Maria Fernanda Brea

For the first Eye on Culture of 2017, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Maria Fernanda Brea, a second year vocal arts student from Caracas, Venezuela.  Maria earned a bachelor’s of music from the Manhattan School of Music (http://www.msmnyc.edu/) after getting her initial music education from the Escuela Superior de Música José Ángel Lamas and UPEL-IPMJMSM (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universidad_Pedag%C3%B3gica_Experimental_Libertador) Music Education in Venezuela.  She currently studies under the tutelage of Juilliard faculty member, Edith Bers.  Maria has performed and/or covered for operas produced by the Wolf Trap Opera, The Juilliard School, Met + The Juilliard School, Prelude to Performance, Manhattan School of Music, and West Bay Opera in California.  She has also been a soloist for several concerts and the winner of an impressive number of awards and scholarships.

Maria Fernanda Brea

By age 11, you realized that you wanted to be an opera singer? What inspired this dream at such a young age?

I had to do a PowerPoint project for my computer science class, my dad works at a Music Academy called Johann Sebastian Bach. I decided to do my project about Bach and my dad provided the background music. He brought me a CD on Bach Cantatas, when I heard this music I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer.

 

You studied music at two different schools in Venezuela. How did this early education prepare you for your education in the US at MSM and now at Juilliard?

In both schools I received a really detailed training. At the University I was learning sociology, psychology, history, statistics and research. At the Escuela Superior de Musica I was learning ear training, music history, and dictation, piano and vocal technique. When I came to Manhattan School of Music I was able to place out of music history, some semesters of ear training and piano. At Juilliard I was able to place out of music history, some semesters of piano and ear training.

Last summer you attended the prestigious Wolf Trap Opera. Can you tell our readers a little about the organization and your experience there?

Wolf Trap Opera is wonderful organization that supports and provides training for young singers of various levels. They have two programs; the Filene Young Artist (http://opera.wolftrap.org/for-artists/filene-young-artists/) where young singers that are already having a career come to perform in one or several shows and the Studio Artists which is designed for singers that are still in school. I had the opportunity to work with so many coaches from different theaters and programs in the country such as San Francisco, Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera. I had the opportunity to audition for new people and get feedback.

You will finish your master’s degree this May and then returning to the Wolf Trap Opera for the summer. Where do you see yourself after Wolf Trap Opera concludes?

I would like to join a young artist program either in the US or Europe. I will be able to tell you in April, when results are out.J

 

Based on previous conversations, it seems that you are very close to your family, even though you do not get to see them very often.  Can you tell us a little about your relationships with your family and how they have been involved with your music education?

We are super close; I think it is very rare. Both of my parents lost one of their parents at a very young age, they wanted to make sure we are always close to them. My mom, Kitty, has five jobs but we always made sure that we would spend time together. At night I would be practicing and she would be working on her things next to me. My dad, Fernando, is a musician; he plays the guitar and the cuatro (Venezuelan traditional string instrument). There are pictures of my dad accompanying me with the guitar at age 4. Same with my little sister, Maria Eliana, she has a gorgeous voice, we would always sing duets together from folk Venezuelan music, pop or jazz along with my dad and also my mom, she loves singing too although she never studied it. We got the voice from our mom. My sister is a graphical designer and creates her own Japanese mangas.

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Manhattan School of Music Graduation

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Making sushi and singing for her friends

We know you are an accomplished singer, but do you have any hidden talents?

I belly dance, it all started a fitness tool. Now I do it less but I would dance for friends. I love cooking for my friends,  I make arepas (traditional corn meal plate from Venezuela). I also love dancing salsa, merengue and bachata.

Being an international student in the US comes with a variety of challenges (i.e. language barriers, cultural acculturation, immigration responsibilities, financial difficulties, etc.), but Venezuelan students can face additional obstacles such as currency control issues, travel difficulties, etc. Can you tell our readers a little about how these additional challenges impact students from Venezuela?

