Thursday, February 19, 2015

Q & A with a Library Student Worker: Der Thao

Hometown: North St. Paul
ELL Education Major, Hmong Studies Minor, Class of 2015

You are a senior so I have to ask - how are you feeling about your last semester?
It’s been really intimidating, honestly. I’m really ready to be done with this semester. But I’m kind of scared at the same time because real life starts. I’m going to have to start paying my loans off and I’m going to be a (semi) adult. I have a lot of decisions and things I have to do. But academically, I’m doing….I’m doing okay. I could be doing better! I have zero motivation right now! Maybe this isn't a good thing to be writing about!

What do you hope to do with your ELL major and Hmong Studies minor?
My original plan was to become an ELL teacher in the St. Paul school district, and I chose the Hmong Studies minor to help enhance my major. But we’ll see where life takes me. This fall semester I’m doing student teaching, and after that it’s either Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or teaching English abroad, either in Southeast Asia or in South Korea through the EPIK program. And then I could also just stay here in Minnesota and become a teacher, or start off small and become a teacher’s assistant, to see if I really do want to be in the schools.

What originally drew you to study ELL?
I was introduced to student leadership when I was a junior in high school. So after the whole experience of getting to facilitate workshops at such a young age, I wanted to work with youth and I wanted to impact them on a deeper level. And I wanted to travel. So I thought of becoming a teacher. I added the Hmong Studies major so that I could be a more effective teacher to the Hmong students in the St. Paul public school district. I was very passionate back then about the Hmong community. I lost a lot of my passion gradually, and so I would like to get back to that some day.

Tell me more about that passion.
It starts off from family. My parents have only been in America for 23 years now. I love them so much. I owe them everything. They have worked really hard in just the 23 years they've been here. You wouldn't know that they've only been here for 23 years, which is half their life. They basically grew up in the jungles of Laos, in villages, and they've never been to any formal schooling. And they were never able to get their GED because they’re always busy providing for their family. Where I am now...I owe them a lot. So I wanted to help Hmong youth understand where their parents are coming from, and how they can obtain a greater life. Which is what their parents had originally wanted for them, and why they came to America. I want them to bring themselves up. Of course, it’s a hard society to do that in, with all the systemic issues. So that’s my little snippet! I could go on for hours about this.

How are you active on campus?
There’s a Concordia Hmong Unity Student Association here, on campus, which I was an active member of my freshman and sophomore years, and I was also involved in UMOJA, which stands for United Minds of Joint Action. They would have panels, talks, and discussions, where we would talk about societal issues and that stuff intrigued me at the time. And it still does, it’s still a very important subject to me. I was also a member in Concordia Sisterhood of Empowerment. And then my sophomore year, I became one of the co-presidents of CHUSA and got involved in Student Senate as a senator. Then I studied abroad my junior year.

Tell me about your study abroad experience, and where you hope to travel next.
It was wonderful! I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of doing on my own. I was able to go to Germany and Italy, and I learned so much about different people and how we can cross-culturally connect. It was a great experience and I did a lot of things for the first time - I went to the club for the first time ever in Italy, and I drank for the first time in Germany. I think Europe is a great place of history. It’s so old, and so much has happened there. The best part of the whole experience was being with the people I was with. I was homesick a few times, but not as much as when I went to Japan (where I went the summer after sophomore year). In Japan I was a camp counselor, helping Japanese students ranging from pre-K to college at 3-day camps. We would go in and teach the kids camp activities and camp songs, and I loved that part, I have a horrible singing voice but the camp songs were the best part! It wasn't so much about teaching them English, but about creating a bridge between U.S. and Japanese students.

As for the future, I want to do my student teaching in Vietnam, and I also really want to go to South Korea. We’ll see if that works out! I've also really wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand because I want to see where the Lord of the Rings takes place. I want to go to the Shire! I just want to hit all the continents. Oooh - I have this weird fascination with Iceland and Greenland. Like, I really want to go there. and I have always wanted to go to an authentic Eskimo village. I think that would be so interesting, to see how they actually live their lives without any outside influences.

What's your favorite part about working in the library? 
The staff! I love the staff here. I love knowing you all, you all have your own quirks and your personalities are really fun to work with. And I love my coworkers. It’s been so fun getting to know everyone and having it be a normal thing in my life to come back to, after classes change.

How has working in the library enhanced your Concordia experience?
I know a lot about library resources! Now I understand the struggle of placing a book in the right place - no one will understand it until they work in the library - and I hate looking for missing books! I also love people watching. It's one of my hobbies. You know those weird out-of-mind things, where you imagine yourself as someone else? And you’re out of your body and imagining everything from their eyes, and you see how you look  - I’m being so weird! But I consider myself to be very social and I enjoy seeing people in the library everyday, and getting to talk to them all.

What will you miss most after graduation? What does graduation mean to you?
I'll miss the people. And the normalcy of everything. I have a love-hate relationship with the the routine of it, but I'll miss it overall. And being able to study abroad - because I won’t have that opportunity as an adult. For me, graduation means I’m ending a chapter in my life. It’s so bittersweet because we've been raised to believe that (besides getting married and having children) this is a pinnacle moment of our lives, and when college is over, many opportunities go too. I wish I was given more opportunities when I was here that were affordable and attainable, but I am proud of what I have achieved in my time here. I've succeeded in obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree! I’m moving on in my life.

What advice would you give your first year self?
I would say talk to everyone and anyone. It’s good to make connections early and to talk to random people. Oh, and study abroad as soon as you can and as much as you can!

What’s your favorite color?
I like navy blue a lot but I like looking at green.