In today’s installment of our New Students Series, we’re welcoming Lan Hoang, from Hanoi, Vietnam. Lan’s interest in international affairs began with a senior thesis project about Vietnamese refugees while studying at the University of Hong Kong. After graduation she spent some time with the United Nations in Bangkok, where she worked on migration-policy issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Lan’s background pairs nicely with her chosen concentration, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. Attending SIPA has been a lifelong ambition, as she grew up flipping through the pages of Columbia University publications. How’d she get access? Well, Lan’s father is actually a 1995 SIPA graduate. Despite her preparedness for the program, she said she was surprised to read her acceptance letter and jumped for joy upon reading the good news. Lan, we’re happy to have you here, too!

Full Name: Lan Hoang
Age: 24
Degree Program: Master of Public Administration
Concentration: Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy

Hometown: Hanoi, Hanoi, Vietnam
Undergraduate University: University Of Hong Kong
Undergraduate Major: International Politics and Sociology
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2015

What’s your professional background?
Graduated in the summer of 2015, my professional journey of two years revolve around social development and particularly migration policies. It all began with my senior year’s thesis on the welfare of Vietnamese and African asylum-seekers in Hong Kong. This led me to learn about the heart-wrenching stories of the suffering faced by the Vietnamese refugees, my fellow countrymen, since the end of the Vietnam War. This sparked my interests in the different types of cross-border movements. I then went on to conduct research on the empowerment of migrants and their families for a research institute in Kyrgyzstan, as well as gender equality in Vietnam. This was followed by a one-and-a-half year stint with various United Nations agencies in Bangkok, working on high-level dialogues on migration policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
Applying to SIPA, I hope to leverage my research skills and professional experience in migration policies. This is to address situations of vulnerable migrants in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly those of refugees, asylum-seekers, and female migrants. That said, I have also had a growing interest in the field of data science and technology. Furthermore, I realize the importance and benefits of being open to new experiences, so I am very excited to see how my professional interests evolve throughout the next 2 years!

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
Disbelief! It was a very late Friday night in Bangkok when I anxiously opened my SIPA portal account. The wait was starting to wear me down and my tendency to be self-critical probably didn’t help either. Then the confetti shot across the laptop screen and I found myself jumping up and down with my partner. This feeling of joy and disbelief didn’t go away until a few days later.

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA?
My dad attended Columbia SIPA and graduated in 1995. As cliche as it sounds, my dream of attending SIPA grew as I was flicking through the Columbia Alumni Magazines sent to him each year in high school. That was a vague and much more naive dream of my younger self. As the years passed and my professional goal took its current form, I realize SIPA is the perfect place for me to pursue a career in the policy field with an international outlook and the UN’s presence. Also, who doesn’t love being in NYC? And so these reasons are enough to me to pick SIPA over other similar top-ranked graduate schools in the US and Europe.

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
The classmates from different corners of the globe. The exposure to a wide range of policy topics. The endless (but also very competitive) opportunities to pursue my professional goals.

Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school?
Financial expenses while at SIPA and in NYC! Despite receiving a partial scholarship from SIPA, the tuition bills took away quite some joy from the initial thought of attending SIPA. That said, I know a SIPA education is a professional (and personal) investment. This is also the common concern among both incoming and current SIPA students and I love the we-are-in-this-together spirit that it creates as a result.

What are your goals after SIPA?
Post-SIPA, my grand professional vision is to join the bilateral and multilateral efforts to protect migrants at the International Organization for Migration – UN Migration Agency. I would be at the forefront of formulating policies for effective migration governance that adheres to international standards and fulfills migrants’ fundamental rights. I’m also mindful that this goal my change, but perhaps most importantly is to become more well-rounded and more attuned to the policy challenges throughout the international community.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
Perhaps just one small tweak in the way our brains are wired, so that we would have a much easier time picking up new languages. That way language barriers would no longer exist (while we are still able to preserve the cultural values carried through languages) and thus people around the world would be able to communicate with one another better. This thought certainly needs more fine-tuning, but it comes from my own frustration that emerged from the years gallivanting through the less English-speaking parts of the world.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
Apart from being a self-proclaimed photography enthusiast, movie buff and book lover, I’m very excited to be joining the Lindy Hop (swing dance) scene in NYC and living near Harlem – where the dance came from!

[Photo courtesy of Lan Hoang]
*Note: This series is published in its original form with no editing.