Venezuela is facing an economical, social and political crisis. Majority of people do not have access medicines or food. The shortages force people to make huge lines to get some rice, sugar or milk. Venezuelans are very well trained in our national universities; Venezuela has a free education system since 1870, so we have a history of preparation in the country. Most of the young professionals are leaving due to the crisis. But some of them cannot afford to study abroad because of the economical crisis and the currency control.         

Due to the challenges facing international students from Venezuela, it was uncertain how you would be able to pay for your audition at MSM might as well tuition and cost of living in NYCYou shared an interesting story and powerful news piece with me about how you were able to overcome this major obstacle. Can you share this story with our readers?

I was performing many recitals and word started to get out of my opportunity to leave the country to continue my career abroad. Much to my surprise, as I was trying to find funding to come to NYC, I was watching a program that was featuring a choir I knew from a festival I attended. I wrote a email to the TV channel with the hope they would know someone that could help me sponsor MSM. To my surprise the presenter from the program called me the next day and came to my house in the slum and filmed a video (see video below).  The show was a smashing success and I had a great response from people wishing me well, as well as from generous folks who were willing and able to help me out financially. Following the program, I met my wonderful sponsor who is the person I have to thank for my bachelors at Manhattan School Music.

Many mainstream media sources have reported that Venezuela is in a state of economic collapse while others report that the issue is less severe, but at the very least, Venezuela is in the middle of a severe crisis?  How would you describe the current situation in Venezuela, how has it impacted you and your family, and what do you think the future will look like for Venezuelans?

In my opinion, it is very severe. My mom was robbed this year three times, they put a gun on her head once and took all her things in a bus she was taking to go to work. My sister was robbed in the train, they had a gun. My father is diabetic, every month is a struggle to find the insulin he needs. Both of parents have 5 jobs and they struggle to make it to the end of the month. Even though they are both professionals, the inflation is so high that it makes everything not affordable.

*To read more about the situation in Venezuela from a New York Times article, click here (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/americas/hungry-venezuelans-flee-in-boats-to-escape-economic-collapse.html).

Even though there is a crisis in Venezuela, I am sure there are lots of things you miss about your home city. Other than your family and friends, what do you miss most about Caracas?

I miss Venezuelans; they are warm and always have a smile and a joke, although things are going badly. I miss going to the Teatro Teresa Carreño and also to my beloved Avila (the mountain that surrounds Caracas).

 

What about being from Venezuela makes you most proud?

Our sense of humor, we can make a joke about anything, Venezuelans are always laughing.

 Is there anything else about you that you would like to share?

I believe that if we fight for our dreams and if we work hard enough we will get where we want to be.

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Joanie Hofmeyr

For the October 2016 edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviews Joan (Joanie) Hofmeyr, a second year vocal arts student from South Africa.  After years of music training in South Africa, Joanie spent a year of high school as an exchange student at the Episcopal Academy (http://www.episcopalacademy.org/) in Newtown, Pennsylvania.  Her time in Pennsylvania motivated to continue her musical training in the United States.  In her short time at Juilliard, Joanie has been in the chorus for the opera, La Sonnambula, and has participated in Juilliard’s annual Choreo-Comp.  However, her interests extend far beyond being a vocalist.  She is an avid attendee of Workout with Darryl, holds two work-study jobs during the academic year (usher and mailroom clerk), and has served as a Summer Conference Assistant, Audition Monitor, and Orientation Leader.

Listen to Joanie sing her intrepretation of”Estat ai en greu cossirier” written by the Comptesse de Dia.  The recording was used by second year dancer, Moscelyne Parkeharrison, for her solo at the annual Juilliard Dance Workshop Series performance.

When did you begin singing and music training? When did you realize that singing was more than a hobby and something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Music training was like this extension of the Hofmeyr family… it was somehow never a question in my mind. I started taking piano lessons at age 5 I think? (Have very little to show for it on the actual piano now, of course… hopefully that knowledge has been translated theoretically). I also took recorder and violin lessons for a bit – neither of those did it for me.

