Currently viewing the tag: "Mariya"
The Admissions Blog’s Student Stories writers are busy with their summer activities, but I have end-of-year reports from them to share. I’ll start with this post from Mariya, who pursued an outrageously busy schedule during the spring semester.
It’s hard to believe that my first year at Fletcher has come to an end. It feels like yesterday that I was meeting new people at Orientation, figuring out my classes, and making sense of my new community. Over the last ten months, a lot has happened; at Fletcher, in the United States, and around the world. The frequency of breaking news buzzing on my phone made it difficult at times to focus on my studies, but as any student or professor would tell you, consuming articles from a variety of sources is an important part of a Fletcher education. These unofficial “supplemental readings” became topics of discussion in classes and our homes, in the Mugar Café and on the Social List. In these spaces, we analyzed and debated world events in a way that challenged our long-held beliefs and pushed us outside our comfort zones. At those moments, I couldn’t help but be grateful. What a privilege it is to be a student now — to study history, to discuss the present, to prepare for the future, to think out loud and debate different ideas.
While the real world seemed to be in disarray, I was struggling to manage my own world at Fletcher. My second semester was especially challenging because I took six half- or full-semester courses including two at Harvard, audited three classes including intermediate Spanish, and was an active leader of three campus clubs. In this post, I’d like to highlight one of those clubs: The Fletcher Islamic Society (FIS).
When I arrived at Fletcher in September, I learned that FIS was not an active group. With others, I applied for club funding and we were able to re-charter it. The purpose of the Fletcher Islamic Society is to create a space that furthers the understanding of Islam in different social, cultural, political, ethnic, and spiritual contexts. By hosting speakers, engaging in community service, and facilitating open dialogue, our hope is to foster an environment where Islam can be understood in all its complexity and diversity. We collaborate with the Tufts Muslim Chaplaincy and the Tufts Muslim Student Association student group for recurring events such as Jummah (Friday) prayers and Quran recitation circles. This year, FIS was one of the direct beneficiaries of a new prayer room that allows Muslim students to pray in a convenient space and for others to meditate.
I would like to highlight a few events that FIS organized to give you an idea of the types of student-inspired programming that is a norm at Fletcher.
- In sponsorship with the Fares Center, we hosted Pakistani Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Rizwan Shiekh, who spoke to an audience of about 40 students about the “knowns and unknowns” of Pakistan from a security perspective. Pakistan is often a case study in Fletcher courses, and it was refreshing to hear a different perspective from a career diplomat about the role of the military in public life and foreign policy, as well as in diplomatic initiatives.
- Shortly after the 2016 election and the highlighting of the Khizr Khan family, FIS leaders sought to bring attention to Muslims serving in the armed forces. In partnership with the International Security Studies Program (ISSP), FIS invited to campus MIT Professor of Military Science Captain Nadi Kassim who delivered an engaging luncheon talk titled “Muslim Americans in the Armed Forces: The Story of a 1st Generation Palestinian-American.” This event was highlighted in the Muslim Chaplaincy’s Spring newsletter.
- Another popular event that FIS sponsored this semester was a panel discussion titled “Spooks Islam: Reflection on Intelligence, Counterterrorism and the American Muslim Experience.” In addition to sharing their experiences of working in counterterrorism as black Muslims, Muhammad Fraser-Rahim and Yaya Fanusie engaged students with career advice — and some students even landed summer internships with their organizations!
- In late April, FIS hosted an intimate coffee discussion with one of Fletcher’s distinguished alums, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary, F90. Once the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Mr. Chaudhary shared anecdotes of his time at Fletcher and his diplomatic journey and advice for students as we navigate our futures.
Of course, there’s never a shortage of events to attend at Fletcher. But what I love about being a student club leader is the flexibility and discretion afforded to us in creating programming that we feel benefits the community. If there is something you want to see at campus, you can make it happen.
Aside from organizing and attending events, I had the opportunity to participate in some, too. For example, I performed my values speech from the Arts of Communication course at the spring Fletcher Faces of Community, presented my undergraduate research at Tufts’ South Asian Political Action Committee Symposium, and shared my poem titled “The Dream That Is” at the Spring Recital. The semester ended with the annual Diplomats Ball (or “Dip Ball” for short), which was the perfect way to top off the year. I’ve had an incredible time at Fletcher so far, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to enroll here. I’m spending the summer in Taiwan and Thailand — I look forward to writing to you from there!
