Posts by: Jessica Daniels
Back to the Student Stories feature! In this year’s second post from a returning writer, Tatsuo reports on a summer when he barely stayed still. Tatsuo is currently pursuing an exchange semester at Sciences Po in Paris.
Last summer, I visited two different types of developing nations: four former Soviet countries in Central Asia and a newly independent country in Southeast Asia. My experiences in these countries moved me in a lot of ways.
After completing last spring semester, I first traveled to Alaska to visit the Arctic Circle and enjoy the beautiful summer. Alaska’s natural scenery completely refreshed me. Then, at the end of May, I joined the Central Asian Leadership Trek organized by the Center for Asia Leadership. The trekkers were mainly from Harvard schools, but also from other prominent schools including Stanford, Columbia, Sciences Po, and, of course, Fletcher.
During the nearly three-week trek, we traveled through four countries — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Compared with the Israel Trek I joined last spring, this trip had fewer participants, and participants also had to do some workshops or TED-style talks based on their backgrounds and expertise. Therefore, the participation was more active and we connected with the politicians, entrepreneurs, and students in this region more deeply.
Before traveling to Central Asia, I had some knowledge about the counties I would visit. All four of the countries became independent from the former Soviet Union 25 years ago. They also inherited many Soviet remains, including infrastructure and bureaucratic schemes. Most of them rely on natural resources for economic development, and their economies and societies are under the strong control of and regulation by the public sector.
I was surprised, though, to find a lot of diversity among the societies and economies, and their problems and possibilities.
In Tajikistan, I felt the Soviet atmosphere most, but also felt the economic struggle of the country since its independence. Kyrgyzstan was the most democratic country in the region. We enjoyed a lot of free discussions with central and local politicians, entrepreneurs, and young students; however, we also saw and heard about the problems related to the unstable, sometimes chaotic political and economic situation. We found that democracy and freedom of speech might not contribute to economic growth well. On the other hand, in Kazakhstan, we were surprised by the great infrastructure, well-maintained public services, and developed and modern cities under the authoritarian but stable regime, while we were also afraid that the further growth of the country — which the regime plans and promotes based on an opportunistic estimate a decade ago — might be uncertain in the current global market situation. Finally, in Uzbekistan, we were impressed by the beautiful historical remains, although we found an ironic contrast between such great tourist places and poor economic conditions, based on primitive agriculture and the chaotic national currency caused by the closed regime.
Talking with people — ranging from the higher levels of the public sector to the local youth — was very meaningful for learning about the realities of these countries that I, like most Japanese, was not so familiar with. Additionally, as I work on infrastructure and transport policy, learning about the regional infrastructure was greatly useful. For example, these countries largely rely on the old infrastructure that the former Soviet Union built and maintained. These plans and networks were not appropriate for the current economic strategies of each country, and some infrastructure, in particular road infrastructure that needs frequent maintenance, was severely deteriorated. Such a finding will contribute to my future research and policymaking regarding how Japan and the international community can support the region.
As a public sector official, I also felt that the career tracks of public elites in the region were very unclear, unpredictable, and vulnerable. I thought the people’s distrust for the public sector might derive from the weak and undeveloped recruiting system for public officers.
Last, but not least, traveling with me were trekkers from a lot of different backgrounds and with different expertise. Sharing diverse perspectives on the region and discussing with each other made the trek much more special than just a sightseeing trip.
After the thought-provoking trip, I flew from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Timor-Leste and started an internship with a global NGO, the Asia Foundation, Timor-Leste.
I had two reasons to pursue the internship. First, I wanted to have an experience in a least-developed environment, and Timor-Leste is one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as recognized by the United Nations. The other reason was that I could contribute, based on my expertise as a policy-officer, because the Asia Foundation is a policy-oriented NGO.
In Timor-Leste, I mainly researched the public transport sector, particularly the aviation sector, which was receiving little attention. I struggled to research without basic statistics, institutional information — including the fundamental laws and regulations — or implementing capacity. No local officers understood their tasks clearly. No regulations actually worked. No one knew who could tell me about something I wanted to know. However, this chaotic and underdeveloped situation taught me about practical issues and challenges of today’s development studies.
In thinking about what we could do for the economic development and economic diversification of the country under such difficult conditions, I considered very basic questions for a public officer, an elite bureaucrat, and a person from a developed country: What is infrastructure? What is public transport? What is bureaucracy? And, What is a country?
