“What’s meant for you won’t miss you if you keep going,” says Christian Tanja (M.A.’ 16). “So, even when I didn’t get the first job I applied for, I kept going, and a better fitting job came up. If you keep moving toward whatever north star you’re heading toward, the things that need to happen will happen.” This is how Tanja, a graduate of the International Educational Development program, sums up his unexpected graduate and career path.

Tanja began his career in higher education in the undergraduate admissions office of his alma mater, UCLA. During a work trip to China, an opportunity arose to work there. A few years later, he wanted to return to the U.S. for a master’s degree. He sent applications to a few schools, but his heart was set on Stanford University. But things don’t always go as planned, and he was not among those accepted by the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Instead, he accepted an offer from Teachers College, which he now realizes was a terrific place for him. “There’s nothing like the backdrop of New York City. It’s the most international city in the United States; it has the typology that lends itself to many capital cities in many countries, both with mass transportation, a saturation of variance, and a world-class playground to have all these different micro-experiences of how to be and hold space with people who are different than you. So, Teachers College was exactly that: it was a model of the world.” 

Almost eight years after his rejection brought him to us at Teachers College, what he learned here helped guide him back to Stanford, where Tanja secured a position as Assistant Director of Admissions for the university’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars fellowship. The fellowship accepts candidates from various disciplines to learn how to lead and live with people from different backgrounds. “I love that the mission cultivates our scholars to think more curiously, to lead more courageously, and to reinforce a passion for the greater good; that everything you do is in service of something or some communities.”

“I’ve been forged through my different experiences,” says Tanja, “and an important grounding aspect is being a first-generation college student, a scholar of color, and a queer person. All of those different intersections have led me here.” 

Tanja advises patience and open-mindedness above all else for students considering graduate school. “I think you can use any data you have up until that point to determine your next step, but not trying to solve the Mount Everest of ‘What is my mission in life?’ but rather, ‘What is my mission now? Today?’ and start with that. Eventually, those things will start to set you on the course of where you want to go. So come with a loose plan, but also be open to taking a path less trodden and ready to open yourself up to adventure.”

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