At the Whittle School, each member of our team is passionate about engaging students in modern, global education, and Katarina Slobodova, assistant director of admission at our D.C. campus, is no exception.
Katarina had a trilingual upbringing in Europe with an American education. She obtained a bachelor's degree in linguistics and cognitive science from Rice University and a masters degree in international education from Columbia University. Her studies focused on East Asia, and she moved to China after studying the Chinese language extensively. There, she played a large role in several student exchange and cultural programs at various educational institutions.
Katarina became a part of Whittle to promote global learning among students around the world. Read on to learn more about her personal journey.
Q: If you were a Whittle student, which campus would you travel to, and why?
A: Nanjing would be my first choice. Nanjing is a city of an alternate history. When we visit cities like Beijing, London, and D.C., we see the history of heroes, wars won, and legacies formed that define these cities to the present day. With a city like Nanjing, you see the remnants of a defeated political party. It leaves you wondering what life in China would have been like if the civil war had ended differently and Nanjing retained its position as the capital. Beautiful wutong or plane trees line the city roads, and ivy-covered college campuses reveal the intertwined lives of students, workers, and neighbors. Nanjing is a poet’s dream and a historian’s fantasy. I can’t imagine a more thought-provoking location to study Chinese language, culture, and history, which is the focus of our Nanjing Center of Excellence.
Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing, the neighborhood I lived in while working in international student services at Peking University
Q: Design your perfect X-day.
A: My ideal X-day would start at 10 a.m. with a two-hour parkour training session. Sports are important for both the mind and body to function at peak performance, and parkour is, by its nature, one of the most accommodating sports for different skill levels and interests, as movements can be optimized for beauty, efficiency, or power.
We would pick our lunch in the greenhouse that supplies our fruits and vegetables, with a few additional dishes supplemented by the kitchen. The afternoon would be spent in an immersive language format, guiding our visiting Chinese exchange students on a tour of the gardens and other campus facilities in Chinese.
We end the day reflecting on the tours and reviewing vocabulary gaps that can help improve our next day’s tour of the city. By the end of the day, my head would be filled with new ideas for a research project for my semester abroad in Nanjing. I would fall asleep dreaming in Chinese.
Katarina at her usual Saturday morning parkour training session in Beijing
Katarina (far left) at the end of a training session with friends
Q: How has foreign language impacted your life?
A: I grew up with three languages: English, Slovak, and German. Mandarin was the only one I learned with an adult brain, and it has been by far the one that captivated me the most. Considering I have no heritage connection to China, my family always found this to be a fairly obscure interest, especially in Texas, where Spanish is king.
I never bothered mentioning my even more bizarre fascination (or obsession, some might say) with Hokkien, a dialect spoken in the Southern part of Mainland China and Taiwan. It was the music and unique socialization surrounding each of these smaller subcultures that allowed me to go beyond what initially seemed like an incomprehensibly mammoth conception of Asia. I suppose that’s why it took something as big as Whittle to bring me back.
Q: What drew you to Whittle?
On the east coast of Taiwan near Taidong collecting wild coconuts
A: Prior to joining Whittle, I was living in Taipei. As far as I was concerned, I was never going to leave what I considered paradise. The friendly and down-to-earth nature of Taiwan’s most bustling city reminded me of my hometown in Texas. As much as I enjoyed the pristine beaches, Taiwan’s economy did not reflect its previous prestige as one of Four Asian Tigers of the '90s.
I started to look back west for inspiration, and I dug into the depths of online forums for Asia-interested professionals. At a time when Whittle was a school without a building and without students, I couldn’t help but be drawn to its most fundamental belief: that studying abroad changes lives. This core personal belief is what initially drove me to specialize in international educational development and ultimately to Asia to support students pursuing global learning opportunities.
The goal of Whittle is to build a school that integrates content mastery with immersive language study. While working in international student services and admissions in Asia, I witnessed the impact of these types of academic opportunities. Studying abroad leads to both practical and personally meaningful language mastery, but perhaps more importantly, it leads to personal growth and cultural competency- skills that can not be replicated in the traditional classroom.
Ultimately, I knew I wanted to guide students towards these life changing experiences.
Katarina Slobodova is just one of our team members passionate about igniting global education in the lives of our students. Keep an eye out for more opportunities to get to know our staff, or attend one of our upcoming events to meet our team and learn more about our mission.