During the two months, the deputy country representative and Fletcher alumnus, Todd Wassel, F06, and other helpful staff allowed me to research my field of interest freely in the very supportive environment of the office. I also used the resources of the NGO, including government contacts and visits to local districts. With that support, I was very satisfied with my internship, although two months was still too short to learn about the small but very diverse country.
It was also meaningful that I could compare this “least developed country” with other developing nations after visiting Central Asia. I know that there are many problems in such a struggling country, such as corruption and the lack of capacity in the public sector, the lack of economic and financial policies including a currency, dependence on importing goods, noncompetitive local industries, and even confusion over establishing an official language under great linguistic diversity. These problems cannot be solved in the short term. On the other hand, my experience of interviewing and making visits to the field showed me that public sector experts — those who take care of basic bureaucratic work in their developed home countries — must be playing a necessary role. People who work to regulate an industry, operate an agency, or manage a government should join the field of international development, because how the public sector works and develops can benefit from the advice of experts who actually have experience doing it. It was very thought-provoking for me, coming from one of the biggest and strongest public sectors in the world and studying international development.
Before the summer, I felt that a three-month break would be very long. (When I worked in Japan, my summer break was less than a week…) But last summer, I visited a lot of towns, regions, and countries, met many and varied people, faced a lot of troubles and fun, and learned a lot of things. Now, the summer has flown, and my fall semester in Paris has begun. I actually feel this summer was very short.
Interested in the areas of expertise of our law faculty? You will want to check out this video of Professor Jeswald Salacuse talking about international arbitration. The video was made by a lawyer from Armenia who is promoting alternative dispute resolution in his country.
In the first of the Student Stories posts for 2016-2017, McKenzie reports on her internship in Johannesburg, South Africa this past summer.
Howzit future Fletchies! It was great to return to town after three months in South Africa this summer (or winter, as it happened to be in the southern hemisphere).
Living in Johannesburg, I worked at Edge Growth to expand the 10X-entrepreneur (10X-e) program for scale-up or growth-stage startups across South Africa. Through my job, I helped develop materials for 10X-e bootcamps and facilitated one-on-one growth strategy and execution workshops for portfolio companies of Edge’s flagship impact fund, the Vumela Fund. I also got to support the Vumela Fund directly, helping strategize pipeline development and deal sourcing efforts and contributing to the due diligence of a prospective investment.
Fletcher students use their internship to accomplish a number of different goals. Some use it to “test out” a new career field or to gain practical skills in a specific area, others to explore a new region of the world, and still others to conduct research for capstones. Through my internship, I reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a career in impact investing and gained experience working alongside a fund investing in growth-stage companies in an emerging market setting.
But summer internships aren’t only for professional growth — I took the opportunity to travel and see as much as possible of South Africa over weekends and public holidays. I attended braais (like barbeques), where I feasted with friends on grilled meats and braaibroodjes (pretty much a grilled cheese sandwich with onions and tomato), while discussing local politics and the municipal elections that were to take place in August. I attended my first-ever rugby match to watch South Africa’s beloved Springboks take on the Irish (and win!). I explored food markets in the reviving central business district of Jo’burg. I visited the sobering apartheid museum to steep myself in the rich yet horrifying past, and did yoga on Constitution Hill (a former prison and now the site of South Africa’s Constitutional Court), in honor of Mandela Day.
I was also able to travel to both Cape Town and Durban in the course of my work, and spent time hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head or dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean after facilitating workshops for some of Vumela Fund’s portfolio companies. Finally, while in Tanzania for a separate project with an Omidyar Network portfolio company, I met up with a classmate working in Arusha to take a short safari in Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed my summer and was able to find the perfect mix of professional experience and personal growth. While I was sad to leave a country I was only just beginning to know, I’m excited to be back at Fletcher and kicking off my second year. At the same time, I know that each semester goes by in the blink of an eye and I am trying to savor every day. For those of you looking to begin grad school this time next year, remember to enjoy the next eight-to-ten months, in between drafting your personal statements and updating your résumé. The time will be gone before you know it!
The photo is from my favorite hike in South Africa (so far — I hope I’ll get back for more one day…). It shows me halfway up the India Venster trail on Table Mountain, with a view of Lion’s Head and the Atlantic Ocean in the background among the mist and clouds.
