Graduating ASU student Ashai Thomas, surrounded by flowers / Courtesy photo

Graduating transfer student blooms into Peace Corps volunteer

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

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

Graduating Arizona State University student Ashai Thomas seems to embody the advice to, “bloom where you’re planted.”

Thomas, who is earning a BA in English (linguistics) along with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) this spring, is indeed blooming. She has thrived as a resident of Tempe, where her family moved from Saint Louis when she was a child. And after graduation, Thomas will join the selective ranks of Peace Corps volunteers with an assignment in Panama.

A self-professed extrovert, Thomas enjoys both learning and imparting hard-earned wisdom. She describes her initial study abroad experience — in Costa Rica as a community college student — as her “aha” moment. Her Instagram handle, @puravida_ashai, extends to her virtual circle her adopted Costa Rican cultural philosophy about embracing life fully. From her formative time at Mesa Community College to her more recent position as an ASU Transfer Student Ambassador, Thomas has taken advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.

She grafted some time from graduation preparation to share a little bit more about herself and her plans.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: My “aha” moment in choosing my major was when I studied abroad in Costa Rica for the summer when enrolled at Mesa Community College. Studying abroad in Costa Rica was my first time leaving the United States, and was the longest that I’ve traveled away from my family. At the time, I was pursuing a career in psychology at MCC; psychology was fascinating to me but that wasn't what I was passionate about. Traveling for the first time overseas and interacting with different cultures first-hand changed how I saw the world and how I saw what I wanted to do with my life. I discovered my passion for language and learning about different cultures; I am a big extrovert and I love talking to people and learning differences between cultures. So, my “aha” moment was when I went out of my comfort zone and learned about what I really wanted to do for a career. I want to teach English in different parts of the world so that I am able to share my culture as well as learn about others.

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

A: Something that I learned while attending ASU was about how to network with different cultures. ASU is known for the diversity of students from different states and the world. Currently, I am interning at the (W. P. Carey) Global Education Center where I am an assistant teacher and mentor to international students who attend ASU. I teach English pronunciation and American culture.

As a mentor, I’ve learned about different cultural communication styles, such as verbal and non-verbal cues, that I was not aware of before interning at the center. Furthermore, I’ve learned how to ask questions and to not be afraid to seek help from professors and faculty. By learning how to network and finding ASU resources that I did not know about before — such as Peace Corps representatives — I’ve achieved my ultimate career goal: I was recently accepted into the United States Peace Corps to serve in Panama.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to go to ASU because of the study abroad program as well as receiving a full ride scholarship through the Next Generation Service Corps. Attending ASU was the best choice for me because of its linguistics program, as well as the resources and opportunities they offer to linguistic and TESOL students.

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

A: The professor that inspired me and motivated me to fight to achieve my goals even when it got tough was [director of English internships] Ruby Macksoud. Ruby has taught me how to go and do further than what was expected of me, and to not underestimate my future students or myself. Ruby has helped me thrive in ways that I never thought I could, such as being accepted into the Peace Corps and applying to different English teaching positions all over the world. She has taught me to take risks, to not take “no” for an answer, and to never give up. Ruby is someone that I look up to and the kind of teacher I want to be.

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

A: The best advice that I want to give is to not be afraid to know what you want and to seek help in reaching your goals. Also: Make friends. This is the time to really learn about yourself. Explore different interests by joining a club, getting involved on campus or doing what I did: study abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile. I strongly suggest studying abroad and getting out of your comfort zone. Studying abroad will open up more opportunities for you in your degree.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus to study and to meet up with friends is the Farmer Education Building. I also love the Memorial Union, where there are always events that go on that give out free food. As a college student, I love free food and ASU swag! In the (Memorial Union) basement, there are pool tables where you can play with friends, watch TV and play video games. This is the area where I liked to spend most of my time creating new memories.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to first teach English as a second language in Santiago, Chile, then serve in the United States Peace Corps as an English teacher for the following two years in Panama. After my service, I plan to extend my education and obtain a master’s degree in applied linguistics, then teach English at a college level overseas.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If someone gave me $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, I would take on the education systems all over the world. For me, education was my ticket to making a change and doing what I never thought would be possible for me: traveling, learning a second language and having the tools to reach my goals. I believe that every person deserves the right to equal and quality education, and deserves to have teachers who care about them academically, professionally and personally. Many schools all over the world, including in the United States, do not have enough resources. Some of these resources include updated textbooks, opportunities for entrepreneurship, and funding for higher education. With $40 million, I would give students a chance to explore and learn different things, to help them change their lives and communities.