“This outward spring and garden are a reflection of the inward garden,” writes Rumi, my favorite poet. Jalaluddin Rumi — for those of you who don’t know — was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. I love his poetry because his metaphors are so powerful, and I constantly find ways that his words relate to my own life experiences.
Spring break was quite rejuvenating. Unfortunately the Fletcher Pakistan Trek did not work out, so instead I went home to Alexandria, VA. I soaked in the sunshine during the annual Washington, DC cherry blossom festival, drank lots of Pakistani chai and Kashmiri kahwa, and ate a ton of my mom’s delicious homemade foods. The nourishment was much needed, as it brought back to life my exhausted soul. My “inward garden” is now full of excitement for the second half of this semester, prayers for my final exams and projects, and well wishes for my peers who are graduating in May.
When I arrived back on campus last Monday, I smiled ear to ear when I noticed — quite literally! — an “inward” tree blossoming near the Ginn Library’s main entrance. This wasn’t just any tree, however. Instead of cherry blossoms or flower buds, strips of pure white, pastel green, and soft peach cotton pieces hung from its branches.
I knew what this was: it was a “Wish Tree.”
Let me back up and tell you a little about how this tree came about. Over winter break, Ginn Library solicited photographs from students, staff, and faculty for their Perspectives Gallery, an exhibit that “highlights world cultures with the hope of promoting understanding and tolerance.” I submitted a few shots from my time in Turkey, and much to my surprise, two of my photographs were selected for the gallery. One of these photos depicted an unusual tree that, when I first saw it, gave me a weird sense of déjà vu, but moments later, took me down memory lane.
The tree reminded me of driving up the curvy, dirt road towards our home in a mountainous village in northwestern Pakistan, when we would always pass by a tree, outside of a cemetery, draped in colorful scraps of cloth. When I would wander the road on my own, this tree served as a familiar landmark that I was close to home. During these excursions, I always wondered why people forgot to pick up their laundry from the tree.
On a visit to Pakistan in summer 2011, I finally asked my father why people tied cloths to this tree and left them there. He explained that the cloths were a physical representation of prayers or wishes that people were asking God, and because trees are sacred creations and symbols of life, people hoped to connect with God through nature. Often the prayer or wish is related to health or fertility, but it could also be a request for help, guidance, repentance, strength, or hope.
When I stumbled upon the “Wish Tree” during my travels in Cappadocia, Turkey last year, I was reminded of my father’s words. But unlike the tree from my childhood, this tree had noticeably more white cloths than colorful strips, and instead of being next to a cemetery, it rested next to a rack of broken pottery. In Islam, white symbolizes purity and peace, and is the color that is worn at funerals. I was captivated by the irony of this scene — the colorful pottery hanging by a dried up riverbed, horses roaming in search of grass or water, deserted caves longing for their inhabitants and worshipers; yet the living tree reaching toward heaven in the clear blue skies, its branches heavy with wishes, dreams, and hopes of people from around the world. I would never have realized at first glance that this abandoned scene was home to such a beautiful spiritual life.
Tying cloths to trees is an ancient tradition that is actually quite common across many cultures around the world. The ritual is practiced by the Irish, Scottish, Thai, Chinese, Tibetans, and even Native Americans, to name a few.
When I shared this story with library staff members Cynthia Rubino and Anulfo Baez, they were inspired to bring the Wish Tree to Fletcher. Thanks to their creativity and efforts, anyone who walks through the Ginn Library can now jot down wishes and hang them on the tree. I invite all visitors to Fletcher this spring to stop by Ginn, grab a black Sharpie and a piece of cloth from the basket, and make a wish. And because you’ll be in the library, here’s a reminder from Rumi: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
Today I’d like to wrap up the fall semester reports from our first-year Student Stories writers. We’ll hear about Mariya’s semester and, particularly, her experience in the Arts of Communication class.
As I boarded my flight to Washington, DC from Boston Logan International Airport on December 17, I breathed a sigh of relief that my first semester was finally over. But a few moments later, the math major in me realized that a quarter of my entire graduate career was behind me. With this epiphany, I felt both sad and surprised at how quickly time flies. I had been so consumed with my classes, activities, campus lectures, and studying in Ginn Library’s “Hogwarts” room, that how September became December? This I do not remember.