One of the best aspects of my job is working with Fletcher students. And of the different projects on which I work with students, my favorite is the blog. I’m very happy to be ready to relaunch the Student Stories blog feature. Each year since the series was launched in 2012, I’ve invited students to tell their stories throughout their two-year experience in the MALD or MIB program. Though I provide general suggestions for what they should write (start with an introduction, finish two years later with a farewell), I encourage them to write about whatever seems important to them. That way, the same series can include Liam’s suggestions of Boston-area must-do activities, Aditi’s account of a stressful semester, Diane’s survey of Blakeley Hall residents, and Mirza’s report on a spring break tour of Europe performing for Arms and Sleepers.
Starting tomorrow and continuing next week, I’ll be sharing the latest updates from second-year writers: MIB student McKenzie, MALD student Tatsuo, who is pursuing a semester in France this fall, and MALD student Adnan. Once we have heard from the returning writers, I will let three new writers introduce themselves. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of the autumnal Tufts University campus that I took on my way to work this morning.
Tagged with: Student Stories
Here it is, folks. The final debate of the 2016 presidential election cycle. And you’re probably thinking that you’d like to connect with Fletcher for the event. Well, you can. Several groups have put together a Fletcher Debate Watch. Once it gets rolling, you can follow along on Twitter at #FletcherDebateWatch.
Wondering what other debate-related activities are happening at Tufts? Engage the Debate is a watch party for the general University community. Featuring Fletcher professor Katrina Burgess, the event kicks off with a panel discussion, which will be available via a live stream.
Tagged with: Tisch
Even if you’ve only been reading the Admissions Blog for a short time, you may have noticed that I have trouble keeping up with everything happening at Fletcher. Sigh. Alas, there’s no easy solution to that problem, but I’m always happy to make lemonade out of lemons! I can help you catch up with the news after it happens! With that in mind, and in case you missed it, I’m delighted to point you toward the places where you can read up on a couple of big events at Fletcher this month.
And now, back to my regular admissions work. I’m due to present an information session to some of our 50+ participants in today’s Admissions Visit Day!
We’ve got zillions of people signed up for an Admissions Visit Day on Monday. (If not zillions, at least a few dozen.) It will be a fun day for all of us (except maybe for Liz, who’s in charge and might be a little stressed).
There’s another official Visit Day scheduled for November 7, but maybe you’re not free that day. Or maybe you don’t want to wait. Why not Do It Yourself? You could schedule your DIY Visit Day for a Monday or Friday, when we regularly offer Information Sessions. Add an evaluative interview. Toss in a couple of class visits. And don’t forget to register for coffee with a student. Ta-daaa! You’ve got yourself a visit day.
Whether you’re at Fletcher during an official Admissions Visit Day or one of the DIY variety, you’ll find it a good opportunity to ask lots of questions and gather the information you need to think about spending a couple of years here and to prepare your application. Come on over anytime! But note that evaluative interviews will be offered only until December 9.
Following a blur of a September and an equally busy start to October, I’m now looking at the first deadline of the 2016-17 application process, coming up on Saturday! Sure, the collection of applications we’ll receive for January enrollment is very manageable, but we’ll also be aiming for a quick turn-around, and October 15 is followed by deadlines on November 15, December 20, and January 10. That is, we’re heading into the heart of the application process!
Applicants for January 2017 enrollment can trust that we’ll be sending out decisions before November’s over, giving you some planning time. (Not much, mind you — classes will start with Shopping Day on Tuesday, January 17). It’s only about three months before we welcome our next group of “Januarians.”
Tagged with: Januarian
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) always represent a significant group within the Fletcher community. In recent years, they’ve organized themselves for social and other activities. And, to that end, they also collected a list of the countries of service for everyone. Though I can’t be sure this is comprehensive, future RPCVs at Fletcher may be interested in the list. If the students go ahead with the idea of a “country of service potluck,” I can picture an excellent feast.
Azerbaijan (two people)
Remember how I told you that I’m often joined over breakfast by members of the Fletcher community? (Or their voices, anyway.) Well, I thought I’d also pass along this link to a BBC broadcast that I heard when I was, sadly, suffering from insomnia. I hasten to make clear that Professor Daniel Drezner and his talk of zombies didn’t prevent me from sleeping. Not at all! But once I was awake, I turned to the radio for a little middle-of-the-night company, and there he was.
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