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.
What made you want to come and work for the International Office? Were you more motivated by the fame or the glamour?
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
Four cats seems rather a lot. How did you end up with so many? Any plans to expand the collection?
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?
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?
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?
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!