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Identity Formation through Cultural Education: Getting to know Hannah Joy Sachs



Hannah Joy Sachs was raised in the suburbs of New York in a white Jewish family. She grew up riding horses in her free time and cheering for the New York Yankees with her dad, a native of the Bronx. For as long as she can remember, Hannah’s parents ensured that she learned about her adoptee and Asian American identities. On weekends, she took Mandarin classes with her dad along with other Chinese adoptees and their parents. When she was ten, her family, along with another adoptee family whose daughter was from the same hometown, traveled to China. There, in addition to exploring the more traditional sightseeing stops and learning about Chinese culture, Hannah visited the orphanage where she spent the first five months of her life. Although the suburban New York town that Hannah grew up in was not culturally diverse, she actively learned about her Chinese heritage. It was this identity that sparked her interest in racial and cultural identity development.

Her Asian American and adoptee identities sparked her interest in racial and cultural identity development. 

In addition to her Chinese heritage, Hannah was actively interested in different cultures and places in the world. When she was 15 years old, she embarked on the first of many international educational trips. She learned about local cultures and histories, often discussing difficult issues such as the legacy of colonialism and violent forms of discrimination in her summer in Southeast Asia. After participating in these formative trips, she began interning at Rustic Pathways in Thailand and Myanmar her freshman year of college. During her six summers with this company, she learned more about Southeast Asian cultures and histories, as well as human rights concerns in the region through friends and co-workers from Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. 

Hannah continued studying the region during her undergraduate career at Davidson College, a small liberal arts school in North Carolina. In particular, she was interested in regional migration of ethnic minority groups, and the conflicts that drove them from their homes. Along with studying abroad in Yunnan, China and SOAS in London, Hannah studied race relations and identity at Davidson. Outside the classroom, Hannah was an active member of the small Jewish community on campus, eventually becoming the Student President of the Jewish Student Organization. Having been raised by a Jewish family in a community where everyone was familiar with Judaism, attending Presbytarian-affiliated Davidson where many peers had never met a Jewish person before was a cultural adjustment. In addition to learning more about her identity as an adoptee and Asian American, Davidson allowed Hannah to explore her identity as a Jew of color. 

Hannah is interested in regional migration of ethnic minority groups, and the conflicts that drove them from their homes. 

Hannah’s undergraduate degree in sociology culminated with a thesis on identity formation of Chinese American adoptees raised in white families. Her interest in racial and cultural identity, along with diasporic communities, led her to pursue an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. Her dissertation looked at transracial transnational adoptees from China and how their lived experiences compared to 1.5 and second generation Chinese Americans raised in Asian households.

In her Humanity in Action Berlin Fellowship, she found a healing space and community that encouraged her to explore and incorporate different conversations into her own worldview.

After graduating with her Master’s, Hannah became a 2018 Humanity in Action Berlin Fellow. There, she found a healing space and community that encouraged her to explore and incorporate different conversations into her own worldview. She applied these lessons to her own work as a young professional. Until the pandemic began, Hannah served as an experiential educator for GAP year and study abroad programs throughout Southeast Asia and the United States. She had always been passionate about education outside the traditional classroom setting, and these programs that she led allowed students with all learning styles to immerse themselves in new cultures and communities. Most recently, she led courses for Where There Be Dragons, in which students lived with host families, studied topics of interest from local mentors, and learned local languages. Through this role, Hannah returned to China and was able to further explore her identity as a Chinese American adoptee working in her birth country. 

As Humanity in Action decided to adapt its Fellowship program to be 100% virtual due to the pandemic, Hannah joined the Humanity in Action Germany team as program coordinator. In January 2021, she started a new role as Communications and Community Manager for Humanity in Action Inc., joining the team during an exciting period of change and development. Hannah is excited to explore this new role and work to strengthen the Senior Fellow community, especially during a time when connecting to others and promoting social justice feels as urgent as ever.