Whether it’s meeting with a visiting international student or advising an undergraduate student embarking on their first trip abroad, Mary’s passion for culture guides her work.
Mary’s lifelong dedication to bridging divides and bringing together different cultures comes from a personal place. Born in the Ukraine, Mary’s family immigrated to the United States when she was an adolescent. Living as a newcomer in Wisconsin, she found herself having to learn a new language and acclimate to a different culture. Successfully facing those challenges instilled in her a deep appreciation for cross-cultural understanding.
“Human connections across cultures are important because they allow for perspective building,” she says. Sometimes it might feel uncomfortable and sometimes it might be difficult, but you’ll end up stronger in the long run. “That perspective building fosters growth and understanding.”
As an undergraduate student, Mary found her true calling while abroad. During an internship in Ireland, her second study abroad trip, Mary found herself working as a de-facto adviser for foreign students. Even though she had only spent a few weeks in Ireland, she answered questions and helped to acclimate students into the rhythms of the country.
Utilizing her own experiences as a newcomer to a foreign country to help others in a similar situation was an ‘aha’ moment for Mary. She remembers realizing one day that “this was the only thing I could see myself doing - where I can use my experiences as an immigrant in a career with a global career path.”
Now as the Director of the Center of Global Education at Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, Mary acts as a bridge figure. She helps others navigate the challenges of crossing borders. She works with international students and visiting international scholars, helping them find community and a sense of belonging when they’re in the U.S. She also advises students who are studying abroad and works alongside professors planning faculty-led Travel Courses.
According to Mary, fitting into a foreign place is more than just learning a new language. It’s also a journey of self-discovery. “Really knowing the culture you’re coming from and the culture you’re coming into can help you understand the mosaic of who you are,” she says. Finding yourself outside of your own community and exploring how your identity fits alongside other peoples can help build empathy.
Of course, a commitment to cross cultural understanding is also about building understanding across the globe. That’s especially important in our current climate. “It’s much easier to be angry, be exclusionary, or be hostile to someone that you don’t know. And it’s easier to have a dialogue with a person sitting across from you or next to you in class than from on the other side of the world,” Mary says. Meeting and befriending people from different cultures can help to bridge divides.
“It’s important to find yourself in uncomfortable situations and force yourself to get comfortable, to figure out how to communicate and to make yourself whole,” Mary says of her philosophy. Finding understanding even when it can be difficult drives Mary’s desire to encourage and guide the people she works with. “In many ways, that helps me to define my work and who I am in the world.”