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Joanie at a Open Mic Night

And neither did piano in the end. The singing lessons happened way later. Thinking about it now, I realize that singing was very much my own thing until I got to the age where people started asking me what I wanted to be. I used to write songs with a little recorder that I’d hum tunes into and a book for lyrics. I remember sitting my dad down around that time in my life wanting to discuss the prospect of being a pop star. For him, there would be no discussion about the pop. He said if I was really considering this whole singing thing then I’d have to be serious and realistic about my options: being a pop star would be impossible for someone in my circumstances, and frankly he didn’t see what set me aside from other aspiring pop stars.

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Joanie and her best friend, Lucy, playing in their indie-rock band, “Jucy”

Obviously I had a classical voice and he would 100% support my training for that. I knew so little about this “classical” genre except for the fact that it suited my voice and I thought that, once I studied it and got into it, I’d foster a love for it. And so the “real” vocal training began. At one point in ninth grade I was juggling so much – I also took ballet lessons almost all my life up until that point – and school was really becoming demanding. I wanted to prioritize. School was number one for me. I love learning and studying. So I stopped practicing as much for my piano lessons and in my (what turned out to be) last lesson I admitted to my teacher that I identified as a singer, not a pianist; that I’d choose singing in front of people over playing piano in front of them any day of the week and that there was no point in learning to play these hard pieces if I didn’t feel confident enough to perform them for anyone. Whether positive or negative, I think that was a defining moment for whatever my career turns out to be.

See Joanie play the role of Marianne in a student production of an abridged version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White.”

What was your initial reaction to the news that you were accepted to Juilliard?

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Joanie at the airport in South Africa on her way to Juilliard for her audition. Her sister gave her this ring for good luck. She wears it to this day.

I thought, “Okay! So now I can die, right?” I wanted it so badly that, honestly, I didn’t think there could be anything more that I wanted to achieve in my life. Ridiculous, right? I mean, of course I had hoped it would happen, but I never allowed myself to
think about or picture my life beyond getting accepted… I think I’ve always thought that thinking I’ve got something before I really have it is bad luck, or that I’m setting myself up for disappointment, so I honestly didn’t want to consider the reality of getting in, in case that would jinx it. So, after the news, I was really surprised to find that life still went on and I was expected to keep living.

After you were admitted to Juilliard, a member of the South African Parliament made a “Motion Without Notice” to congratulate you on your acceptance (http://tatamachancesa.blogspot.com/2015/08/joanie-hofmeyr-achieves-early-stardom.html). Can you tell our readers about that?

*A Motion Without Notice is an opportunity for Members of the South African Parliament to table matters of local or national significance in Parliament. 

