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Unless an additional report surprises me by popping into my inbox, today we’ll close out the updates from the Class of 2015. The final word comes from Dallin Van Leuven, whose post-Fletcher job didn’t appear immediately after graduation, but was the right opportunity when it did arrive.
Greetings from Beirut!
The year following my graduation may have taken me halfway across the world, but it has carried my career a lot further. Granted, the job search was longer and more difficult than I anticipated, but Fletcher was a big help throughout: from helping me leverage the networking I had done while in Boston to find open positions and get interviews; to receiving (at times last-minute) support from the Office of Career Services on my CV, cover letters, interviews, and salary negotiations; to giving me consultancy opportunities while I looked for the right job (or any relevant position, for that matter).
One perfect example of this support would be the continued mentorship of Professor Dyan Mazurana. We, along with fellow Fletcher alumna Rachel Gordon, finalized our collaboration on a book chapter, “Analysing the Recruitment and Use of Foreign Men and Women in ISIL through a Gender Perspective,” which was published in February in the book Foreign Fighters under International Law and Beyond. Moreover, Professor Mazurana nominated me for a Visiting Fellowship with the Feinstein International Center. There, we were able to continue working together on an important issue: conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence in African conflicts. I will forever be grateful for the support Fletcher’s staff and faculty have given me both during and after my time there.
Most of my last year was spent in my home state of Idaho. It was a great opportunity to be with family and old friends in a beautiful place while I searched for that elusive first post-Fletcher job. Before starting my MALD, I worked in education in Egypt. Not long after I arrived, the Arab Spring came to Egypt, and it cemented in me a desire to work in countries experiencing conflict and transition, focused on alleviating the negative effects of conflict. Fletcher, for me, was the perfect place to make that adjustment in my career’s trajectory.
With luck and perseverance, I finally found it. After New Year’s, I moved to Lebanon to begin work with Search for Common Ground, the world’s oldest and largest peacebuilding organization. Here, I work on projects designed to build a stronger civil society and better social relations across dividing lines. I research conflict drivers and lessons learned from similar projects, sometimes advising on programs in other countries or on the design of future initiatives. I love it!
As a testament to the reach of Fletcher’s network, I was able to talk with a Fletcher colleague who interned here last summer to figure out if the office really was a place I would want to work. I’ve been able to “pay it forward” by helping facilitate a new Fletcher student’s interview; she started her internship here last month. I run into Fletcher alumni all of the time — through work, at social gatherings, and as they pass through Beirut. In fact, while standing in the visa line during my first arrival to the city, I ran into someone I graduated with who is also living and working here. The most remarkable of these meetings was definitely with a very successful alumna who is working for peace here in the region. She beamed at hearing I was a fellow graduate and happily exclaimed, “Fletcher ruined my life!” Thanks to her experience as a student, she left a successful career in the private sphere to pursue a successful, but more challenging, career in peacebuilding.
While “ruined” probably isn’t the term I would normally use, I can certainly agree with the sentiment. Thank you, Fletcher, for “ruining” my life and putting me on the path I am on now!
One of the opportunities I most value about my job is following students from their application phase, through their time at Fletcher, and then on to their post-Fletcher life. A good example would be my connection with Diane Broinshtein, whom I first met when I was her application interviewer back in August 2012. Then, after she had started her Fletcher classes, I reached out to her to write for the blog, and she was a trusty friend of Admissions throughout her two years in the MALD program. Naturally, I’ve asked her to write an update on her first year post-Fletcher. Those wondering what classes prepared Diane for her current work might want to read her Annotated Curriculum.
It’s hard to believe that a year has just passed since I finished at Fletcher. In many ways I feel like I never left, and in other other ways Fletcher feels like a lifetime ago.
In my last post, shortly after I graduated in 2015, I explained that I was joining GRM International as part of their Young Professionals Program. I moved from Boston to Brisbane, Australia and began my operations rotation. On my second day of work, the company rebranded itself as Palladium, in order to unite a number of different brands under a new umbrella. Because the company now included business areas other than those it did when I was first hired, the reorganization provided with me with some new and interesting opportunities.
