When Tanya applied to the EF 360 Global Management Trainee Program, she knew the numbers. With only 11 spots for a worldwide pool of applicants — each with impressive resumes, fascinating backgrounds, and abundant passion for EF’s mission — she wasn’t holding her breath.
She submitted her application. Waited. Refreshed her inbox with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. Waited some more. And was accepted.
Little did she know that joining the EF 360 program would be just the first step in a five-year journey of personal growth, professional accomplishment, and eye-opening experiences at EF. Today, Tanya is an EF alum, having recently embarked on a new path to pursue her passion for international education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her legacy of big-hearted leadership and refreshingly candid communication (listen to her story on the EF Outbound podcast) have left an indelible impression on EF.
We chatted with Tanya to learn about her personal leadership philosophy, reflect on her EF career highlights, and check in with her plans post-Harvard.
What inspired you to start your career at EF?
Growing up in the midwest, I had a happy, wonderful childhood. But we lived small. It wasn’t until I did a high school exchange program in Italy that I realized that the world was a much bigger place than the farmlands I called home. In Italy, I quickly saw that the world is actually a big beautiful place full of people who are similar, yet very different. It was an eye-opening experience.
Returning home from my time abroad, everything changed for me. There was no going back to my mindset in which my small town was the center of the universe. It wasn’t teenage angst as much as it was a sense of action — I knew I needed to create change in the world and this was the moment I started holding myself accountable for that. I wanted to wake up each day knowing that the work I was doing was a positive contribution. I knew that I wanted a meaningful career long before I found EF, but that was the start of it.
How did EF help support your goals to be a change-maker?
Before arriving at EF, I had gone back to Italy to teach at the high school I attended during my own exchange program. I taught young refugees and conducted research on education systems in Oman. Originally, my goal had been to create positive change for one person every day, and in my work, I was able to do that. It didn’t have to be some grand, life-changing gesture; but it did have to be genuine. Over time, that goal transitioned into holding myself accountable to making positive change in international education.
So at EF, having the opportunity to work with young students all over the world through the EF Ambassador program, I felt I had free reign to actualize my personal goals and also make an impact on students all over the world.
Can you describe your philosophy on mentoring young people to become leaders?
I am a huge believer in the power of kindness and vulnerability. Being real. Being true to yourself. I’ve found that putting authenticity out into the world inspires it in other people. At EF, I had so much freedom to be myself and try everything. Freedom to explore, maybe fail, and pick myself back up for a new adventure. As a leader, I think it’s important to be transparent about your successes and failures, to share your whole story — not just your polished success stories.
And through working with so many exchange students across cultures, I know the power of meeting people where they’re at, not necessarily where you are or where you want them to be. Really paying attention to who your audience is and trying to imagine their experiences is critical to being a leader.
And finally, leadership is really about being an everyday leader. You don’t have to save the world today, but you do have to do what’s within your power.
What has been most inspiring about your time at EF?
One of the proudest moments of my life was Hello D.C., when we hosted over 70 EF Ambassadors from 30 countries to share their EF stories at a pop-up event around Washington, D.C. I saw the power of building intentional communities and empowering people. It was pure magic.
Then, so many students I’ve worked with in the EF Ambassador program have gone on to do amazing things. From personal triumphs like ending toxic relationships to professional and academic accomplishments like starting a company. Knowing that I had a small role in their successes and that their time with EF gave them the confidence to achieve their goals is hugely rewarding.
What’s next for you? Tell us about your studies at Harvard and plans after graduation!
I’m pursuing an EdM in International Education Policy, which sometimes feels strange to say, since I have imposter syndrome when it comes to talking about myself as a Harvard student. But the reality is that I’m not doing this for myself — so I should stop thinking about myself. I chose this course of study because I want to make a difference in refugee education. It’s an interest that goes back to my first trip with EF when we met refugees and I ended up spontaneously translating their stories.
With my degree, and with everything I learned at EF over the past 5 years, I want to work in refugee education and build supportive communities across distances. Already having had the EF experience of connecting with so many students digitally, I feel ready to take on this work.
And now is the time. When you think about how people are processing the reality of kids not being in school because of COVID-19, this is the moment to realize that millions of kids around the world aren’t in school because of crises in their communities or countries. This is not new. And I want to help.