I’m sure this won’t be a new story to anyone because I know almost every student in America has to worry about the cost of education, student loans and debt, etc. The thing about a South African wanting to study in the States is that the cost of her education becomes about 6 times what it would’ve been if she studied in South Africa. I kid you not. After being accepted with a partial scholarship my parents laid out a budget for me: they could – with a stretch – only contribute x amount every year, and if I didn’t make up the difference somehow there was absolutely no way I would be able to come to Juilliard. I can’t live with ”What if’s” – not if I can help it. So, of course, I did whatever I could think of to raise money. The first thing I did was to set up a GoGetFunding account, and, honestly, there were and are so many amazing causes that need support, and I knew that funding my Juilliard education probably wouldn’t be any stranger’s first pick. I knew some crazy serendipitous thing would have to happen… it had happened before in my life when, through some kind of alignment of the stars, I received a partial scholarship to attend the high school of my dreams (Roedean School SA –http://www.roedeanschool.co.za/). It was through this school’s partnership with the ASSIST program (https://www.assist-inc.org/) that I did my US exchange, and what, as you mentioned in the introduction, owes in large part to why I am here today. As it turned out, what happened in the case of getting me to Juilliard was directly linked to my connection to my high school. The crazy, serendipitous thing, of course, was not mysterious at all: it was simply a man with a kind, big heart who – for some or other reason – decided that he believed in me. His name is Reverend Dr. Jeremy J. Jacobs (I knew him then as “Father Jeremy”, but he quickly established in our email conversations that ‘Jeremy’ or any kind of variation on ‘J-Dawg’ was to be the only way forward). Every Easter and whenever we had communion in the little chapel at my school Jeremy would conduct these incredibly tasteful, philosophical and (what I considered to be) religiously ambiguous sermons. In Hamburg, South AfricaThe only interactions we had before he decided to help fund my journey to Juilliard was when he shook my hand at the end of these chapel services, as he did every student’s hand who stood in line to thank him. There was never any time to chat to him, so I always made sure to try communicate my appreciation for his evocative words with my eyes. I guess he picked up on that, because just in time for the admission decision Jeremy is emailing me, telling me he happened upon my GoGetFunding page asking for my life story, trying his best to collect as much data as would be useful for him to promote the idea of helping me get to Juilliard to his congregation at St. George’s Anglican Church. And man, did he promote. And he didn’t tell me what he was up to (why did he want to know so much about my background, for example?), he would just say “big things are coming, Joanie”. Until, one day, I performed with the St. George’s Choir and did a couple of solo songs for the congregation, after which he handed me a check with the money I still needed. A few days later he texted and said turn on the TV and watch the live meeting in congress. Jeremy had gotten MP Toby Chance in on my promotional “campaign” as well – all without my having knowledge of it! Let me just make sure to mention I have many, many people to thank for getting me here and through my first year at Juilliard – what I’ve mentioned here is the particularly heart warming story attached to the Motion Without Notice.

Do you have a particular role model or hero (professionally or personally)? If yes, who is this person and why?

I consider the people I have conversations with in my head role models, because I obviously believe they have some further insight into things than I do, and these people most regularly include my dad, mom, brother, and sister. But if we’re going to get particular about my role model then I want to talk about my sister. I think we experience things in much the same way; when we talk about how we felt when a particular thing was happening it always amazes us how similar our answers are…  we joke about how we’re basically the same person, and, of course, we always acknowledge that “well, duh”, because we grew up together with the same frame of reference. This might sound like I’m saying I am my own role model, which, although I do really listen to my own gut more than anyone else’s advice and prefer doing completely my own thing, is not exactly what I’m saying. The defining factor about my admiration for my sister is her wisdom. Perhaps I believe in her wisdom because she’s 2 and a half years older than I am, or perhaps it’s simply a quality she has – perhaps both. Whatever the case, she will always be an embodiment of what I strive to be, and when I find myself in a place in life where I imagine she’s been I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

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Joanie with her sister, her hero

What hobbies do you have outside of singing opera?

I enjoy philosophizing with people who care to entertain that. I explore. I exercise. I do yoga.  I walk a lot. I listen to music when I walk – mostly indie-folk. I muse.  I work through my musings by writing things down. I sometimes take photographs with this great second-hand camera that leaks little light spots. I organize and plan and write to-do lists or suggestions to myself for what I could do. I spend so much time doing this that I really do consider it to be a hobby. I go to coffee shops. I spend a lot of time seeking out comfort and pleasure.

Watch Joanie’s final art project from her senior year of high school.

A silly question for you-if you were an animal, which animal would you be and why?

I’d love to be a bear, I think, because I would love to be able to hibernate. Can you imagine being able to just shut down for a significant amount of time knowing that you’d be able to wake up when the time was right – when you felt you could handle life again?

You are originally from a small town in South Africa and later moved to Johannesburg. Can you tell us a little bit about your hometown and Johannesburg?