In January, I moved to our London office to start a rotation with our Strategy Execution Consulting group. While it is not an area I considered working in prior to Fletcher, I felt the diversity of my Fletcher education prepared me perfectly to jump into the team. In this role I helped bridge the divide between the international development side of the business and the strategy consulting side. I found myself constantly going back to skills, knowledge, and coursework I learned at Fletcher to assist me whenever I was confronted with a new and challenging task.
My new rotation has taken me to Bristol, UK to join our Environment and Natural Resources team, working specifically on humanitarian projects. It’s nice to be working again in a sector I know well and that I concentrated on in my studies. A year out of Fletcher, three cities and three roles later, I have just begun to test the limits of what Fletcher taught me — I find myself using Fletcher in some way each day.
After Bristol, I am not sure where I will end up, but I know for certain that wherever it is, there will be a Fletcher network to support me. Being part of the alumni community has been a wonderful experience. In Brisbane I managed to squeeze in two visits from Fletcher friends, one who was working in Canberra and another working in Papua New Guinea. But when I moved to London, I was even more connected. London is a place where people are always passing through, so there were many Fletcher catch-ups over dinner. I’m already trying to encourage fellow Fletcher grads to visit me in Bristol, but if they don’t come to me, I’ll see them when I travel in Europe.
Fletcher’s summer quiet continues, and there’s little of note happening in the Admissions Office, which makes me especially happy that I can still share updates from the Class of 2015. Today we’ll hear from Nathaniel Broekman who, like so many of our students, took an unusual path to, through, and beyond Fletcher.
It’s been an odd journey to arrive where I am today. Seven years ago this month I departed New York City, where I had worked for three years as a musician and audio engineer, to spend the next three years with the Peace Corps in Bulgaria. I left the music industry to begin a career in international relations, with the hope of finding my way into the field of migration or international development.
Contrary to the adage, sometimes the best-laid plans do not go awry. Which always surprises me. Just over one year ago, I simultaneously completed a Boren Fellowship in Istanbul and my Fletcher degree. I then landed in Washington DC, from where I write you today. One month ago, I was on a detail to the border of Texas and Mexico, interviewing mothers and children who had just completed the harrowing journey from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to request asylum.
I work as an Asylum Officer with the Department of Homeland Security, adjudicating the claims of asylum-seekers who have arrived in the United States. In doing so, my colleagues and I make the preliminary determination if an applicant is eligible for asylum under U.S. law, if he/she can be found credible, and whether this individual represents a risk to the security of our country and our community. Although the majority of my interviews are with applicants living in the mid-Atlantic states, the job has to date taken me as far as Atlanta and Texas. I am now preparing for an international detail to take part in our refugee resettlement efforts overseas, be it in El Salvador, Turkey, Nepal or one of a number of countries where refugees are unable to find a durable solution and hope to be resettled in the United States.
When I began this position, the word “refugee” was not yet gracing the front page of nearly every western newspaper, nearly every day. I soon found myself in the center of one of the most important challenges of our generation. There are more displaced persons on the planet today than at any other time since World War II. Many of them are looking to us for help.
Mine is not an easy job, for almost all the reasons you might imagine. But putting aside the emotional roller-coaster and the daily frustrations, I feel fortunate to take part in a program that grants the protection of the United States to those who have lost the protection of their own country. It is an honor to bring these individuals into our community and grant them the refuge they truly need and truly deserve.
The Fletcher School was an integral part of this journey. Most pointedly, my classwork in conflict resolution with Professors Babbitt, Chigas, and Wilkinson, and forced migration with Professor Jacobsen gave me a firm understanding of the global dynamics that brought us to this point, whereas classwork in various areas of international law with Professor Hannum immersed me in the system that gave us the internationally accepted definition of a refugee — a single paragraph from 1951, which guides our daily practice and determines, in part, the fate of millions of human beings. I also took advantage of the opportunity to cross-register at the Harvard Law School, to take a course on migration law with Professor Anker, which has had far more impact on my career today than I had imagined it would at the time. The education I received at Fletcher from these and other courses gave me not only the necessary legal analysis skills to make a proper determination on the merits of a case, but also the political and conflict analysis skills necessary to fully research and understand the dynamics in our applicants’ countries of origin. Furthermore, a summer internship with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a seven-month Boren Fellowship in Istanbul, crafting my thesis on Turkish development and humanitarian aid, did not hurt one bit.
