, Interlochen, and Eastman before coming to Juilliard. How have these experiences shaped your current studies?

I don’t think I would have been able to survive Juilliard’s intensity had I not had these two prior experiences. Interlochen was a safe place in the middle of the woods where I had independence but still a lot of guidance. Eastman is really where I did most of my growing and made friends for life. Having been at these schools, I have developed personally and I just know more people. As a result, living in a big city like New York doesn’t feel so alienating because I have had 5 years to make friends, many of whom have ended up in New York.

You’ve played with a multitude of orchestras in the United States, and in South Africa. Can you tell us more about these different experiences and how they have influenced your current work?

I was fortunate enough to get my first real professional orchestra gig right after Interlochen. I went on tour with the KZN Philharmonic one of the top orchestras on the African continent. We toured France for two weeks to celebrate Nelson Mandela. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had and also eye opening. This tour taught me what it really means to be prepared in the professional world. I take that lesson with me everywhere I go. I was also principal cellist of the Bochabela String Orchestra which was the main training ground for me in terms of playing in a section and leading. BSO is the flagship ensemble of the Mangaung String Project, an outreach project in Bloemfontein, South Africa which teaches classical music to children from previously disadvantaged communities.


Can you tell me more about the Mangaung String Project? How did you first get involved?

The Mangaung String Project started in the 90’s in Bloemfontein after the American bassist Peter Guy, who had recently moved there realized that children in South African townships had no access to classical music. So he decided to start teaching a group of 5 students at Bochabela Primary School in Bloemfontein. Today the program has over 500 students in several cities near Bloemfontein.

I was first introduced to the program when I was 11. They came to my primary school to give an outreach concert and offer lessons to students who were interested. Many children applied to study.  It was fun. We all had to start on violin but after a few months I switched to cello because it was big and I had become tired of the violin sound.

You speak SIX languages! Have you have ever experienced a linguistic mix-up?

The differences between Sesotho and Setswana can sometimes be tricky to navigate but other than that, no. Although the six languages is a little unusual, most people in South Africa speak at least three languages proficiently by the end of high school.

Can you tell us what your favorite place is in your hometown? Why is it your favorite?

I have too many to speak of in this instance, but I can tell you that a place I go to most often,  is the music school where our program is based. It has been my home since I was 11 when I started violin. I spent all my afternoons and Saturdays there until I moved to America. Some of the most vivid memories in my life were made there. I also love the chaos at the school there children playing everywhere, teachers trying to get them to practice and just a general joy about the place. I really love it.


What are some cultural differences you’ve noticed from South Africa, the United States, and other places you have traveled to? How has the adjustment to these cultural differences been? Do you have a story of a funny cultural misunderstanding?

So many.  But perhaps the most surprising [difference] when I first arrived in the US and [actually] in my travels to Europe, is how people relate to one another in the western countries. In South Africa, people are so much more open and speak to and empathise with one another so much more easily I find. We call this the principal of Ubuntu. It is difficult to translate this but it essentially means humanity; an understanding that we are because our neighbour is. Adjusting has been fine for me thus far.

What is the biggest misconception about South Africa that you’ve experienced?

In America, people think all South Africans speak either Afrikaans or Zulu. This could be for a multitude of reasons but South Africa has 11 official languages all which are distinct and independent. These languages have their own rich  histories and literature that is specific to each tribe which the language originates from.

For those of us who know less about South Africa, can you give us a little more information about the people and cultures of South Africa? Or, do you know where we should start our own research?

Well, where to start with this… South Africa has 11 official languages. Nine of these languages are these tribal languages, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, I s’Xhosa, I siZulu, Venda, Ndebele, Swati and Tsonga. The other two are English and Afrikaans which came to our people through colonization, English from the Brits and Afrikaans because of the Dutch.

There is a saying in Sesotho which says, “Motho ke motho ka batho.” This roughly translate[s] to, “a person is a person because of other people.” I believe this saying exists in all the languages of the South African tribes. This idea is central to our beliefs and South Africans are more compassionate and open as a result. We are by no means perfect, but every foreigner I have met seemst to feel the same way about South African people of all races and cultures.

Thapelo Family

You’ve traveled pretty extensively, where is one place that you not had the opportunity to visit yet, and would like to go to, and why?

This changes throughout the year for me but recently I have made a few  wonderful friends from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Colombia. They have told me fascinating stories about their cultures, food and abundant nature in their countries. I would love to go and experience it myself.

Thapelo8Now that you’ve studied in the United States for over 5 years, what advice would you give to a student who wants to study away from home for the first time?

Try your best to have an open mind at all times. Living overseas, one meets people who have had lives so different from one’s own that it can be difficult to relate to people. Don’t be deterred by that, it should make you want to learn more about the many different ways people have found to deal with this thing we call life.

According to Instagram, you’ve spent time with some very interesting peoThapelo6ple. Do you have any favorites?  

I might sound like a bore but, that will always be my beloved mother. She was the queen and I miss her always.

If you could have any professional job at Juilliard (President, admissions, working in the international student office), which would it be?

I love the idea of leading a school and helping to create the best possible environment for students to learn. So I would say President but I also really want to play in the Juilliard quartet so I guess I’ll have to say those two jobs.

Do you have any hidden talents that you would like to share?

I sang a lot when I was with the Bochabela String Orchestra. It was fun, I still enjoy singing.



Hannah Thomas

For the first Eye On Culture of 2018, OIA student worker and Juilliard international student, Jonathan (Jonty) Slade, interviewed Hannah Thomas.  With his signature wit, Jonty’s interview gives readers some insight into the newest member of the Office of International Advisement. In addition to working with Meg and Cory as the International Advisement and Diversity Initiatives Assistant, Hannah Thomas is a first year graduate student at NYU in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program. Read on to learn more about her undergraduate experience in Ohio, her time teaching and living in China, unique role at Juilliard, and how she assists Meg and Cory in supporting international students at Juilliard.

