MCLA Logo 125

Ava Zigmand ’20 is an American who has lived in Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, China, Egypt and India.

After Growing Up Around the World, Freshman Attends MCLA

MCLA is pleased to offer this story in a series of student profiles about our incoming Class of 2020. We are proud to introduce just a few of the many accomplished and diverse students who belong to this distinctive group, as we discover more about them, their hopes, their dreams, and their goals for the future as they look forward to and begin their MCLA careers.


Throughout high school, Ava Zigmand ’20 played volleyball, basketball, softball and participated in track and field events. While it may sound as though she was a typical American teenager, Zigmand had never attended school in the United States before she arrived at MCLA this fall.

An American citizen who was born in Taiwan, Zigmand’s parents are international school teachers whose work has taken them around the world. As a result, Zigmand spoke fluent Spanish as a 4-year-old living in the Dominican Republic. But she switched to Mandarin Chinese after she moved to Shanghai, China, where she attended elementary school.

Zigmand also attended middle school in Egypt, and high school in India. At MCLA, she’s an environmental studies major – a result of being inspired by the teacher of the environmental systems class she took in high school.

In New Delhi, India, Zigmand enjoyed walking to high school and the local market, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to catch a ride on a rickshaw.

“There is a market right near my house,” she explained. “I would go to the market to buy vegetables, to see the chemist, or to go to the kiosk for snacks. I would occasionally get a cup of chai on my way, as well. I love going to local markets (see photo, right) and picking up clothes, spices, or small souvenirs.”

In Egypt, Zigmand would go horseback riding and ride dune buggies along the pyramids. But she and her family were forced to leave when the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown.

“At one point, prisoners had broken out of jail and were roaming the area, so my family and I had to barricade our door and sleep in the living room. Each road was blocked off and the men who tended the apartment buildings were all outside, guarding their buildings,” she recalled.

Given the option of evacuating to America, the family left Egypt, but returned two weeks later, after the military took over. “There were still tanks set around the city, which became a normal sight for us,” Zigmand said.

Shanghai, she said, provided the perfect childhood experience.

“We would ride our bikes to the village for dinner, and watch the cooks prepare our noodles from scratch. I felt like a member of the village when we would shop and dine with them,” Zigmand said. “It was a classic childhood experience where we would spend most of our time outdoors playing with friends.” 

She chose MCLA, in part, because her family owns a home in Great Barrington, and she has extended family who live in the area.

Although she plans to try out for the volleyball team next year, for now, she looks forward to focusing on her major, playing intramural sports, joining clubs such as those that involve hiking, animals or the environment, and making lifelong friends and exploring North Adams.