Currently viewing the tag: "Mirza"

I have a little something different to offer today.  Remember Mirza?  He was a MALD student who wrote for the blog in 2013-14 and 2014-2015, and since then he has been alternating work that builds on his Fletcher studies with a continuation of the music career he had pre-Fletcher, with the duo Arms and Sleepers (AAS).  Recently, I read something he had posted on his Facebook page and asked if I could share it on the blog.  It struck me as bringing together so much of what makes Mirza interesting — his personal history, his directness and honesty, his work as a musician, and the insights he will have developed at Fletcher.  I’m glad he agreed to let me share his thoughts.  Post-Fletcher careers in the arts are not typical, but those graduates who pursue them are not alone. 

As a further introduction, today Mirza noted, “I have performed in Georgia the country and Georgia the U.S. state; Moscow, Idaho and Moscow, Russia; Athens, Georgia and Athens, Greece; (the) Mexico and New Mexico.”  He definitely covers a lot of territory.  Speaking of which, let me share his upcoming tour schedule.  If you live or are traveling in any of these locations, I’m sure Mirza would be happy to see you.  He has always welcomed Fletcher alumni, students, and even applicants to his performances in the past.  

And with that, I’ll let Mirza share his story.  

I’ve been telling this story at my shows on the current tour so I’ll share it here as well, especially as I am in northern Greece at the moment.

Being a musician and doing this for a living, I often feel conflicted about the importance and impact of what I do, compared to what’s happening in the world.  I arrived at Amsterdam airport the morning of the Brussels airport bombings, and was traveling to Greece via Brussels airport last week.  I am now in northern Greece about to play three shows, practically right next to the refugee camps where people have only one thing on their mind: survival.  I’ve been on that side as well.  When I left Bosnia with my mother in 1992, we only had survival on our mind, too.  We were lucky to escape the war, but we wanted the world to pay attention to our struggles and help us start a new life somewhere else.  Almost every country closed its borders to us, and hours (many hours) spent waiting in line at the Norwegian/Swedish/Canadian/etc. embassies resulted in nothing but rejection.  We were lucky, once again, to be taken by the U.S. after years of trying.

Today, I am on the other side, doing something I love and something that I helped build myself.  I perform music across the world, and even if I am only a small artist, I feel incredibly privileged and lucky that people are willing to pay me to come to their country and play a show.  So as I am writing this in Thessaloniki, Greece, I feel weird because I think about some western artist who might have been performing in Croatia at the same time that my mother and I were traveling on ferries and buses with two suitcases looking for a better future.  Now that western artist is me.

I keep saying that music is important, because it is.  At almost every show I meet someone who tells me how much our music has impacted him/her.  In Bristol, UK, a girl was crying after our show because she heard her favorite song live; in Chongqing, China, someone told me our CD was the first she ever purchased outside of China; in Guatemala City, the show organizer told me that our music opened his eyes (ears?) eight years ago to all kinds of new music he never knew about before; in St. Petersburg, Russia, a young girl told me that she has a heart condition and can’t go to loud shows, as per her doctor, but came to my show anyway and felt free for the first time in a long time; a girl in Poznan, Poland recently got sick and ended up in a wheelchair — she told me that my show was an hour during which she could forget about all the overwhelming negativity in her life; in Ukraine in the summer of 2014, I was thanked endlessly for not canceling my tour and for being one of the only artists to play in the eastern part of the country; in 2009, we wrote a song that was the first thing a newborn in Nashville, Tennessee heard; a guy flew on a plane in Russia for the first time just to come to an AAS show; and I continue receiving Facebook messages from young people in Tehran, Iran telling me how much our music has been influential in the city’s underground electronic music scene.  These are not ego-boosters, but little stories that are important to me because they involve people’s actual lives, and it is unbelievably humbling to have any amount of impact in someone else’s life.