H Thomas Beijing

What made you want to come and work for the International Office? Were you more motivated by the fame or the glamour?


MU ISO Formal with Zelda

I know this may shock you Jonty, but I’m in it for both! During my undergrad, I studied East Asian Languages and Cultures, International Studies, and French. I was able to partake in many activities that involved international students, such as, NationaliTEA, Global Buddies, and Chinese and French language tables. As a Resident Assistant, I worked in the French language and culture, Chinese language and culture, and eventually the Global connections living learning communities; this means that I was working with students who had an interest in the subject, and that I planned programming and activities that included those topics. I soon found that my main major, International Studies, focused on creating foreign policy that revolved on United States interests.  Although, I believe I am patriotic, I also felt that I was not able to learn more about other cultures and perspectives.  Working in International Student Services satisfies my need to interact and promote amazing international students (such as yourself) and still assist Cory and Meg in making sure Juilliard remains in compliance with US immigration law.

H Thomas and Association for Latin and American Students USHLI Trip

At the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) with Miami University’s Association for American and Latin Students (ALAS).

What exactly is it that you do?   

I’m the International Advisement and Diversity Initiatives Assistant. Basically, that’s a super fancy title that just means I’m here to learn how to best advise international students on immigration and school policies, as well as make sure the Diversity Initiatives of our office are carried out. I’m learning to answer questions that students have in order to make their studies in the US go as smoothly as possible.

I also work with the Diversity Advocates to create programming that spreads awareness, educates others, and builds spaces where members of the Juilliard community can best learn. I really enjoy my job because I’m constantly learning. I feel that the Diversity Advocates teach me so much, and that I just make sure they have the support they need to put on great programming, and programming for Foundations credit. If you’re interested in becoming a Diversity Advocate, student leadership selection is coming up, so you can even apply to join our team. You could work with me!!!

How do you balance being a student at NYU with the high-octane thrills of the Office of International Advisement at Juilliard?

H Thomas Chinese Teachers Training Program

At a Chinese Teacher Training Program

An excess of caffeine. I am a graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program at NYU in the Steinhardt School of Education. This major is different from teaching, but I feel like I’m still somewhat of an educator. Most student affairs professionals study this for their MA to learn more about student development, diversity theory, and the administrative structure of college campuses. Check out the professional staff in the Office of Residence Life, Office of Student Affairs, and the Office of International Advisement, and you’ll find most of us have studied, are studying, or are applying to Higher Education and Student Affairs programs.

Something that is always disorienting is the culture shift from Juilliard to NYU. Although I always transition with a cup of coffee, the change from the Upper West Side to the Village is extreme. I also must change from work mode to study mode. But, most of what I learn can apply to my responsibilities here, and my work at Juilliard can be useful for informing class discussion. Therefore, it isn’t too much of a change.

H Thomas Ash Cave

Ash Cave in Hocking Hills

How does living and working in New York compare with where you grew up?

I miss trees and being able to be by myself outside. I’ve lived in other big cities before, Beijing, and Guangzhou, and I missed the outdoors then as well. Canton, Ohio isn’t really an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, but I get homesick for the sound of the breeze in the trees. BUT, NYC has so much to offer. I was always searching for events and free things in my hometown, such as our First Fridays in Downtown Canton or Olde Canal Days, but there was not as much available as there is here. (Here’s a list of museums with free admission). Additionally, Beijing, Guangzhou, and NYC are exciting and diverse places to eat. (I was told to only mention my obsession with food once.) But, there are so many people from different places here, I know I’ll always be able to go to Xi’An Famous Food when I miss a taste of Northern China, and that there are plenty of great Dim Sum places. There’s still many places in NYC I would like to explore, so stop by the OIA for some suggestions, or let me know of any adventures you’ve had!

H Thomas Candied Hawthorne

Candied Hawthorne in Beijing

If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?

Ohio has many wonderful places to adventure. Cleveland has a world-class art museum (it’s free too!). The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra are exciting. It’s more of a drive, but I would highly recommend Hocking Hills. My grandmother was from southeast Ohio, so I was able to visit the area frequently. It’s different from the “cornfields” that often represent the Midwest. If you’re ever heading to Ohio, please let me know! I’d love to show you around or suggest some places to go. I also love making itineraries, so would definitely enjoy telling you where to explore based on your interests!

H Thomas Hocking Hills

Hannah at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills

Four cats seems rather a lot. How did you end up with so many? Any plans to expand the collection?

H Thomas and Grita

Hannah with Grita (Cat 1 of 4)

My brother was fixing the plumbing in our bathroom. He left the plumbing access open, and a pregnant cat snuck into our garage, then into the access. It took my parents a while to believe my brother when he proclaimed, “There’s a cat in the wall!” But, the constant meowing underneath the bathtub helped convince them. We tried to give the kittens away, but they were all so cute and well-behaved! Although they have destroyed the furniture, and think they own the house, Piper, Chukma, Grita, and Chatcrie are extremely loving. I would love to take care of them, but they keep my retired father company at home. I also don’t know if I’d be able to find another cat as sweet as them! When you come to visit Ohio, you can stop by for coffee and meet the kittens as well.

You spent a year working in China. How did that come about and what did you take away from the experience?  

H Thomas Teaching at Sun Yat Sen University

Teaching at SYSU

This experience only made me want to work in an international student office more. Some of my students were preparing for the TOEFL and IELTS to study abroad. I was able to cater class to help them prepare to transition to their respective universities.

