Adriana De Persia graduated from our Department with a Master of Arts in English Education. While De Persia was completing her Master’s in 2019, she was selected to be a Highlights Foundation Inaugural Diversity Fellow. Today, De Persia is pursuing an Education PhD at The University of Cambridge and is a Homerton Changemakers Ambassador.

What inspired you to pursue an English degree?

Aha, so I didn’t pursue a degree in English. My undergraduate degree is a BMS in Touristic Culture, and even though my MA is in English Education, my mindset wasn’t that of doing an English degree. Originally, I pursued the MA because I wanted to study at Oxford and bypass the language test. I knew the language, so I said, ‘Why not study a degree with English as the language of instruction and make my way to Oxford that way?’, and merged the language component and the degree through my MA. So you see, since the inception, my mindset wasn’t that of doing ‘English,’ but rather a degree with English as the language of instruction. My mindset also came from what I thought an English degree was and entailed. I didn’t focus on Literature throughout my degree, so to me, my degree wasn’t in English. Moreover, because I initially wanted to become a college professor, I focused more on the Education, rather than English, part of my degree. Thus, when time came, selecting English for my PhD would not have yielded the wanted response in the UK system, or so I thought, so I went with Education instead. My narrow view of what English was made me compartmentalize, and it trickled over to what I thought were my chances. It’s no coincidence, this narrowness. I didn’t really think of my degree as an English one then. Do I think of my degree as an English one now? Sure, but the answer, as I’ve laid out, goes beyond assertion or negation, for I consider it a mixed, multidirectional degree. All this to say, there is plenty of overlap in my work, and at the institution I am now—the University of Cambridge.

How was your experience learning from our faculty? How did your passions within English develop with their help?

The heterogeneity in interests and directions within our faculty was great because it broadened and deepened my perspective. Their patience and enthusiasm as we all grew was amazing. They truly were excited about helping us move forward. I gleaned something from everyone with whom I had the opportunity to work. They were there for me when I needed it, and pointed me to intellectuals and traditions that transformed and sharpened my thinking—for that I’m deeply grateful. 

What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of (before and after graduation)?

Travelling by myself on various occasions between degrees. Just after high school, I went to California for a semester. Then, since I did my BMS in Touristic Culture, I said, ‘Well, let’s go!’ and went to Europe for a few months. These experiences still make me go, ‘Girl, what were you thinking?’ I was pretty bold, reckless, and just overall brave, I think. Daring, I suppose. I survived thanks to my mom’s help from afar, and my own wits. Ah, the memories.

I’m also proud of applying to publishing-related experiences in the US. After I began my MA in Mayagüez, I found out about the Highlights Foundation—a place primarily for KidLit writers and authors to work on their craft— thanks to a YA author who posted an Instagram story about a workshop. What caught my attention the most was the opportunity to win one of the scholarships that covered all costs. I didn’t have a lot of money, so the help was really needed. I’d been writing a manuscript, and thought that I could maybe be awarded a scholarship—I was! And I attended some publishing-related events in the States since. Then, in a full circle moment, I became a Highlights Foundation Inaugural Diversity Fellow in 2019. I’d signed up to receive their newsletter, saw the announcement, applied, and was selected along with nine brilliant inaugural Fellows. I was astonished. It still feels unreal, this journey. The people I’ve met, the community we’ve created, they’re incredible.

I’m proud of having received the acceptance letter from the two institutions to which I applied for my PhD: the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, and the University of Cambridge. I applied to RP first, but deferred because my master’s took me a bit longer than I thought, so I applied to Cambridge to see what would happen—I got in! But I was so happy when I got that acceptance letter from RP. I might not be studying at RP, or in the UPR system any longer, but protesting with the people as an alumna, how great that is. Really, I’m proud to have been part of the UPR system. Going to Carolina, Mayagüez, and having taken courses in Río Piedras, I’m really happy about that. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a pointed, contextualized critique about its many issues, but its understanding that I’m part of a larger, bigger struggle.

And, of course, finishing my thesis is an accomplishment of which I’m deeply proud. It’s been a wild journey, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Some of what’s happened after graduation: I’m currently a Homerton Changemakers Ambassador for a second year; I’ve gotten some money for my PhD research; and I am glad I’m following a path that feels true to what I want to do, which is, as usual, a bit unconventional. Really, I’m modeling what many people have already done and applying it to my work; so it’s nothing new, but I’m glad I get to do what I want.

And, of course, finishing my thesis is an accomplishment of which I’m deeply proud.

What did you learn from these experiences?

Here are a few points I’ve learned in no particular order.

Understanding that education systems are different is key. Expectations and applications vary, so studying them, asking questions, is paramount.

I also learned that remaining in academia is not for me. It’s assumed that people who pursue a PhD automatically want to stay, but that is not the case; there are so many options out there. What’s important is that people understand that they have choices, that they are not beholden to one, and that they can change midway if they so wish and, of course, if they can.

Additionally, it’s very apparent that being in academia is a job. It’s even clearer that everyone involved is a worker, even students; they should be paid thriving wages in this capitalist system. Of course, the idea is to go beyond what we have now, but until we reach it, those most affected need security, safety. Not all students are the same, of course; some enter with additional structural advantages, so we have much to change, and many are owed looooots of money, which is to say, so much more than money.

I learned that the more you know, the more you don’t know! Seriously. The more answers you find, the more questions and inquiries you have. Humility is essential. You know your stuff, sure, but there is always so much to learn. Relatedly, reading outside of what I say I do is probably one of my most treasured research practices; it’s one of my top five pieces of advice to anyone and everyone.

What are your goals for the future?

Finishing my PhD!

What has been your experience in the professional world?

Being at Cambridge in 2020 was Something. I quarantined for two weeks, there was no vaccine at first, and we did everything online. The UK went on multiple lockdowns, left the European Union, and was, surprisingly, sunny and hot on occasions. I returned to the Puerto Rican heat in 2021 for fieldwork, so this academic year promises to be its own journey. I’m a bit nervous, but excited, and every day reminded that it’s unfathomable, this life, to be alive, still. Seguimos.