So I don’t know, I continue feeling conflicted because I’ve been on both sides — I’ve been a refugee who nobody wanted and I’ve been a teenager/adult who needed music to get through difficult times.  As I play these shows in northern Greece over the next three nights, I’ll be doing plenty of self-examination and figuring out how to best contribute positively in this messy world, with and without music.

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We’re down to the last few posts from Roxanne, Mirza, and Scott, our graduating bloggers.  For this post, I asked Mirza to create what I like to call an annotated curriculum, in which he would describe his path through Fletcher and reflect on how everything weaves together.  Like most Fletcher students, he’s honest about his non-linear path, as we can see by comparing his thoughts just before graduation to those in his first semester or  at the start of his second semester.

Mirza Ramic (MALD, 2014)

Pre-Fletcher Experience
Musician (self-employed)
Business Associate positions at various startups

Fields of Study
International Information and Communication
International Organizations

Capstone Topic
Communications and information policy and regulation, and the question of global governance

Post-Fletcher Professional Goals
Hoping to help international organizations, non-profits, and private sector firms (or anyone, really) formulate effective and creative digital communications and online branding strategies

Curriculum Overview

Semester One

  • Processes of International Negotiation
  • International Communication
  • Econometrics
  • Internal Conflicts and War

My Fletcher academic path might be a bit more on the “strange” side, but considering the rich diversity of Fletcher student backgrounds and interests, perhaps it’s not so left field.  I came to Fletcher pretty determined to be a “Business MALD,” with business and economics courses lined up in my carefully planned academic spreadsheet.  After a couple of days at Fletcher, I changed my strategy and instead decided to try a little bit of everything: conflict resolution, security studies, statistics/economics, and communications.  I also wanted to get some of the breadth requirements out of the way early, and two courses (Negotiation and Econometrics) did precisely that.  I placed out of the economics exam offered at the beginning of the semester, so I was able to take Econometrics and skip the introductory-level economics course.

Semester Two

  • Analytic Frameworks for International Public Policy Decisions
  • Entrepreneurial Marketing: Building a Winning Business Plan
  • Political Economy After the Crisis (Harvard Law School)
  • Values, Interests, and the Crafting of U.S. Foreign Policy (Harvard Kennedy School)

At the start of the spring semester, I was confused.  I had no idea which direction I wanted to go in, and was considering returning to my original plan of a business-oriented MALD degree.  I knew I definitely wanted to venture outside of Fletcher, so I took two courses at Harvard.  One was excellent, another not so excellent, but both were valuable in different regards.  I also took a business course at Fletcher, and enrolled in Analytic Frameworks since my thesis advisor, Professor Carolyn Gideon, taught it and her International Communication class in the fall semester was by far my favorite course thus far.  Looking back, I should have fulfilled some more requirements during this semester, as I finished my first year without having completed a single Field of Study and without having met all my breadth requirements.  Still, I don’t think this is unusual for Fletcher students as some of us tend to be all over the place.  So if you’re in a similar situation, no need for panic whatsoever. 

Summer Internship
Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, Boston, MA
The Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston Public Policy Summer Fellow

Toward the end of my first semester, I began developing an interest in education, learning, and in particular, higher education reform.  This seemed to be a natural extension of my interest in communication technologies and technological innovation, and especially after observing how learning could be enhanced in university classrooms, I became quite passionate about the ways in which technology could transform education.  As a result, I applied for the Rappaport Fellowship for Public Policy offered through the Harvard Kennedy School, and was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the 14 Rappaport fellows.  This allowed me to pick the state agency I would want to be involved with, and the Department of Higher Education was an obvious choice.  There, I spent 10 weeks working with public institutions on various forward-looking initiatives advancing public higher education in Massachusetts, focusing on technology-based projects in particular.  It was a great experience for many reasons, and helped me tailor my professional interests and academic direction.

