Wherever Klara Markus Serfaty has lived — and her work has taken her to several Asian countries — she tries to spend time at the local Chabad house. A native of Venezuela, Serfaty, 27, works at Quad Learning, a Washington-based organization that tries to attract foreign students to study at American universities.
She didn’t have an easy time when she transferred to Yale University from a community college in Miami. Still, she graduated from Yale with a degree in political science in 2013.
What was the transition like from community college to Yale?
When I went to New Haven, it was a significant culture shock. Everyone, as soon as fall started, was wearing North Face, so [I thought] maybe I should get North Face. I remember walking into a North Face store and a vest is $150. This thing doesn’t even keep you that warm!
Academically, it was really challenging. I transferred as a junior and when you transfer as a junior, there is an expectation that you know how to write a paper, and you know a lot of other things that I didn’t know.
I remember a professor sat me down after my first paper and she said “You don’t know how to write in English.” So I had to learn how to write again, or how to write properly.
I was either going to drop out, which was a very real thing that I considered, or my adviser [suggested I] become a sophomore again. So I became a sophomore again.
I ended up with a college degree. I did graduate from Yale … one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was graduate.
After you graduated, you started working at Quad Learning. What do they do?
We’re pivoting toward international enrollment and management services, which in education lingo boils down to helping universities and higher education institutions recruit and retain international students.
You studied political science at Yale. Why did you choose to work at Quad Learning?
When Quad Learning first started they were exclusively working with community colleges and they opened up a program called “American Honors” with a vision and mission to increase access to higher education and affordability.
Having first started at community college and being where I am because of community college, I felt that this was a great time to [give back]. I worked initially as an academic in what we called “Honors Advisors,” helping students craft their plan of success.
“How can I help you get into your dream school?” and really broaden your horizons like someone did for me.
Why do you always visit Chabad houses when you travel to different countries for work?
Being an American Jew comes with certain things attached to it, compared to being a Latin American Jew or a European Jew. But at the end of the day we’re all remembering. We’re all doing these practices that have been going on for centuries and that’s no different.
What is different when you go to such a foreign context, like Vietnam, is that you enter into this parallel universe [when you walk into a Chabad]. There’s a bunch of Hebrew being spoken, and I can see very typical foods on the table. You feel like you are stepping into these very comfortable slippers. It orients you and it feels very grounding.
[When you live in a foreign city] everything is new, and when things are new everything is hard. [I say,] OK, I have to go to the pharmacy. Let me look on Google to find out what are the active ingredients of the thing that I want, and hope that someone knows them and it’s the same word. It’s really nice to find something where you know what to do.
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