I grew up with a dam in front of my house. My brother, sister and I (and whomever of my friends were lucky enough to be over at my house when my brother felt inspired) would make movies; sometimes “Survivor” episodes out by the dam. We had so much space. Some weekends my family and I played soccer in a small open field right down the street from our house, and other times we’d go mountain biking on the paths on this mountain which was barely 10 minutes away from our house. I often rode my bike to my friend’s house or to ballet and tap class. So even though I loved this place, the move to Johannesburg was very welcome in my life, because I used to love change and excitement (now I’m not so sure…). Johannesburg is wonderful. It’s an underrated city and I really think you gotta to live there to fall in love with it – I did. I fell in love with the drives home from school and the Friday night trips to the mall with my family to watch the latest “Cinema nouveau” movies. For the first time since living in the States I’m allowing myself to miss incredible things like that about my life in South Africa. Man o man have I been fortunate.

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Joanie with her family

If a friend was to tell you that he/she was going to South Africa for a trip, what are the top three pieces of advice you would give your friend (i.e. places to go, foods to try, etc.)?

As I’ve mentioned, if you’re able to, go live in Johannesburg for at least year. If you’re going to do the touristy thing then I’d say drive along the Garden Route (http://www.rhinoafrica.com/south-africa/garden-route) – it’s a coastal route and it is so incredibly beautiful. I’d definitely camp, and hike anywhere in the Drakensburg (http://www.drakensberg.org.za/), and swim in the gorge pools I find there. And definitely drive everywhere. The different landscapes are things to be experienced.

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions that Americans have of South Africa?

Americans, in my experience, have pretty solid conceptions of South Africa. People who have asked me – in earnest – things like why, if I’m from Africa, am I white, were not Americans if I recall. Unless we’re talking about, like, seven-year-old Americans. Like a young girl I know who once said, “South Africa must be so much better than America, because you live with lions and monkeys and zebra.” (Which is, of course, true.)

What were some misconceptions you had about the U.S. before coming to Pennsylvania as a high school exchange student?

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Joanie when she was an exchange student in Pennsylvania

Oof. I think I thought – and this disillusionment is still something I’m working through – people here had things more figured out. I think the fact that American commercialism is so real that kids in South Africa are decorating fake conifers for Christmas when it’s 90 degrees outside had something to do with the creation of the misconception. But I will definitely admit that I am mostly to blame for creating the misconception all by myself.

What do you like most about living in NYC? What do you like least?

There are things I think I’ll always like and things I’ll always dislike. But then the rest really depends on the state of mind I’m in from moment to moment. I think I’ll always like how I can “happen upon” things – especially at times when I most need it.  I like how I can be on the subway with no expectation of anything out of the ordinary happening, and then I hear a child say something really interesting to his/her dad, and then I smile, and am happy that for a moment my attention is on something other than the ramblings of my thoughts.

But then I can be minding my own business at a coffee shop, doing my theory homework, and a random lady who has clearly made it her goal to completely ruin someone’s day will sit right across from me, notice that I’m doing music theory and say “Music is dead. You’ll never be able to make a living as a musician.” After being polite and listening to her pessimism for way too long I get up to go, planning to have the last say about how I think I’ll be able to figure things out for myself she just keeps going – “There’s nothing to figure out!” she says, and then for a moment I hate everything about New York. Those moments are no fun in the moment. There are also some things that are just always going to annoy me – no matter what state of mind I’m in. Like the unbearably loud fire truck and police car sirens. The intensity of those sirens really are a little ridiculous. I always plug my ears shut when they pass, so when, for example, I’m having a conversation with someone as one passes I always awkwardly have to pause the conversation and look around or make ugly faces to indicate my annoyance. I guess I both love and dislike the fact that in New York where I don’t have car windows to hide behind when I want to get from comfortable and familiar place A to comfortable and familiar place B my experience is vulnerable to being hi-jacked by other people’s experience. This city causes a lot of anxiety, but it is simultaneously (and strangely), to me, its own cure.

