Adriana Tache | SIPA Class of 2017
“I’m proud of having been able to get to where I am now without letting something like money get in the way; that I overcame those economic obstacles, and I didn’t sell myself short just because I was financially limited. I do what I feel like doing and then figure out a way to make it work. No one assumes that I may have struggled growing up.”
These are the words of 26-year-old SIPA student, Hyomi Carty. She came to Columbia to study Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy after spending 2 years in Swaziland as a United States Peace Corps Youth Development specialist. “Human rights issues have always been something I wanted to work on, to make sure people are able to live to the standard that all human beings have the right to,” she told me. When Carty was growing up, she was very active in her community and participated in service projects. She recalls working with Service for Peace, a group that brought together people from all walks of life to clean beaches and parks, or work at the local food bank. She was always inspired by the idea of breaking down barriers between people’s cultures, embracing diversity and acceptance.
First-generation college student
Carty is a first-generation college student, originally from the New England area. Her father attended college for one semester but dropped out to join the Army. He later became a church missionary. Her mother, originally from Japan, came to the US when she was 22 years old and became a missionary as well. She told me her parents are very spiritual and hardworking and have always tried to instill good values in her and her four brothers.
As a child, Carty remembers moving around often, because the family could not afford rent and struggled to pay the bills. She dreamed about succeeding in life and offering her family a higher standard of living, where they wouldn’t constantly have to worry about finances. “I wanted to get a good job so that I could buy my parents a nice house and a good car that wouldn’t break down every two years.” With this goal in mind, she began working when she was 16 years old as a dishwasher and cashier at the local hospital. She later became a hostess at the same hospital and made it possible for all four of her younger brothers to be hired in the food service department over the years. “We wanted to take the burden off of our parents by getting these jobs and making our own money.”
From Tufts to SIPA
Carty’s parents were very excited to see their daughter pursue higher education. First, she graduated from Tufts University in 2012 with a degree in International Relations and Peace and Justice Studies, with a focus on Africa and the legacy of empires, colonialism, and globalization. Now, she is at an Ivy League school that she chose not because of the brand, but based of the quality of the program and the fact that Columbia offered her a higher scholarship than the other 7 schools she applied to. “I am cognizant of the fact that Columbia is an Ivy League school but I consider it to be a launching pad for my future; it’s not really an important label to me.”
Holding multiple jobs to make ends meet
Despite receiving partial funding, Carty still must work to meet her other financial obligations. Last year, she worked 30 hours a week as a nanny and was also holding a federal work study position for the organization Community Impact. This year, she works 3 part-time jobs and attends 6 classes. She is a Program Assistant for the Office of Career Services; the Day at the UN initiative coordinator for Professor Elisabeth Lindenmayer; and works on grants and development with the not-for-profit organization Opportunity Music Project.
A true renaissance woman
With the little free time that she has, Carty makes times for the things she enjoys. If you know her, you can attest that she is involved in more activities than one can keep track of. From her interview, I learned that she is the type of person with constantly diversified interests. In her senior year of undergrad, in addition to studying and holding a job, she was the captain of the Taekwondo team and directed Tufts University’s annual charity fashion show. At SIPA, she still trains in Taekwondo, and more recently she has begun competing with the Columbia Ballroom Dance team.
“I do what is reflective of me as a person at SIPA, and I feel like I can be genuine, be who I am.” Given the experiences she has shared with me, I asked Carty how easily she adjusted to the Ivy environment. “There was that concern coming from Peace Corps, of whether I could transition from Swaziland to being a fully operative student in NYC.” But the diversity she found at SIPA made her feel uninhibited with who she is. “In the future, I want to be able to give back to society,” she says. “I try to remain aware of the fact that I came from humble beginnings, and I’m not going to develop this elite attitude because I went to an Ivy league.”
Focus on understanding your strengths
Carty’s advice for students coming from less privileged families is to avoid focusing on financial struggles or becoming resentful that others can afford what they cannot. Rather, focus on understanding “what your strengths are and what skills you were able to develop from your particular perspective on life. There’s a lot to celebrate there. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”