A Risk Leads to New Choices for Hanni Thoma

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 9:00am

Hanni Thoma ’09 traveled only three miles from her home in Granby, Massachusetts, to Mount Holyoke, but her world expanded just by being on campus.

“Mount Holyoke is such a global community,” she says. “It piqued my interest in international studies.”

She taught in a small town north of Paris two years after graduating, and now, through a recently awarded Fulbright fellowship, plans to spend the next school year as an English teaching assistant at two colleges in Budapest, Hungary, where she will also work in the EducationUSA advising center.

It wasn’t easy for Thoma to make that move to France. It meant being some 3,500 miles away from her twin sister, Darcy, who did most everything with her, including graduating from Mount Holyoke.

“I think having a twin, you become codependent on that person,” she says. “Nobody thought I could go abroad.”

Except for Lenore Reilly, whose confidence in Thoma provided the emotional support she needed for taking a risk.

In the summer of 2010, Thoma had earned her global teaching certificate in an MHC program offered by Reilly, then a professor of psychology and education and currently senior advisor to the president and secretary of the College.

Thoma, a politics major with a minor in art history, grew interested in teaching after volunteering at the Westfield Youth Detention Center. While playing a word game with teenagers there, she was surprised that one couldn’t spell the word airplane. She saw a need that she could fill, and now she is enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, studying for an M.Ed. in bilingual/ESL/multicultural education.

Thoma applied for a Fulbright to Hungary “because the language is unique, and its origins are difficult to trace,” she says. “This was a great opportunity to teach, observe, and learn about how individuals who speak such a unique language acquire English.”

The Fulbright also covers research, and Thoma plans to study gender differences in higher education. She became fascinated with this topic while taking a feminist theory course at Mount Holyoke and also after observing how students at a women’s college had access to everything, while her female friends at co-ed institutions did not get priority.

—By Ronni Gordon