When I graduated from Miami University, I had already studied abroad in China twice. At that point, I had studied Mandarin for 5 years, and really appreciated Chinese culture(s). My Chinese teachers told me at a language table that there was an opportunity to teach classes at Sun Yat-Sen University. A friend of mine, who now teaches Mandarin and Chinese culture, insisted I apply with her. In addition to teaching English to some fantastic students, I was also able to take more advanced Mandarin classes, study Cantonese, and have private Mandarin and Cantonese tutoring.

Is working with Meg and Cory great, or is it in fact awesome?

I would say neither. To work with Meg and Cory is inspiring. They are really good at what they do. I’m always impressed at how efficient and knowledgeable Meg is, and at Cory’s commitment and ingenuity in integrating diversity initiatives on our campus. They make sure the office runs so smoothly, and that we have such great programs and events! It’s thanks to Cory and Meg that we have Diversity Dialogues, the Diversity Symposium, Safe Zone, International Education Week, and other great programs. We have a large international population for such a small school, yet 2 people do most of the work to make sure our international students are successful! 

What do you enjoy most about working with international students?

H Thomas Study Abroad in Costa Rica

Study Away trip to Costa Rica and Panama

In general, I love watching students grow. This was one of my favorite things as a teacher. But having studied, lived, and traveled abroad, I can understand how difficult it is to experience a culture different from one’s own. At first it’s exciting, and then it becomes exhausting. When you become homesick, it’s extremely difficult to manage; you can feel extremely isolated and lonely. Many domestic students also feel culture shock when they start college, but I believe it is more extreme for international students, and there is more at stake. Therefore, I find it very rewarding to work with this specific student population.

What interests you artistically?

Clarinet used to be a huge part of my life. I was in marching band, symphonic band, and participated in the Canton Youth Orchestra. So, whenever I hear a good clarinet solo, I get chills! But, I’m not even sure if I can play a note anymore. I miss the excitement I would get from performances. The thing I find exciting about the performing arts, and art in general, is that it comes from somewhere. Sometimes we may question artistic decisions, but at other times, we can so deeply feel what is being portrayed. Granted this does not always happen, but when it does? Wow!

Where do you see this experience taking you professionally?

H Thomas in Henan

Henan, China

I hope to continue to work with international students in the future. When I graduate next year, I’ll look for jobs working in international student services. The best part about this field, is there are so many opportunities, things to learn, and career paths. I’d love to be the director of an international student office, or even direct a program abroad one day. I don’t ever want whatever I’m doing to be “enough;” I wish to continue to push myself to reflect, and do whatever work I’m doing better. 


What advice would you give a new international student feeling overwhelmed by student life in New York?

Come to the Office of International Advisement, talk to your Resident Assistant, or stop by the Office of Student Affairs! When you’re overwhelmed, there isn’t always an easy solution, but stopping by our office, or another student affairs related office, can help us make sure you’re connected to resources. Juilliard has free health and counseling services for its students. I also know that sometimes students are too busy to change things that matter to them, or feel that they don’t have a voice- but you do! The OIA, ORL, and OSA are places to start to make sure students have the support they need.  And, GET INVOLVED, attend events! You can download the Juilliard Student Life App to find out activities that are happening, look at the events calendar, or just read the fliers you see. It’s not easy being an international student, but there are people here at Juilliard to help!

H Thomas Completing Research with Miao Village Host Family

Completing field research on Chinese minority cultures with the Miao People in Guizhou, China.




Regina De Vera

This December the Office of International Advisement interviewed Regina De Vera for the Eye on Culture blog. Regina is a third year graduate student in the Drama Division from the Philippines. Continue on to read Regina’s career in the Philippines, her experiences as an actress at Juilliard, and her reflections as an international student and a woman of color in the United States.

Photo 2 Regina De Vera Head shot photo by Gregory Costanzo

Photo by Gregory Costanzo

Can you tell us about your first experience with acting and musicals? 

I initially wanted to become a film actress because [of] watching Hollywood actresses in their beautiful gowns during awarding ceremonies. However, my entry point into the world of acting were mainly musicals, because that was what my high school drama club did a lot of. My earliest phases in my artistic journey consisted of an obsession with American Broadway musicals until I got bored trying to copy artistic choices from another culture and realized I wanted a process wherein I can actually create a character using my Self. That is why I transitioned into straight plays and Filipino translations/adaptations of Western work (mostly by playwrights like Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Brecht, etc.).

Photo 13 Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino's San Andres B The Opera_Photo by Kamole Orense

Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino’s San Andres B The Opera, Photo by Kamole Orense

According to our sources, you were originally participated in a summer musical theater program in the Philippines, what prompted you to apply to this program?  

You might be referring to the workshops I’ve attended from this theater company in Manila called “Repertory Philippines.” This company specializes in bringing American Broadway Musicals to the Manila Theater industry. Around 2004-2006, which was when I was in high school and stepped in[to] my “musical phase,” I decided to apply to this company’s summer workshops, because it was around that time that I dreamed to be on Broadway like Lea Salonga (the first Filipino to win a Best Actress Tony Award for Miss Saigon).

Earlier you mentioned how you moved away from American musicals because you wanted to develop more of yourself, how do you feel about the integration of American theatre culture in the Philippines?