You previously told OIA that you have “changed quite significantly since coming here a year ago.” In what ways have you changed?

I am now a lot less sure of everything, really. I’m actually not sure of anything. I’m amazed at how I wanted something so much a year ago that I came all this way to get it. Like, thank god, of course, because without that certainty I had I couldn’t possibly be where I am, going through whatever it is I’m going through right now. And I’m grateful for anything that gets me closer to the truth. A year ago I wanted to be an opera singer, and then I felt very driven towards theater, so I did an acting Summer Intensive at the Atlantic Acting School (https://atlanticactingschool.org/) and that decision was quite a big deal because I wanted that so badly that I chose it above going home, and I haven’t been home for 13 months now.

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Joanie with classmates at the Atlantic Theater Acting Summer Intensive

Then, two weeks ago, I started my second year with a new purpose: I am going to be the next singer who graduates from the Juilliard Vocal Arts program and goes into musical theater on Broadway! Then, for my first English Diction class of the semester I had to choose a song to sing by an American composer and I discovered Copland, Barber, and Kurt Weill, and I gotta tell ya, some of those pieces really get me excited… so who knows? All I (sort of) know right now is that the kind of artist I want to be doesn’t exactly fit into anything I’ve seen so far… a lot of things inspire and excite me, and I’m able to hear, see or feel something and know exactly whether that thing evokes a “yum. Yes.” or a “no thanks” in terms of what I want to pursue artistically. In terms of my place in the world: It seems I’m only just starting feel – let alone understand – what it is to be a human being. So my “place” anywhere is yet to be invented. The good news? I’m an artistic human being, so showing up to invent is my forte.

Watch Joanie sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables.  She made this facebook post at 2AM in response to the news of the death of Alton Sterling.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?

Yes there is. I might start doing my own personal “day of silence” a few times a month, and I would like the records to show that. I happened upon Ulysses S. Grant’s mausoleum the day after I thought of taking a vow of silence (among other things he established the National Park Service. Whoa right?), and above the entrance the words “Let Us Have Peace” were carved, and I thought “Let us indeed.” So hopefully one day you will see a silent Joanie walking down the hallways, and hopefully that will create peace in our Juilliard microcosm.

 

 

 

 

Vivian Yau

Our first Vocal Arts student to be interviewed is Vivian Yau, a rising sophomore soprano student from Hong Kong.  It was great learning more about her experiences in the United Kingdom and during her first year at Juilliard!

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Who is your favorite composer and why?
I never know how to answer this question… I swear I change my mind every day. When I’m in a certain mood or certain things are happening in my life, I relate to different kinds of music. Today, I would say that Tchaikovsky is my favorite composer, because his music is always filled with such powerful harmonies and passionate themes, and it never fails to take my breath away. Also, “Eugene Onegin” is one of my all time favorite operas.

You are originally from Hong Kong but spent a few years in the United Kingdom—what are the differences between the US and UK? What about Hong Kong?
My boarding school in the UK was about 3 hours away from London, in the countryside. Having grown up in Hong Kong, a busy city just like NYC, I had a hard time adjusting at first to boring small town life with gloomy weather. I soon learned to appreciate the Harry-Potter-like campus though, and the rich history and tradition that surrounded me. The English people were very open about alcohol consumption. The school often organized beer nights where students over 16 were encouraged to socialize with a drink in hand. That’s why I was so surprised when I got to the US that the over-21 rule was actually real and enforced strictly. Adjusting to NYC wasn’t hard for me, I had lived in a big city before, and everything was suddenly convenient again after living in a small town for years. (Shops are open after 4pm?!) NYC is also a very culturally diverse city, so I haven’t for a second felt like an outsider! I’m glad to have 3 cities I can call home!

Why did you decide to study in the UK?
I really didn’t have another choice. I was 15 and studying in a traditional academic-based secondary school in Hong Kong. I already had my heart set on going after a musical career, yet my school could not provide me with academic music classes. I knew some conservatoires required academic music qualifications, so I talked to my parents, and they decided to send me to a music-based boarding school in the UK.

