Malaysia > Bangladesh > Louisiana > Worcester: Lunch date with Shan Yi Koay

“In 5 years? I’d be open to working anywhere in the world if I get a job that I like. I thought most people would think the same way, but I’m realizing that a lot of people are more concerned about the risks of moving to a new place rather than the experiences and opportunities it would open up. I think the flexibility that I have comes from our background.”

This is Shan Yi Koay, a recent Clark graduate (IDSC ‘2013), who is now enjoying her young professional career as the Community Programs Manager at Ivy Child International. Ivy Child is a Worcester based non-profit organization that works to improve the social and emotional well-being of children through mindfulness-based health education programs such as yoga and mindful art. Their vision is based on Positive Psychology and mindfulness based learning (MBL), and the founder and CEO Rose Pavlov explains their approach in her TEDx talk titled, “Unlocking children’s potential through mindfulness”.

Shan is a Third Culture Kid – a term you probably have heard of by now if you are a Clarkie, or have been reading this blog. She is from Malaysia, but has lived in Bangladesh for eleven years before coming to the states for college. After spending four years at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA, where she received a B.A. in Sociology, she moved to Worcester to pursue a graduate degree in International Development and Social Change at Clark University.

A fun fact is that Shan and I graduated from the same American International School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We are four years apart so we never actually overlapped in high school, but the social web of our school is so tight and small that we knew of each other through a handful of mutual friends and teachers. I met her at Clark four years ago as a first-year undergraduate student when she was a first-year graduate student, and I felt as though it was like meeting an old friend for the first time.

So I’ve known her for a long time, and I decided she would be a perfect person to interview for an article, as an example of what the “life after Clark” could look like – in Worcester – for an international student. (Just in case you were wondering, we went to a Thai restaurant called Basil ‘n Spice on Shrewsbury Street for lunch. Great food, reasonable pricing, and clean and classy interior design. I would definitely recommend it!)

Spicy Drunken Noodle, Basil 'n Spice (Photo by Michino)
Spicy Drunken Noodle, Basil ‘n Spice    (Photo by Michino)

Covered by the GoLocalWorcester magazine as a “Central MA Up + Comer” in 2013, Shan’s first job after graduating from Clark was the Executive Assistant to the President at Ivy Child International. She was not expecting to stay in Worcester, she tells me as we dig into the spicy noodles. “The opportunity just fell in place. After completing my OPT with them for a year, they were willing to sponsor my work visa. I decided to stay because the opportunity of being part of the behind-the-scenes operations for a start-up non-profit organization was such a unique learning and professional experience.”

As the direct assistant to the founder of a small but growing organization, Shan took on a variety of roles from her very first year including basic administrative and support duties, marketing and event coordination, and onboarding and managing interns and staff.

She spoke about two aspects of her current position that she enjoys. The first is the space that Ivy Child has for growth and change. The organization was basically kicking off when she joined. “I felt like I got to first-handedly experience the process of starting a non-profit, without actually being the Founder or CEO,” Shan says.

Located in Worcester, a city with great needs and potential to really seeing some results, Ivy Child allows Shan to get creative and bring her ideas to life. Yoga in the Park and Mindful Happy Hour are two examples of community programs that Shan created and helped develop, both of which are growing popular amongst Clarkies, as well. (Check out the recent albums for Yoga in the Park and Mindful Happy Hour!)

The second aspect of the job that she enjoys is the community connections it has opened up for her. “This job has allowed me to meet amazing community leaders and so many different people from various organizations and groups that are working towards similar goals in Worcester. This is something that has made me feel more ‘at home’ in Worcester.”

Grinning because it’s a little bit of a funny question to ask a friend over lunch, I asked Shan, “What inspires you?” The first word she said was, “family.” She has two younger siblings, who are equally motivated. She said, “We’re the kind of people who need to be doing things all the time. Otherwise, we get bored.” Shan for example is also a self-taught freelance graphic designer, on top of everything that she does. “I like to keep myself busy. I’m curious, and I love learning new things. I don’t know if I’ll ever see or learn enough.”

Needless to say, it was a delightful experience to share a good meal with such a friendly, bright and driven person. If you ask me – people like Shan are what inspire me.

– Michino


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