OK, so I know that was kind of corny, but I hope it made for a good sound bite. As I reflect on my classes from the fall semester, Arts of Communication stands out as particularly special, challenging, and rewarding. I must admit, however, that I initially had no intention of taking this course after browsing through Fletcher’s course catalog that brimmed with exciting classes across diverse disciplines, regional studies, and practical skills. I accidentally stumbled upon Arts of Communication during Shopping Day and became intrigued by the syllabus and Professor Mihir Mankad’s pitch. I went back to the ever-stressful task of finalizing my course schedule and scribbled in Wednesday evenings for a full-semester course on how to become an effective communicator.
In Arts of Communication — or AoC for short — we learned by doing. We learned to connect with an audience by practicing logos, pathos, and ethos in our presentations. We recorded ourselves as we learned to face the camera and report from a studio. We practiced job interviews, debated controversial issues, and held press conferences (where I acted as the recently elected Muslim mayor of Chicago). Perhaps most important, we learned through active listening and observing, as well as giving and receiving feedback with humility. We were very fortunate that our class coincided with the U.S. presidential election, which enriched our learning experience. The campaign cycle provided live debates, speeches, and advertisements for us to dissect and analyze.
What made AoC unique among my fall semester courses, however, was the appeal to different emotions and the closeness of the class. I did not expect a graduate course to make me laugh and cry; yet, I found myself chuckling as my peers amused the class with wit, and silently sobbing as they shared personal experiences. Through speeches, debates, videos, and impromptu gigs, AoC continually pushed us out of our comfort zones, yet our common vulnerability and trust in each other bonded us as a community. By the middle of the course, we had become a family that looked after each other and served as a mutual support system.
The course itself was time-consuming and challenging. At the beginning of the semester, Professor Mankad said that becoming a better speaker would require dedication outside of the class. The video assignment, for example, took me hours to complete: in addition to careful coordination of attire, setting, sound and lighting, I edited my clips into a coherent movie. Although I felt frustrated during the process, I am grateful to the patience of my classmate Yutaro, who taught me iMovie software so that I could produce a six-minute Snapchat video. Similarly, the “value speech” was a challenging exercise for me. Modeled on the “This I Believe” project, the purpose of the exercise was to write and share in four minutes a core value that guides our daily lives. I reflected deeply upon my life experiences, went through multiple iterations of speechwriting, and spent days rehearsing my value speech with family, friends, and roommates. I delivered a speech about why one particular conversation with my father made me realize how much I value his support.
Through AoC, we grew as individuals and as a class. We will share the special bond we forged in this course for the rest of our lives, and for that we are truly grateful to Professor Mankad. As, in his past career, he had been a television anchor in India, a consultant for top firms, and a director of a foundation, Professor Mankad brought a depth of experience to the classroom. Moreover, his dedication to all 60 of his students — 30 in the full course, 30 in the module-version of the class — was evident by his accessibility, detailed feedback, and time he spent listening to hundreds of speeches. It is no surprise the course has attracted the highest numbers of cross-registered students at Fletcher. In my conversations with Professor Mankad, he told me that his favorite parts of teaching AoC is getting to know each student’s story, and helping them improve in this important area. To express our gratitude, students organized a flash mob to the tune of a commercial Professor Mankad once performed in, and created a tribute video to surprise him at the semester-end’s celebration.
I am eager to apply the skills I have gained in AoC in all aspects of my life. My first stab of pushing myself as a public speaker was in early December at a forum organized by the Fletcher International Law Students Association, where I presented on the legal aspects of UN Article 2(4), a topic I had become extremely interested in through my International Organizations course.
This semester, I am eager to take a course at Harvard, switch up my extracurricular activities, and participate in the conferences I have been helping to organize. However, I am the most excited about co-leading Fletcher’s first-ever spring break trek to Pakistan (which received over 50 applications!) with my peers Ahmad and Seher. Stay tuned, because my next post will probably be from Islamabad or Lahore, inshallah!
Our final post from a new Student Stories writer comes from Mariya, a recipient of a Pickering Fellowship that helps her fund her education in return for a commitment to join the U.S. Foreign Service.
Greetings from one of my favorite study spaces at The Fletcher School: the ultra-quiet “Hogwarts Room” at Fletcher’s Ginn Library. I am surrounded by neatly stacked books, brightly lit lamps, students hard at work, and former deans looking down at us — either admiring our dedication or secretly laughing. I can never tell.
But what I can tell you is who I am and why I am here. My name is Mariya Ilyas and I am first-year MALD student. I was born in Pakistan, moved to the United States with my family at age eight, and grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, just seven miles south of the nation’s capital. The proximity to Washingtonian politics, exposure to diverse people and cultures, and having a dual identity cemented my interest in international affairs from an early age. I am grateful to the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which will allow me to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. diplomat and serving my country in a meaningful way.
