Alumni
Alumni Stories

Sonja Perakis

Class of 1999
What happens when you educate a student with the intent of promoting responsible international consciousness or global citizenry? How do you know, as a parent or a school, that you’ve succeeded in that endeavor?
 
Success comes in many forms, and is measured in many ways. However, when we hear of PFAS*/ISTP alumna Sonja Perakis’s thriving international career, we know our efforts have been successful.
 
As a kindergartener in 1986, Sonja had no idea what a French immersion education entailed. “I don’t think my parents had fully thought through how attending an immersion French program would shape our respective world views, but they fully trusted the teachers and staff at the PFAS and the French education system.”
 
During Sonja’s junior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she spent time abroad in Brazil, and it was during this time that she opened the door to a path that would ultimately lead her to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).
 
Sonja says of her time in northeastern Brazil, “I got really interested in the role of the agricultural sector in International Development. I took some advice to go and enroll in the best graduate program possible in International Development to gain all the academic training possible to prepare myself to address the issues of poverty and food insecurity.”
 
Upon completing her triple major in French Literature, Economics, and International Affairs, Sonja began her Masters and Doctoral studies in Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University (MSU). On why she chose MSU, Sonja says “They happen to have a very strong interest in many French speaking countries in West Africa. The research and consulting opportunities that came up during Grad school allowed me to use my French language skills, but also my past cross-cultural social and professional experiences.”
 
Now, as a Markets and Trade Advisor for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), Sonja’s principal task is to monitor and analyze essential food markets throughout the world.
 
Sonja’s work during her time at MSU took her traveling throughout West Africa. Through these travels Sonja and her son Julien have even set down some roots in Mali. “My famille de coeur in Mali is Peuhl, and when I am over there I am proudly a Diallo (a common Peuhl last name). [...] It is actually a really fun part of Malian culture to refer to the different relationships between families.”
 
When asked to reflect on how her French immersion education influenced her and her career, Sonja goes on to say, “at the PFAS, we were really introduced to the notion of ‘global citizenship’ at a very young age. I think that it is completely safe to say that is unlikely I would be doing what I am doing today if I had not had the French language and cultural immersion that I had at the PFAS. Many of my classmates had at least one parent who was not born and raised in the United States, so it really made for a different understanding of the world around us. [...] There were times when it was frustrating, for all of us, that my parents could not help us with our homework in French, but I think it all worked out OK.”
 
A triple major, an M.S. (also currently working on her dissertation for her Ph.D.), a famille de coeur in Mali, and her own burgeoning family Kyle, her very supportive husband - we would say things for Sonja worked out better than just ‘OK.’
 
With her own son quickly approaching Kindergarten, Sonja hopes to enroll him in a French immersion program. “If I lived in the Bay Area, I would love to send him to ISTP.” No matter which French program Julien is enrolled in, we think Sonja will have an easier time helping him with homework than her own parents did.
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