Photo 8 Regina De Vera as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines' Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Musical (Photo by Reg Aquitana)_1

Regina as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines’ Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Muscial, Photo by Reg Aquitana

American Theatre Culture has been a part of our history even before American Broadway Musicals became popular in the Philippines. We had sarsuwelas (our local version of the Spanish opera zarzuelas) that depicted our rebellion from American colonizers. We also had straight plays that were subversive against American colonizers but it was concealed in images so that the American forces will not put our theater practitioners in jail or censure the performances. All of these even before American Broadway Musicals became popular. American Broadway Musicals are still popular in the Philippines to this day. I am not against integration and I do not inhibit it. There is a plurality of choices in local Philippine theater for our audiences. As an individual artist, however, it was important to me to learn to eventually make something my own. I was not content to watch a dvd of a musical and copy all the artistic choices that the original cast made. I was not interested in that kind of training or process. I want to understand where something comes from so I can decide how I can process something or upend something.

Before attending Juilliard for your MFA, you had already established a career in the Philippines, why did you decide to continue your education? 

Photo 15 Regina De Vera as The Face of Cinemalaya 2013 and host of Cinemalaya 2013 Awarding Ceremonies (Photo by Reg Aquitana)

Face and host of Cinemalaya

Somewhere in the fourth year of my stint as a member of an acting company based at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I felt I had hit a wall, a plateau or a desert not only in my career and artistic growth but also in my personal life. I realized that I needed a stronger foundation to build the next years of my adult life upon. I knew that I’ve always wanted to pursue graduate degree education in acting as soon as I first met Ana Valdes-Lim – the first Filipino to get into Juilliard Drama. After speaking to a trustworthy counselor, I realized that this period of plateau, of “nothingness” would give me time to get my life together and apply for graduate training in the United States.

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Photo of Regina’s Family

Can you tell us what the theatre culture is like in the Philippines and in your hometown?

Photo 14 Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino's Der Kaufmann (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia)_1 (Photo by Reg Aquitana)

Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino’s Der Kaufman (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia), Photo by Reg Aquitana

There are specific theatre cultures in different parts of Metro Manila depending on where each theater is situated. The theater company I was based on for five years (Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines), was very far from where I lived so I got to lead double lives. As a whole, it’s a very “choose your own adventure” kind of audience. There are Philippine theater companies who specialize in doing American Broadway Musicals, some in specifically English straight plays, some in devised work, some in more social-relevant theater, and the company I worked for did mostly Western work in translation and some socially-relevant and original Filipino work as well. We have a small number of consistent patrons who review shows in their blogs and we have our own industry award-giving body as well.

If you were to take a reader to your hometown with you, what is something that you think they must experience?

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and I wouldn’t necessarily want to take someone to my hometown since it’s a city and can get chaotic. Instead, I would love to take a reader to one of our provinces on a road trip with me because that’s where I can find what I love most about my country: the seas, the underground springs, the view of the mountains, etc.

Photo 15 Regina on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines with friends

Regina and friends on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines

The Philippines is a diverse place. Can you give our readers who do not know very much about this part of Southeast Asia more information about the culture and the atmosphere of the Philippines? And, could you tell us how this has affected your identity?

Photo 3 Regina on a road trip in Pangasinan, Philippines

Regina on a road trip, Pangasinan, Philippines

I cannot speak for the entire Philippines as it is very diverse (each region has its own dialect and culture, natural resources, etc.) but I have lived and navigated my way through predominantly Catholic communities. Religion was a big influence in my upbringing – my family went to church every Sunday and I went to an all-girls Catholic high school and a Jesuit University. It influenced how I thought about love, marriage, and morality, among other things about the human experience. It was theater that allowed me to step back from this way of thinking and expand my perception of humanity. Leaving home to pursue studies in another country and meeting people from different cultures and religions reinforced my perception of the largeness of humanity. I discovered that I did not have to subscribe to the beliefs that might have remained unquestioned had I not liberated myself from just one context or way of living.

Can you suggest a place where curious readers can learn more?

Check out: http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/philippines-best-beaches-and-islands/index.html . 

In your blog, you reflect on what it is to be a person of color in Juilliard’s drama division, could you tell us more about the impact you hope to make in the Juilliard Community? And what diversity looks like to you? 

I feel as if the Drama Division of the Juilliard School is ahead in terms of how it commits to find opportunities for the least heard voices and stories to be heard. The way in which the Drama faculty treats me teaches me how I can treat myself in a more empowering way. I do get frustrated when outside of the Drama Division, people mistake me for a Music Student because there are far more Asian students in the Music Division while there are currently only 4 people of Asian descent in the Drama Division. I do hope that the way I conduct myself outside of the classroom, and in my work after graduating, would expand people’s notions of what a person who looks like me behaves, thinks and stands up for herself and what she wants.

You have used your skills as an actor to do work with UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Can you tell us how you became involved in this work? What this work means to you? And, what impact this work has on your community?

Photo 11 Regina De Vera as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs_World Health Organization project with Tanghalang Pilipino

Regina as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs for World Health Organization’s Project with Tanghalang Pilipino

I became involved with this work primarily because the theater company I worked for teamed up with these organizations in order for us to be able to teach and share our work with communities in the provinces that were heavily affected by typhoon Haiyan, as well as those communities in cities with high rates of HIV cases. This was part of the mission of our theater company to do work that made an impact on Philippine communities. I embraced this work at the beginning but after a while I was doing this work at the expense of the work and the training that I truly wanted for myself. This was one of the reasons why I decided to leave this company after five years and pursue graduate training outside my home country.

What is some advice you would give to future international actors who hope to further their training at Juilliard?

I would steal a quote from actor Aziz Ansari (Master of None, Netflix), “You can do anything white people can do.” If you want to get further training then go ahead and apply to all the drama schools that you want to apply to. We do need more people of color to get into these programs to help reshape the film, TV and theater industry in the years to come.

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The Juilliard School’s Drama Division Group 48 Year 3

From the pieces you have performed during your career so far, is there a favorite? Or, is there a piece you felt really attached to while performing and developing your character?