Semester Three

  • Starting New Ventures
  • International Organizations
  • Social Networks in Organizations (1/2 credit)
  • Independent Study – Thesis (1/2 credit)
  • Transforming Education through Emerging Technologies (Harvard Graduate School of Education)

I came into this semester quite focused.  I took a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to advance my knowledge of the educational technology field, after spending an entire summer learning as much about the topic as I possibly could.  This was a great decision.  I met some great people, forged new relationships, and significantly extended my network.  Moreover, my class project would turn into paid work the following semester, and may extend beyond this semester.  I enrolled in International Organizations because I had to fulfill my last breadth requirement.  I was not too happy about this, as I had been avoiding ILO (International Legal Order) courses since the beginning of my Fletcher career.  I was a bit of a curmudgeon in the first week of class, and did not know what to expect from a visiting professor.  Well, I would discover that I was 100% wrong on all accounts, as this turned out to be a highly intellectually stimulating class with a top-notch professor who I just absolutely loved.  In fact, after swearing to avoid ILO, I decided to enroll in International Criminal Justice in my final semester with the same professor, John Cerone, and even decided to make International Organizations one of my Fields of Study.  I think most Fletcher students would agree that a great professor can make all the difference in the world.  For me, it made me appreciate and pursue a field I previously felt no interest in.  Yes, this can happen in your second year, and it is absolutely thrilling.  At the same time, I continued taking business courses, now focusing more specifically on entrepreneurship, new ventures, and innovation, with the idea that I might eventually go into the world of educational technology startups.

Semester Four

  • Strategy and Innovation in the Evolving Context of International Business
  • International Criminal Justice
  • U.S. Public Diplomacy
  • The Shapes of Utopia (Harvard Graduate School of Design)

My last semester has featured a combination of requirements and electives.  Another business course to solidify my understanding of innovation and new ventures; a course on U.S. public diplomacy to expand my familiarity with communication in the public sector; the aforementioned International Criminal Justice course to pursue my newly discovered interest in international law; and, well, yes, a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  This class was recommended to me by a classmate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I decided to give it a shot.  It’s been an amazing course — highly theoretical and philosophical — and precisely what I wanted from my last semester of graduate school.  This really affirms my belief that almost every field has some relevance to international relations: the Shapes of Utopia course has been as much about economics, politics, and sociology as it has been about architecture.  I would indeed recommend venturing out and taking advantage of all the academic and learning resources and opportunities that Boston has to offer – even if it seems like you’re not exactly following your chosen academic trajectory.

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Between the busy schedules of my student writers, and my own slow start in wrangling posts out of them, I realize this semester has so far been a little light on Student Stories.  And that makes today a good day to share a note I liked that Mirza posted on Facebook for Arms and Sleepers, his music duo.  (The A/A/S extended spring break tour is now an annual tradition.)  He shared a photo of the list of selected music he found on his Singapore Airlines flight to Germany, which included an Arms and Sleepers track.  Must have been a good omen for the trip!

In Europe?  Consider catching one of the gigs, before Mirza returns to his daily student life.

AAS

 

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My second-year student bloggers are busy people.  We last heard from Mirza in the summer, when he reported on his internship.  Today’s post will give readers a very good sense of why this is the first time we’re hearing from him since classes began this semester.

MirzaAfter some months of silence, I am happy to be writing again for the Admissions Blog.  My silence has been rooted in several factors: 1) Dealing with a busy academic schedule (nothing new at Fletcher); 2) Balancing a couple of paid job positions with my academic schedule; and 3) Attempting to be a responsible second-year student and remain fully engaged in the Fletcher community.  The first two months of my second year indeed proved to be quite chaotic, but I would describe this as controlled and happy chaos.  For me at least, the self-awareness that I am successfully managing my own Fletcher chaos seems to be the biggest difference between the two years thus far.

One striking change that I’m noticing as a second-year student is that I feel significantly more grounded as a member of the Fletcher community than I did last year.  I have come to understand more clearly who I am at Fletcher; what Fletcher and the people here can offer me and what I can offer them; when to say yes and when to say no to various events and social activities; how to assess my personal opportunity costs (chatting with a friend in the Hall of Flags for 15 minutes or spending those 15 minutes answering emails — the former increasingly taking precedence over the latter); and how to take advantage of this special time in my life to the fullest extent possible.  Having spent the summer back in the working world, this last point has been especially resonant.

