Justice Ohanasian '21

Spanish and Social Work Majors | Rainforest Guide
woman in water

Describe what you are currently doing for work and your path.

Since June 2021, I have been a full time rainforest tour guide in El Yunque National Park, Puerto Rico! After graduation, I went on a solo trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I absolutely fell in love with the culture. I decided to take a leap of faith and uproot my entire life from New Hampshire to move to the city of San Juan and work in the rainforest. Since I’ve begun this new chapter, my Spanish has improved exponentially as I share conversations and quality time with the locals (boricuas), tourists and everyone in between. The Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures could not have been more successful and thorough in preparing me for my life’s greatest adventure thus far. Every day, I get to enjoy Puerto Rico’s rich culture of catchy regatón, delicious food and, most importantly, the love they share with everyone who opens their heart to their beautiful Caribbean culture. I absolutely love guiding folks through the beautiful terrain of the United States’ only tropical forest. However, I am looking forward to eventually entering the field of social work here, with a specific focus on studying gentrification and resilience in San Juan. I cannot express the gratitude and awe I have for every UNH faculty, staff and peer who played a role in encouraging me to chase my dreams and always reach higher.

How did your education in COLA prepare you for life after college?

I began taking classes with the LLC department during my freshman year at UNH, when I declared Spanish as my second major. That choice has proved to be one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. Becoming bilingual in Spanish and English opened so many doors for me, personally and professionally, before I even put on my cap and gown; during my senior year at UNH, I interned at a domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center, where I was the only advocate on site that could communicate with our many Spanish-speaking clients. Upon graduating, the world was my oyster as far as opportunities for careers and housing. It may appear that working in the tourism industry is quite unrelated to either of my majors. However, sharing the Puerto Rican language and culture with others as well as encouraging visitors to engage with the unique ecology is an enjoyable and enlightening endeavor. The literal nature of leaning the Spanish language is, of course, a highly useful skill that I have taken from the LLC department. However, each professor that I connected with in Murkland Hall over the course of four years taught me an individual priceless lesson that has shaped me into a more observant learner, a more genuine communicator and, most importantly, a more open minded and empathetic member of the ecosystem of society.

What person or course most influenced you while at UNH?

As cliché as it may sound, every LLC professor and course truly influenced me in such a profound nature that I would not be where I am currently without every single one of them. From Dr. Cashman, the head of the department to Olivia Babin, the most helpful coordinator and email corresponder on campus, every member of the Department of LLC is a vessel of knowledge, care and fierce passion. Every semester, from Spanish 503 with Derek Hubbard, I told myself “this is my favorite professor!” and was pleasantly challenged in that belief by the next educator. My heart has been touched by countless members of the UNH community since I first became a wildcat in 2017. However, during my senior year (2020-2021), I formed deeply meaningful bonds with a few core members of the LLC department; this past year was one of the most painful, difficult and harrowing periods of my entire life. Being a full time UNH student with two majors, engaging in independent research and related competition such as Grimes, working 30 hours per week at multiple jobs and facing an uphill battle with deep depression put me in a state of hopeless exhaustion. Experiencing the pandemic and subsequent “Zoom University” on top of that was a level of stress that I cannot describe. Without the grace, empathy, patience and pure love of a few outstanding professors, there is no chance that I would have had a successful end to my time at UNH. Dr. Lori Hopkins, Dr. Daniel Chávez and Dr. Jaume Martí-Olivella not only provided me with incredible support as their student, but as a person. I know with complete confidence that these three educators care deeply for all of their students, especially those who step outside of their comfort zone to engage with the class content and the greater context of how it relates to society.

What do you know now that you wish you'd known while at UNH?

College is a small, yet meaningful, chapter of your story. I’ve only been an alum for about two months, and despite how much I truly loved my time at UNH, there’s no way that these can be the best four years of your life. Soak up all the unique experiences that college provides you with -- the ability to learn anything and everything that you could ever want to know, unlimited cheesy bread, seeing your friends on stage at a concert, basking in the sun on T Hall lawn, writing a 20 page paper in 8 hours, the best Saturday nights followed by the worst Sunday mornings, true love, true heartbreak, and everything in between… but know in your heart that the entire world is waiting for you the moment you turn your tassel from right to left. Don’t pretend, to yourself or to anyone else, that you have a clue where you’ll be in 1 or 5 or 20 years; the beauty is that the best is yet to come. Trust the process, no matter how grueling it may be at times.

What advice do you have for students interested in your field?

You can do whatever you want with your future, especially right when you graduate school. Do not get yourself locked into climbing a ladder or practicing a skill within the boundaries of one state/country. Your support system and UNH alumni connections will always have your back -- take advantage of that. Start big, take a leap, trust that you have learned how to forge your own path, because the LLC department has certainly prepared you to do so. Try something you thought you’d never do -- you might just end up living a dream on a tropical island.