Dr. Aviva Hirschfeld Legatt on Tina Fey and Visiting Sweden (and Maybe China)

Noodle Expert Dr. Aviva Hirschfeld Legatt talks with us about realizing it's impossible to please everyone, her route toward advising international students seeking to study at American universities, and what she'd like to learn from Tina Fey.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Actress-writer-comedian Tina Fey would be a phenomenal teacher. She is combines humor, intelligence, and a “human” quality so well in her written work and embodies it in her media persona. Tina is a rare example of a person who seems to possess the two (often competing) qualities of seriousness and humor. I believe in the importance of achieving a balance between humanity and diligence. From Tina, I would want to learn about her outlook and workflow in order to enhance my own creative thinking, resilience, and worldview.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

“You can’t please everyone!” In other words, trust your gut over what others think about you or your work. I have realized that the goal of pleasing everyone is unattainable and that working toward it is self-defeating. Rather than compromise your own values, realize that not everyone is going to provide you with support and encouragement. Don’t ignore your critics; they can provide constructive feedback. But don’t let the critics determine or undermine your path. Also, there’s a difference between criticizing the work and the individual. Learn the difference, and seek out both positive and constructive feedback to make improvements.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

It very much depends on who the student is and what her interests are. For those interested in sociology, for example, I would suggest going to a small European country like Sweden. Compared with the U.S., there is a lot more standardization and cohesion across different geographies and professions within the country. It’s interesting to learn how people from other cultures live their daily lives. Students should also consider traveling to China, the most populous country in the world where the main language, Mandarin, is most popular language in the world. I’m learning Mandarin, and hope others decide to do the same!

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I am not the strongest student in math. Many times the fear of failure can be more challenging than the subject matter itself. I’ve always done about average in my math classes. It’s important to do the best you can in subjects that are difficult for you to get the greatest benefit from your learning. At the same time, it is important to make peace with the fact that you may achieve better results in some subjects than in others.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I grew up in a highly-educated community in Princeton, NJ. My college search process was very stressful (as well as enlightening), as almost everyone from my high school sought to attend selective colleges and universities. Since my initial high school search, I developed a passion for the process — the ins and outs of various colleges/universities/programs and what they are looking for in students. When I first had the vision of doing college advising, I thought I would advise American students. However, I have found a great passion and gift for advising international students. Advising students from around the world as they navigate the American college and university system is a great fit for me, as it leverages my higher education knowledge, intuition, and empathy to help students find the best-fit colleges and graduate schools for them — and hopefully allows them to articulate their true selves.

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