Beyond my coursework, Fletcher has brought me into a community that continues to amaze. I was taken aback at the enthusiasm that alumni have for helping their fellow graduates to develop a career. This is especially true here in DC, but was just as true while I was searching for work in Istanbul. Most importantly, many of my closest friends here and across the globe are either fellow classmates from my time in Medford, or alumni from previous years. We have even created a DC alumni branch of the Fletcher band “Los Fletcheros,” known locally as “Los Fletcheros Federales.” The only major difficulty has been scheduling rehearsals, considering the travel schedules of seven band members who work in international relations. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m also to blame, but the World Bank keeps sending our guitarist to West Africa at the most inopportune times.
It’s been an odd journey to arrive where I am today. I am not sure what I was looking for seven years ago when I left New York City, but I seem to have found it. And for that, I owe The Fletcher School and the Fletcher community a great deal of gratitude.
Just as, two weeks ago, I wrapped up the updates from the Class of 2010 with posts from Luis and Hana, this week I would like to return to the Class of 2015. Today, we’ll learn what Peter Varnum, a good friend of the Admissions Office, has been doing since he graduated.
Time at Fletcher flies. The pace of life is often so stressful that it is easy to lose sight of the return you’re actually earning. Obviously this comes in the form of your lifelong friendships and network; it’s a main reason we all chose this place to continue our education. But, amidst readings and papers and presentations — and world-renowned guest speakers, lectures from the Dean, and student-organized conferences — we often forget the other reason we chose Fletcher: it’s among the top international relations schools in the world.
Never has the stellar education been more evident to me than in my first year post-graduation. I moved to Geneva, worked briefly for the World Health Organization in its mental health policy unit, and am now consulting with a small, international B-corporation called Vera Solutions, which works at the intersection of data and development. (Side note: Fletcher allows you to work at the “intersection” of basically anything and anything. We build bridges.) Often dubbed the “DC of Europe,” Geneva is rife with IR- and development-types who love to throw around jargon and number of countries visited slash worked in like they’re all badges of honor, trophies of who knows the most, who’s done the most. But I appreciate my Fletcher brethren here, and there are a number of them: those who can hang in those conversations, but don’t feel the need to tout their accolades. Those who hold a room when they speak. Those with whom you can have a drink and laugh at yourselves.
When you’ve turned in your thesis, and walked across the stage, and at some point found the nerve to click on one of those emails giving you an update of how much interest your student loan has accrued, you have time to breathe a little. And that’s when you look back and realize just how much you’ve learned at Fletcher. You learn from the courses you take, sure — but I would argue you learn more from your immersion in a space that brings together such interesting, diverse people. I often chat with my own classmates, as well as prospective students, about what I call “Imposter Syndrome,” which I felt quite frequently at Fletcher. You’re in class (and at house parties) with future diplomats, foreign service officers, magnates of international business, and leading academics. Not to mention polyglots who may as well have designed Rosetta Stone. I often used to ask myself how I wound up there.
But if Geneva has taught me anything, it’s that, despite my hideously accented Spanish (and just plain hideous French), those experiences have made me fluent in the language of international relations. And not just in a professional setting; I now read the news with a more nuanced understanding to go with a critical eye that I like to think we all have entering Fletcher. I feel comfortable voicing my opinions, and confident that they are informed. I feel more like — and excuse the cliché — a productive citizen of the world.
Navigating ambiguity is at the heart of international work — at the heart of life, really. I believe my Fletcher education has made me nimbler. I do not hesitate among the flutter of languages in the UNICEF cafeteria, nor while chatting with the Director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, nor while having that drink with my fellow Fletcher graduates. A year or so ago, when I was hunkered down in Ginn Library, procrastinating by dreaming up ideas for a creative Fletcher Follies video, I often wondered whether it was worth it. These days, that uncertainty never crosses my mind.