I don’t have favorites. I try to let go of the work once the duration it has in my life is over so I can allow space to grow and move forward. There were some key marker roles that shaped my career and artistic life. The first one was playing Portia in our adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” which got me my first industry Best Actress Award. The second was playing the female lead superhero in a musical called “Manhid: The Pinoy Superhero Musical” that was based on Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” that gave me my first lead in a musical in one of the biggest theaters in Manila. The rehearsal process for that musical coincided with my auditions for Juilliard so that was quite memorable being that it coincided with another major moment in my journey. It was also the last major production I had in the Philippines before moving to New York City.

If you were to pursue a field other than acting, what would it be? Why?

There is no other field I would like to pursue to be honest. Acting encompasses a significant amount of things that I love about being alive: movement, language, song, breath, the divine, as well as a process that requires curiosity, empathy, the need to expand, and the willingness to not know. No other field combines all of this all at the same time.

Photo 6 Regina new to Juilliard 2015

Regina’s first time at The Juilliard School


Can Wang

For November, the Office of International Advisement engaged with Can Wang, a third year student in the dance program from Jinan, Shandong, China.  Read on to learn more about her love of piano and the arts, her experience as a student leader, and her advice for other international students.

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According to our sources, piano inspired your beginnings in dance. Can you tell us more about how your study of piano and dance have intertwined, and created the performer you are today? 

I started consciously being influenced and attracted by music and dance at the age of 3. I fell in love with the sound of the piano when I heard it in the kindergarten for the first time, and I told my mom that I wanted to learn it (I didn’t know the instrument is called “piano”. My mom figured it out after she went to see the piano in the kindergarten). My parents bought the piano for me when I was 4 years old, and I became the first kid that plays the piano in my neighborhood ( because neither playing instruments nor dance are popular in my neighborhood back then, but now there are more and more kids that are playing instruments and dancing). I was taking dance class in kindergarten too. When the piano and dance started to co-exist in my life, I would improvise dance for the piano music I listened to, and improvise on the piano for the dance I learned. It seemed natural to me to connect them, and they became my best friends.

Playing the piano at a young age not only enhanced my sensitivity for music, but also helped me build my patience, which are a very important skill to have for a dancer. No matter what I do—choreograph, dance or teach, patience and sensitivity for music are always there to allow me to explore deeper into the possibilities, and come up with new ideas.

You’ve have previously performed works by Andrea Miller, Helen Simoneau, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Nacho Duato, Janis Brenner, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Michael Parmenter, and Jose Limon. Did any of these experiences have a strong impact on you? And if so, how?

Those experiences are significant to my study at Julliard. Working with choreographers and studying repertoires broaden my understanding of dance. There are many reasons to dance, and dance works are made from questioning “why we dance”. Choreographers and rehearsal directors come into the studio and share their interests and questions with us, and we start to explore and develop dance works altogether. As we are on stage, the dance works become languages we use to communicate with audience.

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In addition to your pursuit of contemporary dance and ballet, you have skills in Chinese traditional dance. For our readers who are not familiar with this form of dance, could you please tell us more about how it is characterized and the style? How have you worked background in Chinese Traditional dance into your work now?

When I was in China, I’ve studied Tai Chi and Chinese traditional dance. Chinese traditional dance is consisted of Chinese folk dance and Chinese classical dance. There are 6 different types in Chinese folk dance which are symbolic of each geography, climate, daily labor, agriculture and religion. Each type of Chinese folk dance has its own temperament, and a lot of the movements have specific meanings because they are manifestations of their daily life.

Chinese classical dance is a revival of ancient Chinese dance. It was mixed with the gestures and postures of Chinese martial arts and Chinese opera, and it emphasizes the use of the focus and coordination of the movement and breath. Similar to Tai chi, the movements are the result of the flow of the energy which are usually circles in different directions and dimensions.

The influence from Chinese traditional dance is strong and visible when I dance and choreograph. The movement patterns are deeply remembered by my body. As soon as my body moves, it would repeat the patterns naturally and unconsciously.

It seems that you’ve had many years of experience of working with teenage dancers in Beijing, how did you become involved with this educational outreach program? What do you like about this program?

Working with teenage dancers and performing with National Ballet of China for their annual educational outreach program are two separate activities I did in China. When I was studying at the secondary school of Beijing Dance Academy, the National Ballet of China needed young dancers to perform with the company for their outreach program while half of the company was on tour. It was a performance we give in colleges and universities all around China. It included lecture on the history of Ballet and also history of Ballet in China, followed by the performance of excerpts from the Western and Chinese Ballet repertoires in a chronicle order. I loved the idea of bringing ballet into campuses to make it accessible for young audiences.

I began working with young dancers when I was a teenage dancer myself. My dance teacher from my hometown Jinan, has always encouraged me to help dancers who are younger than me. I’ve been going back to my teacher’s studio every summer since I was ten, and the students I’ve helped are now professional dancers studying in the secondary schools and dance academies, and working in ballet companies in China and abroad. This past summer, I created two contemporary dance solos for two 12-year-old male dancers for their school’s competition, and I rehearsed a ballet variation for two 13-year-old female dancers for their school’s showing. I’ve been learning immensely from the young dancers I’ve worked with in China. It helps me to refresh and reorganize the knowledge that has been increased in me throughout training and education from different culture. It gives me opportunities to practice my observation and communication with individual dancers, and it makes me feel grateful for the education I’ve had and also responsible for sharing what I’ve learned to the young dancers.

You were an Orientation Leader this year. What prompted you to apply? What was the best part of the orientation leader experience for you? What would you suggest to students who may like to apply to become OLs next year?


Photo by Matthew Quigley


When I was a freshman, my first impression of Juilliard was from the orientation leaders. I remember how excited and helpful they were, which made me to be an orientation leader since then.

