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ASU grad pursues passions in language and culture

ASU School of Politics and Global Studies grad Tatum James

Tatum James

May 04, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Tatum James, who is first-generation student graduating this May with degrees in global studies and Spanish from Arizona State University, always knew she wanted higher education.

“It has taught me to be hardworking, determined, and, most of all, incredibly grateful for my opportunity to obtain an education,” James said.

One of her first undergraduate opportunities came in the summer of 2016 when James studied Albanian at the Melikian Center’s Critical Languages Institute. According to James, the program ignited her love of language learning and her interest in the Balkan region.

The following summer, during the second year in the institute's program, James studied abroad in Tirana, Albania.

“This was my first long term experience abroad and away from home, but I quickly fell in love with Albania,” she said.

While in Albania, James would stay with an elderly couple who did not speak English. She would go on to learn how to cook traditional Albanian food, attend weddings that lasted multiple days and travel throughout the country on class excursions.

Her love for Albania deepened further once she returned to the United States and participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Federal Service internship. She would work with EducationUSA preparing 25 Albanian high school students for American universities through monthly video chats.

In spring 2019, James studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain, through the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. Being a Gilman Scholar allowed her the opportunity to study the local language of Catalan. The opportunity is what inspired her to pursue a career in U.S. Foreign Service.

“My experience as a Gilman Scholar in Barcelona opened up so many doors for me,” James said.

Beyond the skills she learned through internships and study abroad, James wanted to push herself in the classroom as well. She joined Barrett, The Honors College at the beginning of her junior year. In addition to the exciting challenges of honors courses, she was able to access unique opportunities like serving on the Advisory Board at the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development.

“Barrett has been challenging but so rewarding,” James said.

After graduation, James will travel to North Macedonia for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. She then plans to pursue the new MA in International Affairs and Leadership through the School of Politics and Global Studies, which is a partnership with the McCain Institute.

“I think I gravitate towards this international lifestyle because I see it as a way to challenge myself,” James said. “And so far, throughout each of these challenging experiences, I have come away so much more aware, open-minded, and grateful.”

Question: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: During my first couple of semesters at ASU, I was a political science major. But I noticed that I wasn't so much interested in the material as I was about foreign affairs. So when I walked past a poster that highlighted a global studies student and her experience, I had an "aha" moment: I could major in a field that I was passionate and excited about!

Q: What's something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: ASU's prioritization of inclusivity surprised me. When I walked on campus for the first time, I was surrounded by so many people of different backgrounds, speaking different languages and celebrating different cultures. I only came from Fountain Hills, just a 30-minute drive away, but I was blown away to see how diverse ASU is.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I took my first honors course, The History of Ideas, with Dr. (Peter) Schmidt. He was very invested in us and our learning experience. He wanted us to succeed, but what I appreciate most about his teaching style is that he questions and challenges his students. This was a great lesson because it overall made me work harder and be a better student.

Q: What's the best piece of advice you'd give to those still in school?

A: I would say to take advantage of every single opportunity available to you, from learning a critical language at CLI (the Critical Languages Institute), to studying abroad, to visiting ONSA (Office of National Scholarship Advisement) to learn about scholarships and fellowships that will help you obtain your educational and professional goals. 

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