Returning to the Class of 2015, Owen Sanderson was a two-year Admissions Office regular, spending time in the office as a volunteer, a paid member of the Admissions Committee, and a good source of conversation. He was the first person I reached out to when I was looking for a helper for an APSIA graduate school fair in New York last September, and he’s the only student with whom I ever discussed options for engagement rings before he proposed. His post-Fletcher career is typical in that it’s atypical.
“Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room,” cautions Paul Bennett the Chief Creative Officer of IDEO. “The conventional heroic leader is a product of the past.” Cleverness is not a ticket to success at IDEO.
Paul is right. Despite the deep well of talent at my new employer, IDEO.org, I’ve observed that success here is fueled by one pervasive approach: a commitment to collaboration.
I write as I embark on my fifth month at IDEO.org’s New York office. IDEO.org is a non-profit design and innovation organization associated with its celebrated Silicon Valley brother IDEO. As a Business Designer — a unique role that blends business sensibilities with thoughtful design — I have seen firsthand how collaboration inspires seriously impressive results. But this isn’t necessarily news to me, as group work is part and parcel of life at The Fletcher School.
Between 2013 and 2015, I spent two years at Fletcher preparing myself for a pivot into the design world. Unconventional? Perhaps. Effective? Definitely. I have always had a decent grasp of international development, having studied it at Georgetown University and having worked in the field for nearly a decade. However, Fletcher offered an opportunity to consider a contemporary approach to problem solving: Human Centered Design (HCD). HCD is a creative practice that focuses on people rather than process. The goal of HCD is to research, design, and build solutions, all while maintaining deep empathy for the women and men you’re designing for.
As a Business Designer I look to design solutions that aren’t just beautiful but viable in the emerging markets in Africa and Asia where IDEO.org works. Life as a Business Designer takes many forms — from conducting user research to considering a market entry strategy for a new social enterprise to building partnerships with local NGOs to ensure programmatic sustainability. It is exciting, fast-paced, and challenging.
So how did I navigate to this sweet spot between design and development? My journey started at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. CSIS was hands-down the best first job out of college. I highly recommend spending at least a few years at a DC think tank. You’ll learn to write. You’ll participate in incredible events. You’ll have access to world-class personalities. And you may even work down the hall from former statesmen Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski (I did!). Perhaps most importantly, it was through this job I also met my future wife. We get married in July—and I am positively joyful.
Following two years at CSIS, I sought to tone my quantitative muscles. Management consulting called. I spent three years at Deloitte Consulting, working alongside clients from USAID, the State Department, and beyond. I dedicated my last year at Deloitte to an internal project that examined the intersection of government, the private sector, and this new thing called social entrepreneurship. I cannot thank Deloitte partner Bill Eggers enough for exposing me to such interesting work.
After five years away from school, I felt the pull. Fletcher called. I distinctly remember visiting the Hall of Flags as a high school junior on a college tour with my mom. I remember being inspired. How was I to know that ten years later I would be a temporary fixture in the Hall myself, particularly during Social Hour — Fletcher’s weekly gathering of minds and hungry grad school bellies.
At Fletcher, I focused on reconsidering the international development sector, uncovering new, innovative ways to tackle thorny poverty challenges. I was attracted to courses like Kim Wilson’s Financial Inclusion and Bhaskar Chakravorti’s Strategy & Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business. I refined my consultative approach in Rusty Tunnard’s Field Studies in Global Consulting — and then served as his teaching assistant during my second year. And I put theory to practice by spending my Fletcher summer in Nairobi, Kenya at the iHub, a co-working and innovation collective. While there I wrote my capstone on Nairobi’s tech ecosystem and then taught this capstone to Kim Wilson’s class in 2015. Both my internship and my capstone propelled me into my current gig as a Business Designer.
And so now I’m at IDEO.org. It’s tough. It’s dirty. But it’s oh-so-rewarding. Last month I spent two weeks in Kakuma, Kenya, a 24-year-old refugee camp with approximately 185,000 residents. Read that sentence again. A refugee camp. A 24-year-old, temporary place of sanctuary. But nothing is temporary in Kakuma. It is a permanent city. Our team touched down in Kakuma to rethink (and frankly, redesign) how refugee teachers access professional development services. With average class sizes of over 100 students and a serious lack of material resources to support teaching, these refugee teachers are eager for support.
