Alumna Sara Jane Ho’s New Netflix Show Transforms Lives Through the Power of Etiquette
Sara Jane Ho (C’07) approaches etiquette like an anthropologist, carefully studying and documenting the minutia of social and cultural norms around the world. Her immersive style is informed by her studies at Georgetown.
According to Ho, “There’s no fixed etiquette,” Ho says. “Etiquette is contextual, it’s about understanding your surroundings and putting those around you at ease.”
Stream Your Manners
In Ho’s new Netflix show Mind Your Manners, which debuted on the service in November, she guides participants through journeys of personal growth that are framed within the context of etiquette. As students interact with Ho, breaking down their own insecurities and building up strategies for interpersonal success, their flourishing exceeds far beyond table manners.
“I don’t like really calling it a reality show,” Ho said reflecting on the project. “Mind Your Manners showcases the very real journey of students and all their transformations are all real. I like to think of it as observational documentary filmmaking.”
Production on the show, which was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting for Ho.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve done in my career and the most intense,” Sara reflected. “Shooting Mind Your Manners was a journey of self-discovery for the students, but it was also a journey of discovery for myself. It forced me to think about my method and my approach and how to deliver the maximum impact for each student’s life.”
In 2012, Ho founded an etiquette school, Institute Sarita, in Shanghai. In the ensuing decade, she’s been busy teaching students about international cultures and customs.
Etiquette as Empowerment
For Ho, etiquette isn’t about enforcing a standard of perfection, it’s about meeting individuals where they’re at and encouraging gradual, productive growth – being better today than yesterday. Her approach relies on an in-depth understanding of different microcultures, something she’s been learning about since childhood.
A Hong Kong native, Ho moved with her family to Papua New Guinea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom as a child. Everywhere she lived and visited presented a new opportunity to learn about manners in different contexts. When Ho went to boarding school in the United States, it was another new environment in which to immerse herself.
A polyglot, Ho has always taken formal and informal language instruction seriously. When she married her husband who is from Lishui, Zhejiang, Ho took up the persistent study of the local dialect. It’s her theory in action – doing the work to put those around her at ease.
“My approach is about increasing confidence in social interaction,” Ho said. For a lot of my students, it helps them break a cycle of loneliness and enables them to achieve a sense of belonging. By changing our behavior through the power of etiquette – through beauty and grooming, styling, conversations, dining – we are actually able to change our lives.
Ho as a Hoya
At Georgetown, Ho majored in English with a minor in government.
“I was a serious student at Georgetown and a huge nerd – I spent all my evenings after dinner through midnight studying in Lauinger,” Ho remembered. “I began in the huge room on the third floor, but was so sensitive to the noise and people whispering that I went hardcore and moved down to Lower Level. Ah, the peace and quiet.”
The perspectives and methodologies Ho learned about in the classroom have influenced her approach to etiquette.
“One of my absolute favorite classes at Georgetown was Intro to Anthropology,” Ho said. “Now, I consider myself a microcultural anthropologist of sorts. To really understand the etiquette of an environment you have to study and observe the microculture that you’re in – you’re always in the field!”
One of Ho’s fondest Hilltop memories is one which left a lasting impression on the front lawn. During Ho’s first month at school in 2003, Hurricane Isabel hit the city.
“Hundreds of us ended up on Healy Lawn, playing tag in the rain and wrestling in the mud,” Ho said. “We wrecked the whole lawn and apparently the school had to spend quite some money repairing it, but we had so much fun – it is my best memory of Georgetown.”
After graduating, Ho worked on Wall Street before attending Harvard Business School. She has been teaching etiquette for more than a decade and has no intention of slowing down. Ho serves on the College Board of Advisors for Georgetown University’s College of Arts & Sciences. Her etiquette book in English will be published next year. Follow her on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.
Ho is seeking driven students for remote internships this summer. Interested Hoyas are encouraged to send their CVs to firstname.lastname@example.org (new window).
-by Hayden Frye (C’17)