I am here to share with you my experiences at Fletcher over the next two years. I enjoy blogging because writing for an audience allows me to process and reflect on my experiences, while also growing from them. As I navigate my Fletcher journey, my goal is to not just share the immense opportunities that are available at this school, but to also analyze how those opportunities are contributing to my personal growth and preparing me for my career. I hope that my entries will provide prospective students with another point to consider as they explore graduate school options. I also hope to look back on these posts in 2018 and reflect on my personal and professional development.
I came to Fletcher with a diverse set of experiences. I studied mathematics, sociology, and government at Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts college in the town of Brunswick, Maine. My time at Bowdoin prepared me for many “real world” challenges, including the New England winters — which became particularly handy when I took up a job in Boston after graduation. As a product analyst for Liberty Mutual Insurance, a fortune-100 company, I analyzed insurance data and implemented projects to increase growth and probability in the state of Kentucky. After gaining valuable business and financial skills, I switched gears from the corporate world to the public sector. Last year, I taught English in Antalya, Turkey through the U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program. This nine-month fellowship allowed me to appreciate a different culture, learn a new language, and get a glimpse of what it is like to live abroad. My extensive travels showed me the rich history of Turkey and the country’s breathtaking beauty, as well as the strength and hospitality of its people. Lastly, my internships at The White House and the U.S. Department of State (Pakistan Desk) exposed me to my future workplace: a complex federal bureaucracy with humble public servants.
This semester, my classes include Role of Force, International Organizations, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Arts of Communication, and a yearlong EPIIC Colloquium, hosted by the Tufts Institute of Global Leadership. Although I plan to concentrate in International Security Studies and Global Maritime Studies, my strategy for graduate coursework is to expose myself to as many different disciplines and topics as possible — Foreign Service Officers are generalists, after all.
Outside the classroom, I am involved in activities that push me out of my comfort zone, challenge my assumptions, and help me develop new skills. I am a member of the Arctic Initiative and the improv group, co-leader of Fletcher Students of Color & Allies, and co-leader of the Fletcher Islamic Society (which I helped re-establish this year). I am also conducting research for the U.S. State Department’s Diplomacy Lab under Professor Eileen Babbitt and helping fundraise for the Arctic and Energy conferences coming up in February 2017. In addition to these ongoing activities, I enjoy participating in opportunities that add to my learning. For example, I was one of 40 students who represented Fletcher at the Arctic Circle Assembly Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland; I played the role of Turkey’s interior minister at this year’s SIMULEX, and I gave a TEDx-style speech about blogging as a way to bridge the academic-policy gap at the Fletcher Idea Exchange. I’ve also signed up for impromptu activities such as participating in cultural nights, hosting a Fletcher Feast, or attending Professor Hess’s annual picnic. This might seem like an overwhelming set of commitments — and at times, it can be — but if there’s one thing I have learned at Fletcher, it is that Fletcher students are exceptionally good at juggling their commitments, and that being a part of 15 things simultaneously is the norm rather than the exception.
I have been at Fletcher for almost three months now, and I could not be happier. I remember my uncle, a retired Pakistani bureaucrat, once told me that the Pakistani Government used to send its entire corps of young foreign service officers to Fletcher because of its reputation and approach to the study of international affairs. I now understand what my uncle meant. In the short time that I have been here, I feel proud to be a part of a vigorous, yet modest, community of scholars dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems through interdisciplinary approaches and an international perspective. It was not just the world-class reputation that drew me to Fletcher, however; I was also attracted to the School’s flexible curriculum (including cross-registration at Harvard), diverse student body (each of my four roommates represents a different country), and the quality of its alumni network. But above all, I chose Fletcher for its caring community.
I would like to share an anecdote to illustrate my last point about the caring community. In April 2015, I was faced with a dilemma: to enroll in graduate school or defer my admission to pursue the Fulbright Scholarship. I called the Fletcher Admissions Office to seek advice, and spoke with Dean of Admissions Laurie Hurley. Much to my surprise, she said, “Graduate school will always be here.” She encouraged me to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Turkey because she believed it was the best move for my professional and personal development. In that moment I realized the Fletcher community was genuinely committed to my success. Looking back now, deferring my admission was one of the best decisions I made, because teaching in Turkey prepared me for a richer educational experience and world perspective — and I have the Fletcher community itself to thank for that.
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