I went to Fletcher to learn how to solve big, hairy problems like those I saw in Kakuma. I am at IDEO.org to solve them. However, a lone wolf won’t solve these challenges. As Paul Bennett said, the smartest person in the room won’t have the solution. Paul is not alone in this belief. He has advocates across the world, including in Kakuma. During our second week in the refugee camp, a teacher suggested that problems in the camp are never resolved alone: “We work as a team. No one is cleverer.” From Medford to New York to Kakuma, collaboration appears to be the name of the game.
Reports from the Class of 2015 have started to trickle in. Today we’ll learn about the path through Fletcher of Thomas Pols, an experienced medical doctor.
A year ago I was putting the final touches on my capstone and was in the midst of my job search while trying to enjoy every moment of my last few weeks in Medford. After having worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the years before starting Fletcher, I came to the U.S. in August 2013 with my mind set on continuing my career in humanitarian aid. Never could I have predicted how differently my career would develop instead.
Compared to the clear structure of medical school, the flexible and interdisciplinary Fletcher curriculum was completely new to me. Choosing from so many different topics to study while still being able to connect all these fields was an amazing experience that, over the course of two years, made me consider taking my career in new directions. Talking with Professors Scharioth and Wilkinson was a great way to test the ideas that I had for my post-Fletcher life and, with their encouragement, I decided not to go straight back to the humanitarian field after all.
After celebrating our graduation in May 2015, the first order of business of a small group of us newly minted alumni was to travel together through the Caucasus and Central Europe before starting with “real” life. For me, this meant a post-travel return to my native Netherlands and exploring opportunities here.
Because I wanted to explore many different opportunities, I tried to cast a wide net by doing some freelance consulting work for humanitarian NGOs, while also teaching part-time at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Being on the other side of the classroom just months after graduating myself was a great experience. Focusing primarily on courses covering international relations and international law allowed me to use many of the skills and the knowledge I had gained over the previous two years. My work at the university also brought me in contact with many interesting people who helped me continue my search for a job that would combine my medical and Fletcher backgrounds.
One of these conversations led to an introduction at Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague, where I was amazed to see how much they appreciated the interdisciplinary education I received at Fletcher. A complex company such as Shell works in a difficult market, in difficult locations, while continuously under scrutiny; a great challenge for a Fletcher graduate.
After half a dozen meetings, interviews and assessments, I was offered a position as Global Health Advisor. Never would I have thought that this would be the next step in my career, and I can truly say that Fletcher made it possible.
Today, nearly a year after leaving my friends in Medford, I am back visiting them in Washington, DC (where it seems that our “sixth semester” is in full swing), before I start the next step in my career. I am actually writing this in DC after finishing Sunday brunch with a group of Fletcher graduates, who shared amazing stories of what they have been up to in the last year.
I won’t try again to predict what I will do in the future because, with a Fletcher degree, it seems any future is possible.
Today marks eight months since the Class of 2015 graduation last May 22, and it’s time to start checking in with our newest graduates. While I continue lining up First-Year Alumni updates, let’s hear from one of the student bloggers who completed the MALD last spring. Unlike many of his classmates who are still settling into their new jobs, Liam is in the U.S. Army, and his plans for this year were in place well before he graduated.
With everything going on in my life, it’s hard to believe that only a year ago I was in my last Fletcher semester, deep into my capstone. Since then, I’ve spent the past eight months as a student at the Command and General Staff College (CGSS), the U.S. Army’s professional education program for mid-career officers. Yet, despite being in the middle of Kansas, thousands of miles away from Medford, my Fletcher experience continues to shape my life daily.
