May Shogan, Director of Education & International Visitors
A native of Jordan and a 29-year veteran of the Institute, Ms. Shogan is the Director of Education & International Visitors leading her department in increasing global awareness and engagement of all Western New York residents.
How has your role changed throughout your 29 years at the Institute?
[MS]: I first started as an Arabic interpreter and translator, before working one day a week as a receptionist. Few weeks later, I transitioned to working more days as a Language Coordinator handling the billing for the Language Department. From there, I went on to work as an Employment Assistant, a Grants Management Specialist, School Liaison, Medical Advocate, Cultural Competency Instructor and Domestic Violence Advocate. The Education & International Visitors Department was a product of our merger with Buffalo-Niagara WorldConnect in 2006, which took on the international visitors and global education programming before becoming a part of the Institute. We added health literacy to the department along with several other functions. So my role has definitely changed throughout those 29 years working at the Institute.
What are your academic credentials and how has your career path led you to the Institute? How have they prepared you for your position?
[MS]: I would say it was fate. [Laughs.] My academic background is in Business Administration and French (at the University of Jordan). Before coming to the U.S., I worked in the Foreign Branches’ Credit Facilities Department in one of the largest banks in Jordan, so no direct connection to the human service work of the Institute. When I came to the U.S., I wanted to do something new and different that would help others who are trying to adjust to their new lives like I was. The Institute was a perfect fit because I could use my language skills in English, Arabic and French to interpret and translate, and that’s how the 29 years’ journey started. [Laughs.]
What would you say is the most rewarding thing about working at an organization like the Institute?
[MS]: When you put a smile on someone’s face because you helped them or comforted them when they felt vulnerable, overwhelmed, or home sick. It is so rewarding when you see clients remember you many years later and say, “Do you remember me? You helped me when I first came to the U.S.” Those are the priceless moments that touch you the most.
What comes to mind when I say “International Institute of Buffalo”?
[MS]: To me, the phrase “second home.” I came here and was affiliated with the Institute right away, and to me for 29 years this place has been my home away from home—it’s hard for me to imagine not coming into this building.
What languages do you speak?
[MS]: My first language is Arabic, but I am fluent in English and French—languages that I started learning as early as Kindergarten.
What is one accomplishment that you are most proud of (at work or outside of work)? Why?
[MS]: Making a difference; every time I am out in the community doing a program or presentation that is well-received, I feel that it is a step towards building bridges between diverse populations while promoting sensitivity and tolerance. Last year, I got accepted as a fellow in the Health Foundation Leadership program, which has been a great and empowering experience for me.
Since the Institute works with diverse people from all over the world, can you share with us your own heritage?
[MS]: I was born in Jordan, and I am third generation Circassian (from my dad’s side). The Circassians, known also as Adyghe, are a Northwest Caucasian ethnicity from the Caucuses’ mountains of Russia. Many were displaced throughout the Russian conquest of Caucasia in the 19th century—particularly after the Russian-Circassian War in 1864.
Given the international nature of the Institute, where are some of the places that you have traveled abroad? Any places on your bucket list?
[MS]: I have traveled to Italy, London, France, Singapore, Canada, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, and Rhodes. I would like to visit Hawaii, Morocco, and New Zealand.
If you could sit down with any historical figure, who would you choose?
[MS]: The late King Hussein of Jordan; he transformed Jordan into a peaceful and modern country in the midst of the conflicts and turmoil that surrounded it.
Favorite ethnic food?
[MS]: My favorite ethnic food is Middle Eastern food, but I also like Italian and Indian food too.
[MS]: When I was in school I enjoyed reading Alcott’s Little Women. Right now, I find myself drawn to books about different cultures.
What can you tell me about your life away from the Institute?
[MS]: I like to spend time with friends and connect with my family overseas by phone and social media. I love to travel and explore new places. I also love to cook, learn new languages, listen to music, read, and do-it-yourself projects.
What three traits would you say define you?
[MS]: Energetic, social, and a worrier [laughs].
Do you have anything else you would like to share?
[MS]: I am very happy to see the Institute celebrate 100 years. I really look forward to many more years of success and growth moving into the next 100 years! It is a great agency and a safe home for many, and I am so proud to be part of its wonderful, talented, and dedicated team.