Being an OL is amazing and challenging experience to me. I learned that I have to think about both positions of being a freshman and an OL before making a decision, so that I can really understand them before helping them with their needs. It also offers a time and space for me to discover what my strengths are as a leader and how I can function in the OL community to make the orientation successful.

To the new OLs: to understand what type of leader you are is equally important as being supportive and selfless in the OL community. Make yourself available for helping new students and let them know that you are happy to be here with them.

In addition to being an OL, you are now a colloquium mentor. What are some of the benefits of colloquium? What is something that you learned? What do you like about being a mentor?

Can Friends

Hiking with friends at Hudson Valley.

I think colloquium peer mentor serves a similar goal as the OL, which is to help first-time undergraduate students adjust their new life at Juilliard. What’s unique about being a colloquium peer mentor is that I’m connecting the faculty and new students, like a trail that connects the top and the bottom of a mountain. It’s hard to get to the mountain top while standing on the bottom and vise versa, but it becomes achievable when there’s a trail in between. I like being supportive, and I enjoy being trusted by people. It was necessary to let new students know that I’m here for them when they need me.

If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?


My hometown is Jinan which is the capital city of Shandong Province (Shandong is also the hometown for the philosopher Confucius and the China’s First Lady Ms. Peng). Jinan is also the “city of springs” as there are 72 springs in the city. It is also why Jinan hasn’t had a subway system, because the government wants to protect the springs underneath the ground.

Can Family

Can teaching her grandma how to use an IPad.

In Jinan, you can visit the natural and historical attractions such as Bao Tu Spring, Qian Fo Mountain/Mountain of Thousand Buddha, Da Ming Lake; eat great food on Fu Rong Street; go to see acrobatic performances of Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and Quyi— a performance art consisted of narrative storytelling, staged monologue and dialogue; shopping and going to movie theaters can be a pleasant and overwhelming experience too.

What is a difference that was shocking to you when you first arrived in the US? Where is your favorite place in NYC?

As I was living in Beijing for school for many years, the tall buildings and city-like life style of NYC didn’t surprise me much. The most shocking and confusing things are the intangible things such as relearning people’s body language and facial expression, processing a different language all day long, interpreting people’s humor, trying to remember the names of people, class, food, concepts and objects, learning the rules of different social situations, understanding a different value system, rediscovering who I am in a new place…I’m still learning to understand them while I’m constantly confused by them. At the beginning, I felt overwhelmed by even the simplest things in my life, and it was so hard to catch them up. Since there hasn’t been Chinese dancers at Juilliard, I understood that it’s my responsibility to learn from the base, and to give myself time to catch things up little by little. I’ve been learning and growing immensely from this process, and I know that I’m in a place where it allows me to be patient with myself and make mistakes, so that I can calmly go through confusions and learn from mistakes.

My favorite places:

MOMA, the MET Museum, Angelika Film Center, Chealsea MarketHighline Park, Chinatown, Korean Town


Can Personal

Where do you envision yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

In 5 years: Intensely dancing and performing in the US or Europe in order to be familiar with the operation of a professional dance world.

In 10 years: Keep deepening my discovery as a dancer and performer, get a master degree on dance in the US or Europe, to prepare myself for being a teaching artist.

In 20 years: Keep dancing in the US or Europe, and hopefully I can start teaching in China a few times a year to share what I’ve learned throughout my career.

If you were not a dancer, what do you think you would pursue instead?

When I was 4 years old, my mom asked me: “do you want to be a pianist in the future?” I said “yes of course!” Then my mom asked: “if you want to be a pianist, you will have to work hard to go to Juilliard, so that you will be a wonderful pianist to perform all over the world.” I said “oh yes, I want to go to Juilliard to be the best pianist in the world!”

In this case, I probably would pursue a career as a pianist if I didn’t dance. But I also wanted to be a diplomat when I was in elementary school because I really liked English.


Reflecting on your time here at Juilliard, what is some advice you would give new international students?

Be open to the new world and be patient with yourself.

If you make mistakes, have fun with them! They will be your teachers to guide you to a better place. And don’t forget that there are many people who are happy to help you.

Trust that your identity is your energy source and backup. It makes you become who you are today, and it’s always a reference for you while you are adjusting to a new life.

Learn everything from everywhere and everyone, not only in your class and practice room, because everyone is an artist nowadays. What defines you as an artist is how you live your life and whether you’ve developed your own life style.

Can Personal Collage

Photo credit and collage credit: Paul B. Goode. Drawing: “Jia Yi Bing Ding” by Can Wang.








Kasperi Sarikoski

The Office of International Advisement interviewed Kasperi Sarikoski for the October edition of Eye on Culture. From Helsinki, Finland, Kasperi graduated from Sibelius Academy with his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music. Kasperi began his Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies Fall 2017.  Read on to learn more about Kasperi’s experience playing with Jerry Bergonzi, living in Paris, and his love for coffee.

Kasperi Website Photo

Photo by Teemu Mattsson.

When did you first begin to pursue music? What drew you to jazz?

I began playing the trombone at the age of eight. My dad had been a professional musician and, once I took an interest in the trombone, showed me his collection of jazz records. Also my first teacher was a jazz trombonist, so it was natural for me to pursue playing jazz.

Your Father is a musician too? How has this affected your studies and career? Was there a favorite record for you in his collection?

My father used to be a drummer, but he never intended his children to be musicians. Taking up music my own idea. However, once I started playing the trombone my dad gave me all the help and support he could. He taught me a great deal and I wouldn’t be here without him. I think my favourite record from his collection was Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

You received your Bachelor of Music and Master of Music at the Sibelius Academy. When you reflect on your time there which memories stand out to you?