First, the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute recently published my Fletcher capstone. Focused on how the Army can improve at advising and assisting other nation’s militaries, the monograph was the culmination of work I did in Professor Shultz’s Internal Conflicts and War class and in an independent study I did with him. Although I’m thrilled the paper was published, what I’m more excited about is that it’s making its rounds through the Security Force Assistance community. I recently met with the Director of the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance to discuss the paper, and am in the process of consulting with the team that is re-writing Army doctrine on the topic. For me, it’s a great reward, after putting so much work into my capstone at Fletcher, to have it be read by a wider audience, and I’d encourage current and prospective students to attempt to do the same.
Second, what I learned at Fletcher has a direct impact on my studies here at CGSS. From the basis of national security strategy I gained in Professor Shultz’s classes to the ability think critically through history learned from Professor Khan, I find myself often going back over my Fletcher class notes and readings to gain a better understanding of topics we cover in class. My ability to address complex issues, from humanitarian relief operations to the roots of instability in Europe and everything in between, has been greatly enhanced by the breadth and depth of my Fletcher education. Additionally, last fall we had the pleasure of having Dean Stavridis come talk to all 1,300 officers in our CGSS class about how he sees the 21st century security environment, and it made me incredibly proud to be part of the Fletcher community when my classmates said they thought the Dean gave the best guest lecture we’ve heard. And Fletcher alumni gained a very visible face when General Joe Dunford was named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last fall.
Last, and most importantly, I got married in December. My wife Christine is an Air Force pilot and we currently live apart while she’s in Colorado and I’m here, but the wedding gave us an opportunity to catch up with several classmates. Shockingly, Kansas is hardly the center of the Fletcher-sphere, so seeing friends after almost a year was great.
My Fletcher experience, from the education to the friendships made over my two years in Medford, sticks with me everyday. As my classmates make their way out into the world and start in their careers, I feel secure knowing that some of the most intelligent, caring, compassionate, and capable people the world has to offer are tackling the tough issues at hand. Also, as the Class Fund Agent for the class of 2015, it’s great to see donations back to the Fletcher Fund already coming from my peers and friends, helping the next generation of students succeed in their pursuit of making the world a better place. Looking back, I have to say that being a student at Fletcher was truly the most incredible experience of my Army career to date.
Returning once more, probably for the last time in the First-Year Alumni feature, to the Class of 2014, we meet Christina Brown, for whom study at Fletcher was one step in a multi-step career transition.
Three years ago, I was packing up my classroom after finishing another year of teaching physics, and now I am a few weeks away from beginning a PhD program in economics. The last three years have been a wonderful period of change and self-discovery, and at Fletcher cases like mine are not unique. I am one of many classmates who used Fletcher for a career transition — a place to both discover what it is you want to do and then gain the skills to make that career path possible.
Prior to Fletcher, I taught high school in a low-income community outside Boston through Teach for America and in a rural village in Tanzania through One Heart Source, a health and education NGO. While I loved teaching, my enjoyment was tempered with frustration over the tremendous systemic problems constraining the education market, especially in developing countries.
I wanted to work in the development sector, but I did not know how to break into the field, or for that matter, where. Did I want to be a program manager? Evaluator? Sectoral specialist? I wasn’t sure where my skills and interests would be a good match. I chose to attend Fletcher because I wanted the flexibility to explore development from different perspectives, to see where I would fit best.
Coursework in my first year in program evaluation and in development economics helped to solidify my interests, allowing me to gain useful skills for the development sector. Prof. Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church’s series of monitoring and evaluation courses were particularly useful. Her approach to evaluation is exceptionally rigorous, and with many of the alumni of her courses now in leadership positions within evaluation departments, her high aspiration for the evaluation field is seeping into many organizations. This group of former students stays in contact, growing year by year, through an email listserve and yearly gatherings at the American Evaluation Association Conference.
However, it was Prof. Jenny Aker’s coursework that ultimately led me to the path I am currently on. Like many members of the Fletcher faculty, Prof. Aker has many years of experience as a practitioner, working in West Africa, before returning to academia. And it showed in every lecture she taught. Her research was fascinating and thoroughly informed by her work in the field. There are many opportunities to work closely with professors whose work you are interested in, and I was lucky to serve as both a teaching assistant and research assistant for Prof. Aker.
