From Beirut to Irvine

Commencement speaker Jane Mary Sakr, ’23 international studies, shares her international journey

Jane Mary Sakr
 Jane Mary Sakr at Spring Break 2023 - Yosemite National Park.

In August 2020, Jane Mary Sakr’s brother was visiting family in Los Angeles when ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut exploded, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands. The explosion punctuated what had already been a tumultuous time for Sakr’s home country of Lebanon; a revolution had recently led to the resignation of the prime minister and the Covid-19 pandemic was in full force.

“My brother called and said, ‘I’m going to stay in the U.S. and I think you should join me.’ I left a month later and arrived alone,” she says.

The road to UCI

Sakr was born in Glendale, CA, but grew up in Lebanon; her parents decided to return there soon after she was born. As a child in Beirut, Sakr attended a tri-lingual school where her classes were taught in Arabic, English, and French. At home, she picked up Armenian from her Lebanese-Armenian mother. Throughout her upbringing, her parents emphasized intellectual curiosity and encouraged her and her brother to follow their passions, whatever—and wherever—they may be.

When her brother had called from LA, Sakr was already enrolled in a four-year university in Lebanon but thought that studying in the U.S. would provide a safer and more stable environment. So she joined her brother in the U.S. and enrolled at Santa Monica College. She wasted no time and completed her general education requirements in a year.

Sakr was already majoring in international studies in Lebanon, so when she looked to transfer from Santa Monica College, she focused her search on schools with her chosen major. UCI’s international studies major appealed to her because it offered what she saw as an amazingly interdisciplinary approach—a combination of foreign languages, history, economics, and political science in one degree.

Move-in Day 2021 with for Jane with her brother (to the left) and cousins (to the right).
 Move-in Day 2021 with for Jane with her brother (to the left) and cousins (to the right).

“The program was a perfect fit and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The flexibility to take different classes really helped me know what I wanted to do,” she says.

The road to international studies

Sakr’s passion for international studies originated from her lived experiences with political instability in Lebanon. One of her earliest exposures to politics was witnessing the effects of neighboring Syria’s civil war.

“I believe everything is global. Globalization has reached a point where when something happens, it’s going to affect something else,” she says.

She became aware of the country’s civil war on the news, and later, firsthand, when refugees arrived in Beirut. Her international studies journey began with wanting to understand more.

At UCI, she found her footing in global and international studies assistant professor Vibhuti Ramachandran’s courses where she felt inspired by the global scope of the material. (Sakr enrolled in all three classes offered by Ramachandran and is disappointed she’s run out of her courses to take in her last quarter; the feeling appears to be mutual.)

“Jane’s wide range of interests is remarkable, from human rights to Middle East politics, to religion, gender, and sexuality,” says Ramachandran. “She follows current global events with keen interest, and enriches class conversations with her knowledge.”

Bonding over books and boba

When Sakr arrived at UCI, she lived in the International Peace and Conflict house in Arroyo Vista student housing. Most of her housemates were international students and hailed from all over the world—Singapore, the U.K., China, Peru, Sweden, Japan, Korea, France, and Mexico. She realized that while Lebanon is religiously diverse, it is culturally homogenous, especially when compared to her student housing. She found the experience enriching, if not sometimes bewildering.

The first time Sakr entered a house where everyone removed their shoes at the front door (as is traditional in Asian cultures) she was confused by the custom. There was also the time she revealed she had never tried boba and her friends squealed with shock. They promptly took her across the street to the University Center and excitedly gathered around her to watch her take her first sip. (She loved it and now likes to add boba to whatever she’s drinking.)

In addition to diversity, Sakr relished finding a student body that respected and shared her passion for international studies and who strove to make a positive impact on the world.

“The person sitting next to you in class is also motivated to do something with their life. The whole student body is concerned about their education, and they really care about things,” she says.

From her studies in Lebanon to UCI, Sakr has attended three institutions in two countries to complete her undergraduate degree. Throughout that time, she has made sure her education has been her top priority.

“My friends know that I’m not going to skip an assignment to go to a party,” she says. “I’m passionate about learning. But it’s not just about achievement. I actually enjoy studying. This was considered weird when I was a kid, but I can admit it now.”

Dreams come true

As Sakr’s days as an Anteater come to an end, she’s reflecting on the time she’s spent here. She won’t forget the breathtaking spring break trip to Yosemite or the bonds she formed with classmates and faculty.

Regarding Professor Ramachandran, she says, “I look up to her as a woman of color doing phenomenal work in her field. She’s an exceptional teacher. I’m excited to tell her things. I feel like I can talk to her about anything.”

On June 16, Sakr will address the School of Social Sciences graduating class as one of only two selected student commencement speakers. She hopes her experience as a transfer and international student will inspire others.

“If someone is struggling, I hope they can see that I made it and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Plus, she’d like to use the opportunity to thank her parents who have since moved to the U.S. and will be able to see her graduate.

Following commencement, Sakr will have one month before she begins a Ph.D. program in political science and international relations at USC. She hopes to become a professor like Ramachandran and those at UCI who have inspired her.

“I’m very passionate about education. If I can share knowledge that would be amazing,” she says. “This all really is a dream come true. I’m still pinching myself.” 

 - Jill Kato for UCI Social Sciences



connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766