I remember the first years of study when I was really eager to learn more. I had some good teachers and made a lot of progress. Now that I’ve returned to school after working for a few years, being at Juilliard reminds me of the youthful hunger one has when everything is still so new. I feel like I myself get something from that energy and am inspired to work harder.

What prompted you to continue your studies as an Artist Diploma (AD) student? Could you tell our readers more about this program?

I felt like I wanted a change and some new challenges. Living in New York had been a childhood dream so I thought I’d give it a shot. The Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies program is essentially about working with an ensemble for two years. We write music for the band, get together twice a week and perform both on and off campus. I consider it the ideal way of learning to play music.

During your master studies, you partook in an exchange study at the Paris Conservatory; what prompted you to go to Paris? Could you describe some differences between the Finnish and French cultures?


I had visited the Paris Conservatory before as part of a collaboration with the Sibelius Academy. I really liked the city and as I had studied French at school it seemed like a good idea to apply. I enjoyed my time in Paris. It’s such a beautiful city and there’s a lot happening musically. Concerning cultural differences, I would say the French are more outgoing than the Finnish, at least if you speak the language. They are also more laid-back, which of course has its good and bad sides. But overall I liked the people and felt welcomed over there.


You’ve had many interactions with various famous jazz musicians, including Jerry Bergonzi and Joshua Redman. Do any of these experiences stand out for you?

Yes! I remember being excited about performing with Jerry Bergonzi. He came over to play with a group of Sibelius Academy jazz students in Helsinki and it felt grand being the only horn player next to him on the bandstand. Another highlight was performing the music of Michel Legrand with the UMO Jazz Orchestra in collaboration with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer himself.

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Nuance by Tomas Whitehouse

Can you tell us about your band, Nuance? How did you meet the band members?

Nuance is a five-piece band from Helsinki and the music we play is a blend of jazz, rock and electronic music, composed by myself. I met the lads through the Sibelius Academy and the drummer is my brother Jonatan. We’ve released an album, Essence, and performed a fair amount in Finland.

Your brother, Jonatan is also a member of Nuance? Is he a professional musician as well?  What about your other family members? What do they do?

Yes, Jonatan too is following in his father’s footsteps and plays the drums. We four oldest ones are all musicians/music students while “number five” is doing his military service. My youngest two brothers and my sister are still in school.

If there was one thing you had to share about Finland, what would that be?

It would probably be the sauna, a staple of Finnish culture. We have an old saying: “First build the sauna, then the house.” That’s literally what people did back in the day. Perhaps that explains why there are more saunas than cars in Finland. The way to go is to first build up a sweat in the sauna and then jump into the lake (or the hole in the ice if it’s winter). It feels great and you get a wonderful sensation once you’re out of the water. It’s similar to having a cold shower (which I tend to do here in New York).

When you think of your hometown, what three words come to mind?

Small, sea, cold.

We noticed you came to new student orientation as an AD student even though it was not a requirement. What prompted you to attend? Why would you recommend attending orientation to other AD/DMA students?

I moved into the Residence Hall the day it opened, which gave me time to prepare for school and my new life in New York. As an international student, I thought hearing about various government and school policies twice wouldn’t be a bad idea. I also wanted to attend some of the school events and in general be a part of the buildup to a new year at Juilliard.

During your time before courses, have you been able to explore NYC? Is there anything you would like to do or see in the city or nearby?

Selfie_NYC2 - CopyI’ve done some sightseeing and visited various music venues around the city. I really enjoy jogging alongside the Hudson river! There still are a few things on my to do list. One of them is to attend a baseball game. Until I do I’ll feel like there’s something missing from my American experience.

What is an aspiration that you have unrelated to music?

I used to be an avid soccer fan and would play on a weekly basis. I haven’t kicked a ball yet here in New York, but I hope to do so at some point. I also enjoy cooking and the (meticulous) brewing of coffee.

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Kasperi at the Brooklyn Bridge

Do you have a favorite soccer team? Have you visited any great cafes here in NYC yet? Do you have a recipe, or favorite meal you like to prepare?

My favourite team is Tottenham Hotspur from London. They’re an exciting team and play with style. I’ve been to a few cafes in New York and my favourite one so far is The Smile in Tribeca. I like cooking all sorts of dishes, but something I’ve been more doing lately is pizza. You can get really deep into that but I’ve just scratched the surface.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 20 years?

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Home Grown Produce!

I truly don’t know! I’m just trying to live a day at a time. I hope to keep making music for years to come, but I wouldn’t mind taking up something else later on in life.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to thank my father and mother for their lifelong support. I wouldn’t be here without them. I would also like to thank The Juilliard School, in particular the Jazz Department and the Office of International Advisement. Being a foreigner, I‘ve been surprised by the welcoming atmosphere and support. I hope to be able to give something to the school in return.

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Soccer with Kasperi’s brothers and sister


Sumire Hirotsuru

For the September edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sumire Hirotsuru, a second year graduate student studying violin. Raised in Oita, Japan, Sumire studied at Harvard University before enrolling at Juilliard in the fall of 2016.   Read on to learn more about Sumire’s experience studying at Harvard, performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, creating an education program for Japanese children, and much more!!!


You started your violin studies at the age of three. Do you have a memory of the first time you picked up the violin? 

I don’t remember the time when I picked up the violin, but I still remember when I performed on stage for the first time. I was not so nervous because I was wearing my favorite cute purple dress.

You are currently a member of a Juilliard quartet called The Ansonia and have been the principal violinist for the Juilliard Orchestra. Do you prefer to play with a full orchestra or a chamber group?  In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the two?