At heart I am a math nerd, looking for an analytic approach to solve problems. Fletcher showed me that I could still care about the issues I was interested in — poverty, education, inequality — while approaching them from a quantitative angle. Seeing academics like Prof. Aker and others who were doing policy-relevant research and were at the forefront of the issues in their field, showed me an academic career need not be divorced from the issues on the ground. Towards the end of my first year I decided I wanted to do a PhD in economics and become a researcher. Rather than a light bulb going off, it was a slow, profound realization that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Luckily, due to Fletcher’s flexibility in coursework and ties to Boston-area schools, I was able to pivot in my second year and take two PhD-level courses at the Harvard School of Public Health and one at the Harvard Kennedy School.
At Fletcher, students are required to do a capstone project, which can take the form of the deliverable that is most useful for the student’s professional development. I choose to write a paper similar to an economics journal article, as it allowed me to see the research process from start to finish. I used an econometric strategy I learned during my first year to investigate the impact of an early grade literacy program in Indonesia. I found the program only had an effect for higher performing students and that this heterogeneity stemmed from differences in the time cost of participation in the program. These findings were used to inform the program scale-up. This experience deepened my love of the research process, and the tangible outcomes it produced.
A week after graduation, I began as a Research Fellow at Evidence for Policy Design, the microeconomic division of Harvard’s Center for International Development. I oversee the implementation, data collection, and analysis for two randomized controlled trials in Pakistan, working closely with our field team and six principal investigators across several universities. The job was a perfect fit, building off the RA skills I had gained working with Prof. Aker, and, of course, I heard about the job through a fellow Fletcher student.
Throughout the fall I applied to economics PhD programs and, again, Fletcher professors came through to offer advice and support. I am thrilled to be attending UC Berkeley, which has one of the best programs in the world for development economics, this fall. I truly would not be here if not for the mentorship I received from Fletcher faculty, opportunities I heard about through Fletcher alumni, and friendship of fellow Fletcher students.
It was the journalist Edward R. Murrow who observed that in promoting international understandings, what matters most is “the last three feet.” Incomplete perceptions and attitudes about foreign people are best dispelled by actual personal contact, with individuals engaged in conversation with one another. And so it was with my Fulbright experience.
I arrived in Medford, Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. My place of study was the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which is situated 15 minutes from Boston proper. I was very excited about this unique opportunity to specialize in the fields of study that interest me the most, namely U.S. foreign policy, security studies, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Fletcher offered an incredible range, depth, and freedom of study that I tried to take advantage of to the fullest. This involved, for example, a highly meticulous process of deciding which courses to take in a given semester. The task was not made easier by the fact that Fletcher students can cross-register for graduate courses at Harvard University, which significantly widened the list of available courses. I was not complaining about the degree of choice, however. For someone hungry to further his studies it was pure bliss.
For my comprehension of world issues, as important as the courses themselves were my fellow peers. Fletcher attracts a pool of students, both from the United States and abroad, with an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. This meant that for basically every classroom discussion someone would say something like “I was there when that happened” or “I have been working on that for my government.” This made the talks so much richer, and my understanding of the issues so much deeper. Having had the opportunity to discuss world issues with people from around the globe, in the pressure cooker of ideas and perspectives that is Fletcher, was a truly invaluable experience.
I also greatly appreciated the Fletcher faculty’s approach of mixing theory and practice in their teaching. The school prides itself on being a professional school of international affairs, and the professors place great emphasis on training students to be ready to tackle real-world issues. A skill I particularly valued training for was the ability to express myself concisely. I had many opportunities to practice this in writing terse two-page memos, where I had to summarize a problem and propose solutions. One of my professors’ favorite word was actually “pith,” a topic on which he gave a talk every year.
Beyond the classroom my cultural experience in the United States was greatly enhanced by being a part of the Fulbright network. I attended various Boston Fulbright mixers, meeting many engaging students from around America and the world. One of my favorite experiences, though, was the Fulbright enrichment seminar I attended in St. Louis, Missouri. I went there to learn about America’s westward expansion, but came away with much more.
