News from the JCR/MCR – Hannah Joy Sachs, Interview

17th April 2017

Hannah Joy Sachs is a New Yorker studying for the MSc in Migration Studies. She tells us about her fascinating background and study interests.

Tell us about your background and what you did before coming to Blackfriars:

I’m not sure who the ‘typical’ Blackfriars student is but it is most likely not I. I am a Chinese American adoptee raised in a Caucasian Jewish family from New York. From an early age, I’ve had to grapple with an identity that others question and challenge more often than accept. These experiences have inspired my academic, extracurricular, and personal pursuits. Prior to Oxford, I majored in sociology at Davidson College, a top 10 ranked liberal arts school in the United States. My high honours thesis looked at identity construction and embodiment of transracial transnational adoptees from China, contributing to literature on social identity, sociology of family, and transracial transnational communities. Outside the classroom, I was an active student leader in Hillel, the interfaith group on campus, and a series of other diversity and multicultural advocacy initiatives. In the summers, I worked in Southeast Asia, leading high school educational and service programmes. These experiences all enriched my understanding of my own identity and inspired me to learn more about cross-cultural connections, migration and social implications of mobility. After graduating last year, I wanted to continue my education with a more international social science focus, and decided to enrol in the interdisciplinary Migration Studies programme at Oxford.

Why did you choose Blackfriars? Blackfriars is not a typical Oxford institutions—what do you think are its positives? Any surprises?

To be honest, Blackfriars chose me. I accepted the offer because I was eager to challenge myself and study alongside people whose paths I would not otherwise cross. After reading about the community and exchanging emails with some of the support staff, I was attracted to the small, tight-knit community. My undergraduate institution was Presbyterian-affiliated, and my experience there (after growing up in a highly secular, public school environment in the States) was that religiously-affiliated colleges offer a unique space to discuss / question religion and forge connections along religious differences. As a former leader of a Jewish student organization in undergrad and an active member of different interfaith networks, I wanted to continue surrounding myself with people who weren’t afraid to discuss religion in general and explore their own religious identities.

Tell us about your study program; what particular focus do you have?

Migration studies—human migration, not that of whales or birds!—is an interdisciplinary program situated within the development studies department and the school of anthropology. I was drawn to the interdisciplinary approach and the broad range of topics the programme covered, from conceptually what ‘diaspora’ and ‘transnationalism’ mean to the tangible economic, social, and political considerations migrants endure. My focus is on the sociological and anthropological disciplines within migration and mobility studies, and the implications transnationalism on one’s social identity and sense of belonging. In particular, I am looking at Chinese Americans’ intragroup identity differences by comparing adoptees and other Chinese immigrants’ racial and cultural experiences and understandings.

Where do you think you will go next after Blackfriars?

I have just accepted a two-year Social Justice Fellowship through Hillel International at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. This position will allow me to work with undergraduate and graduate students within the campus’ Jewish community as well as work on interfaith initiatives with other religious life professionals. I am excited that I will be able to explore further my own Jewish identity in a vibrant and diverse community. In the longer term, I see myself working in multicultural affairs, experiential learning and Higher Education, and/or internationally with an NGO in some capacity.

Leaving aside your studies, what’s your favourite thing about Oxford?

I love the history of Oxford: every building and every street has a story and how small, unexpected communities flourish throughout the city. I’ve explored the touristy spots like the University Church tower, heard world class speakers such as Professor Stephen Hawking at the Oxford Union, and shared Shabbat dinners at the Chabad House with other Jewish community members and non-Jews alike. Each experience is different but all are just as meaningful and truly enrich my Oxford experience.