Citizen of the World

Hannah  Foster

Class of 2019 • Brewster, New York
Imagine leaving your comfort zone at sixteen and choosing to immerse yourself in a place and a culture so completely different from Westchester County, New York, that you have to start by learning Malay just to be able speak to your family.


Hannah Foster ’19 embraces everything about travel.  She designed herself an education that would take her to new places instead of “stressing over AP courses.”  It turns out Foster loves learning languages and experiencing a variety of cultures; she got an early start by applying while in high school for a scholarship from the Department of State to participate in a program created to foster friendships between U.S. youth and youth from Muslim countries.  “So I went to Malaysia, lived with a host family. and had a really incredible time there and it changed the whole trajectory of my life.” 

Foster is an International Studies and Anthropology major and Cater Fellow.  She also has a blog: Textbooks and Teacups  She recently returned from three semesters abroad, having spent the first two in the Netherlands and the third in China.  Her original plan was to spend the second semester in South Africa, but her plans were waylaid by trouble acquiring a visa.  Instead she studied in Leiden for the first and The Hague for the second.  “In The Hague I found my own apartment, had Dutch flat-mates and I liked the experience a lot.”  She took Dutch studies courses, Culture and Society of the Netherlands and courses in the humanities while in Leiden and in her second semester in The Hague. “I had an anthropology-heavy program, mostly archeology.  Most of the courses were taught in English even though most of the students were Dutch, and our papers could be submitted in either English or Dutch, which I found kind of interesting.”

“I found that it took me about a month and a half to be able to learn enough of a language so I could fake it until I could make it.  Being conversational, getting through a grocery store, that sort of thing.  It takes about 5 months to be able to speak on a deeper level, beyond what you had for dinner or the weather.”

From there she was off to Beijing, China as the first Washington College student to participate in a program through the China Studies Institute.  “I was taking a basic Chinese studies program, classes in Mandarin and Chinese economics, and I had an internship.”  Her intern work was with the China Global Philanthropy Institute, founded by Bill Gates and Ray Dalio among others.  Their goal was to help the new high net worth individuals in China create a philanthropic economy, Foster says, “to teach the new rich how to give charitably and responsibly now that they were in a position to do so.  There’s not a culture of charity yet in China, so many of the participants wanted to found their own non-profits but the really didn’t know how to.”

“I think the first thing you notice when you travel are the differences, but I actually gained value in looking at the similarities.  In Malaysia I was the only white person in a school of 800 girls, and I stood out.  But instead of finding things so different, I noticed that we all stressed out over homework or boyfriends.  And that’s where I figured out that even though we were raised in different places, in different circumstances, a lot of the human experiences are the same across the cultures.”

For her Senior Capstone Experience she explored why Chinese students want to study at small liberal arts colleges in the US.  She interviewed about 20 Washington College students to determine whether the experience matched their expectations.

She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Arts and Culture, with a concentration in Politics & Society, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.