I fondly remember spending time at a local daycare center in the outskirts of St. Louis. It was a part of Head Start, a U.S. federal program intended to promote the school readiness for young children from lower-income families. After being questioned by a little girl on “why I talked so funny,” I tried to explain that I was not from the United States. I attempted to demonstrate this by using Play-Doh to create two blobs representing North America and Europe. The lesson might only have been partially successful, but I left with a greater appreciation for how inquisitive young minds are, and how important programs like Head Start are in helping all children reach their full potential.
The Fulbright Program has allowed me to attain an education that I know will help me in my professional and personal life. But, and perhaps more importantly, Fulbright also gave me the opportunity to walk those last three feet and meet so many people that have expanded my understanding of the world, its issues, and its people. I would strongly encourage anyone considering becoming a part of this program to do so, the last steps toward someone might be the most important ones you ever take.
Though our 2014 alumni graduated more than a year ago, I will continuing highlighting their work until the 2015 grads find theirs. Today, Eirik Torsvoll tells us about his return to Norway and the start of his job. Note that Eirik wrote his post earlier in the spring.
Although I never would have believed it, time during my first year after graduation seems to have moved even faster than when I was a MALD student at Fletcher. I was therefore a little taken aback when Jessica reminded me in November that it had been six months since graduation, and that she hoped I would still be able to write a blog post in the spring. Things have now finally settled with moving back to Norway and starting work-life, so this is a good point in time to reflect on the initial post-Fletcher period.
The first few months after graduation were characterized by excitement and a little frustration. It was exciting because I was eager to start a new chapter in my life and pursue various work opportunities in Norway, and frustrating because there was little actual activity in the job market during the summer months. However, I took to heart the ever-helpful advice of the Fletcher Office of Career Services and used this time to reach out to interesting people and employers for so-called informational interviews.
Through these interviews I met some fascinating people with plenty of helpful advice and insights. Something I found particularly valuable was the recommendation to write and publish whenever I could. I was told that being able to display an ability to write and communicate would always be appreciated wherever I applied for work, something I have found to be true. During this period I therefore wrote a couple of op-eds for Norwegian newspapers (here and here), and I also published an article in the Fletcher Forum.
When things finally heated up in the job market I found that a Fletcher education certainly made me competitive. Particularly, I think it was the breadth and depth of my education that made me stand out in the job market, as I could offer both relevant skills (such as memo writing) and a familiarity with pertinent issues (for example Asia-Pacific affairs).
Sometimes I would be astonished by which aspects of my Fletcher education proved useful. For example, during one of my job interviews I was asked about how I would relate Carl von Clausewitz’s teachings with the practice of my prospective employer. Having taken Prof. William Martel’s course on the evolution of grand strategy, I felt I could answer this challenging question adequately. I obviously had to tell Prof. Martel about this afterwards, and his response — that he was pleased to hear that Clausewitz and grand strategy remained relevant — was the last I heard from him before his truly tragic passing this January. (For those interested, Jessica wrote a beautiful post about Professor Martel after his departure.)
In the end, though, I ended up in a research position at PluriCourts, an Oslo-based research center for the study of the legitimate roles of the judiciary in the global order. Much like Fletcher, PluriCourts employs an interdisciplinary approach, using political science, law, and philosophy to study the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals. Since starting, I have been very thankful for the breadth requirements of my Fletcher education, as this was a field I originally had not expected to work in. The ILO course on International Organizations, with its focus on the interaction between international law and politics, has been incredibly helpful in understanding the work PluriCourts does.
At PluriCourts, I work closely with our researchers on their various projects, assist in the many workshops and seminars we organize, and everything in between. The work also involves a bit of traveling, and soon I attended a workshop in Barcelona on the normative aspects of the legitimacy of international courts. The research project I’m currently working on involves looking at the independence of international courts from states, and this requires a thorough assessment of the various courts based on a series of indicators. It’s still in the preliminary stages of data collection and coding, and it’s really exciting to be a part of a research project from the very beginning. This way, I’m able to both witness and be a part of how the project progresses.
All in all, the transition back to work life has been both fun and exciting. I’m confident that Fletcher has prepared me well for the future challenges ahead, whichever way my career path takes me.
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