I prefer playing with a chamber group because how you listen to/look at each other has more direct effects on the sound delivered to the audience. I love it especially when each musician plays on stage differently from the rehearsal, and entirely changes the way the group plays the same music; that is when we enjoy improvisational elements of music making and direct human interaction that make performances more fun and interesting. An orchestra is also fun to play with, especially with the variety of sounds that so many people on the same stage can create – but I think smaller groups fit me more.


Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia, during their tour in Japan

You have performed with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble on several occasions. What is it like to share a stage with such famous musicians?

Yo-Yo and Silkroad

Sumire with Yo-Yo Ma and Silkroad

It was the experience with the Silk Road Ensemble during my college years that made me continue music after graduating from Harvard. It is not about how famous they are, but it is everyone’s incredibly warm personality and the way they build up performances that appeal the most to me; they are very welcoming, and open to any ideas when we rehearse together. And above all, performances are the most exciting part. Making eye contacts, adjusting to each other’s playing, and sometimes improvising on stage – they have taught me so much on how to listen to each other while playing.

You are also a member of the Video Game Orchestra which sounds like the opposite of the music you play with Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road. Can you tell our readers a little about?

Tring out pipa

Trying out pipa

As a member of the VGO, I have recorded official video game soundtracks including Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts, and performed video game tunes in several game/anime conventions in the states. First of all, those are very fun music to play because of the nature of video game music, and second of all, joining recording sessions has been a great experience for me because you basically have to learn on the first run-through and then play perfectly on the second run-through when we have hundreds of tracks to finish recording. In addition, performing for completely different audience members reminds me of the importance to reach out to non-classical music listeners. What VGO does sounds very different from what Juilliard students do, but I really learn a lot from them.

 Before attending Juilliard, you studied Music and Global Health and Health Policy (GHHP) at Harvard University. What drew you to this secondary major? Why did you decide to study music at the graduate level rather than pursue global health?

As explained above, playing with the Silk Road Ensemble was definitely a life-changing experience that dragged me into the music world after graduation, even though I wasn’t expecting myself to continue music before. Before I played with them, I was studying Applied Math and Sociology which were very different fields. But then I switched to Music and GHHP initially because I was curious about the big difference of healthcare systems in the U.S. and Japan. As I took more courses, I built more interests in other areas of global health such as virus research and vaccine developments.

Even though you are furthering your education at Juilliard, you haven’t forgotten your interest in global health. You are currently involved with an organization called GUIDE Africa. Can you tell our readers a little about this organization, how you got involved, and what you are doing for them?

On radio in Oita

On the radio in Oita

I am working with two labs at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo, mainly helping fundraising for two projects; one is Ebola virus research in Sierra Leone, the other is a development of rice vaccine in Ghana (you will be able to take vaccines through eating rice!). We are trying to let wider population know about what we do, and how important our research is for the future of humans especially in underserved areas in Africa.

You have also volunteered your time with an education program called Summer in JAPAN which you founded when a student at Harvard. Can you tell our readers about this program and what encouraged you to develop it?

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN2

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN

I founded this two-week education program in my hometown during my freshman summer at Harvard. The program consists of several workshops such as Writing, Presentation Skills and Computer Science taught in English by selected Harvard students for Japanese kids aged from 6 to 18. As a girl from a small town in Japan, I have been so fortunate to receive the best education in the world in the U.S., but it is still not accessible to most of the kids in Japan. Having impressed by my fellow students at Harvard, I wanted to build a platform where any Japanese children of next generation are able to learn skills necessary for their future. This year was the 5th year of the program and we expanded to two cities in Japan, which went very successfully.

 You write a blog every day in both English and Japanese and have written articles for Nikkei College Café by Nikkei, the largest business newspaper in Japan. What do you write about?  What made you decide to begin these projects?

I received an offer from Nikkei to contribute articles monthly about my life in the U.S., international relationship and leadership when I was at Harvard. I’ve been writing for them since 2014, but it has been a great tool to let students or young professionals in Japan about my thoughts here. For blog, I just write whatever happens on the day – I made it bilingual so that all of my friends living anywhere in the world can read!

Phew, you are doing so much!!! Do you ever have time to relax?  What do you like to do when you have free time (if such thing exists)?

I do have some free time on weekends! I like hanging out with my quartet and watching Japanese drama when I need to relax. I also love to Skype my middle school/high school friends in Japan so I have some time to use Japanese.

You are the first student from Japan to be interviewed for Eye on Culture. What would you say are some of the greatest similarities and differences between US and Japanese culture (I recognize this is a big question, but a few examples would be great). 

Hanging out with my quartet

Hanging out with the quartet

Japan and the U.S. are quite different and I can list so many things; but the first culture shock I had when I first came to the U.S. for college was j-walking because Japanese people always wait for the lights to change. What I like the most about American culture is that people don’t care what you do (in a good way), so it’s easier to try something that nobody has done before. I feel more support on doing something challenging here in the U.S. more than in Japan.

 Can you tell our readers a little bit about your hometown?

With my high school friends at performance in Tokyo

With high school friends at a performance

My hometown Oita, is on the island in the southern Japan called Kyushu Island. Even though it’s not a big town, Oita has the best fish and the best hot springs in the world. I always miss eating fresh seafood whenever I come back to school. During my summer camp Summer in JAPAN, I always take instructors from Harvard to hot springs and they all love it. If you are interested in hot springs, message me.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

My string quartet at Juilliard, The Ansonia Quartet, has just finished our first Japan Tour this summer to kick off our 2017/18 season as a part of Honors Chamber Music Program. The tour was fully-funded by the crowdfunding campaign we launched at the end of last spring, and it was a great success. We are excited to perform more in NYC and beyond this year, so please come hear us perform if you get a chance!


Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia, during their tour in Japan