What are the challenges of being an international student that your US friends don’t have to deal with?
Where do I even begin. Language. Food. Jetlag. Racism. Currency. Long distance friendships and relationships. Not knowing where to call “home”. Having to call your mother in the middle of the night because of the time difference. Always finding out you left something behind on the other side of the globe. The list goes on and on…

What is your favorite trivia (food, cultural aspect, whatever!) about Hong Kong that most people don’t know?
I love Hong Kong street food. They are cheap, addictive, and smell so nice when you walk past the little food stalls. They may look and sound peculiar to foreigners though – Stinky Tofu, Pig Intestines, Beef Stomach – weird, right? My personal favorite would have to be the Curry Fish Balls. They are not what you think they are. They are little balls of flour and fish deep fried to a golden color, dipped into a spicy aromatic curry sauce, and served on a thin bamboo stick. I have severe cravings for fish balls during the semester, and because they don’t sell them in Chinatown, I eat WAY too much every time I’m back in Hong Kong.

What made you decide to come to Juilliard even though there are a couple of very prestigious music conservatories in the U.K.?
It was the most difficult thing to choose between the music conservatoires. I had to think about money, teachers, friends, which city I liked better, etc etc… I remember that day when I was just sitting there and thinking: “What do I really want to achieve in the next four years?” The answer was simple: Good singing technique. So I went ahead and decided to come to Juilliard where I could study with Ms. Bers, who I had a consultation with and absolutely loved. I still think this is the best decision I have ever made.

In April 2015 you were Le nozze di Figaro–tell me about your very first full production opera experience at Juilliard. Was it challenging? Was it fun? Did you learn anything from that experience?
Not only was that my first opera at Juilliard, it was my first opera ever, and I could not have asked for a better production to be my “premiere”. Of course I was only in the chorus, but getting to watch the amazing older singers work with the superb conductor and director, and everyone else on the production team, taught me so much about being an artist. When you’re in the audience, you enjoy a great show for 3 hours, you don’t always realize the weeks of endless painful rehearsals, months of detailed planning, and years of training which these artists have sacrificed for the show. The main cast may be less than 10 people, but a hundred people could have been behind the scenes, working their best to make it a good production.

Please share a funny or interesting story about your time in the U.S. (a language misunderstanding, something you found strange or unusual in the U.S., etc.):
When I first moved to the US from the UK, I was still speaking with an English accent. I was amazed to see how excited Americans became when they heard me speak, or rather, how obsessed they were with the British culture. Every time I revealed that I have lived in the UK, they would become very interested. Much more interested than they were when they only knew that I was from Hong Kong. I guess I still find this strange because it still happens sometimes, when I accidentally say a word in a British way, like “I cAAn’t”. I’ve learned to talk in an American way though, so I can have proper conversations with people without having to talk about my English adventures. I now switch between accents as I like.

What is the most common misconception about Hong Kong?
That Hong Kong is “just another city in China” – it’s not! Well, it is, technically. But Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and by being under a completely different political system than China, Hong Kong enjoys much more freedom, and is probably the most international city in Asia. We also speak a different dialect in Hong Kong. The two official languages are English, and Cantonese, which is different from Mandarin, the dialect commonly used in China.

What advice do you have for other international students?
Embrace your differences, they make you special and stand out from the crowd! Always have an open heart. You have experienced different things in your life than American students have in theirs, so be willing to share and be willing to learn. Don’t change yourself to fit in, but also don’t resist growth! It’s all about finding that balance.  🙂

Who inspires you?
I like to think that I find inspiration in everyone. I think that everyone holds onto a belief, a certain way they like to look at life, and everyone has something that matters to them, no matter who they are. I try to look for these things in people when I meet them, they are very different for everybody, and that is what inspires me.