This is not to say that the first year at Fletcher is less meaningful, but simply that by the time the second year rolls around, one is likely to have gained a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of this rich community.  One will also have figured out how to perform most effectively and efficiently in the general chaos that is graduate school.  For me, this meant becoming more strategic with my time.  While I have four paid jobs this semester, they each play an important role in enhancing my résumé with relevant skills.  A good amount of my work responsibilities have also directly complemented my academic coursework, thus bringing my overall learning into a cohesive whole.  For example, as an Academic Technology Fellow at Tufts University’s Educational and Scholarly Technology Services, I have been exposed to numerous web-based learning platforms and tools that have nicely complemented my coursework in a Harvard Education School course on education and technology.  My role as Business Director for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, on the other hand, has provided me with an opportunity to put into practice some of the skills acquired in my marketing and entrepreneurship courses at Fletcher.  Together, these connected experiences will allow me to tell a rounded story in my cover letter and résumé when it is time to jump into the post-Fletcher job hunt.

I have also really embraced what most Fletcher students would identify as the essential component of the Fletcher experience: our lively and passionate community.  So, besides academic and work obligations, I have tried to stay very active in Fletcher’s social life.  Whether supporting the Los Fletcheros on Thursday nights at Johnny D’s in Davis Square, attending events organized by the many Fletcher student groups (recent highlight: a lecture titled “Do Human Rights Matter?”), driving to Cape Cod with my classmates for Prof. Hess’s annual barbeque picnic, engaging in (somewhat) heated debates on the Social List, group-biking from Fletcher to Harvard, or offering to be a second-year buddy to a first-year student, I have become truly connected to and inspired by the multifaceted world of Fletcher.  Many of the people I have met here over the last year will undoubtedly play an important role in my post-graduation life, and these tight-knit social networks — strengthened through shared experiences in and outside of classroom — are what make Fletcher such a unique place.  Understanding how to balance this cornerstone of the Fletcher experience with my academic, work, and personal responsibilities has been an important accomplishment for me in my second year of graduate school, and has accordingly led to the aforementioned comfort of a “controlled and happy chaos.”

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Unlike most of my Fletcher classmates, I am doing my internship in Boston this summer.  It’s just across the river and a couple of subway stops away from Fletcher, so it has been quite an easy adjustment for me.  I am working at the State Department of Higher Education where I am exploring how new educational technology initiatives can help close achievement gaps in public higher education in Massachusetts.  I was lucky to find a paid internship, as part of the Rappaport Institute Public Policy Summer Fellowship Program.  (For the incoming students interested in Greater Boston and public policy, I would highly suggest visiting their website to learn more about the application process for the following summer.)

I discovered the fellowship by chance.  The Office of Career Services (OCS) organized an information session in the fall which I (randomly) decided to attend.  I really liked what I heard, so I followed up, kept in touch, went in for an informational interview, and submitted my application in mid-January (in fact, just before leaving for the Fletcher ski trip).  I took a bit of a risk by not exploring other internship opportunities (not recommended!), though I knew that if my application were not selected, I would still have time to research other opportunities.  By March 1, my application was accepted, and I could remove the “summer internship” item off my stress to-do list.

I started my internship a couple of weeks ago, and am still learning about the department’s work.  Unlike perhaps some other internship positions, I was given the freedom to choose the work I would do over the summer.  This has been both exciting and challenging.  It’s great because I can tailor my learning and focus on my specific interests; the challenge is to remain exceptionally disciplined with my time and persistently take initiative.  So far, so good — but I do admit that, occasionally, it is nice to simply be assigned a task with a deadline.

Nevertheless, what I have discovered with my summer internship is that this opportunity gives me and my classmates an additional network, on top of the expansive and tight-knit Fletcher network.  I have already met many wonderful individuals, and am predicting some lasting professional relationships and friendships.  As at Fletcher and elsewhere, the key is to get involved and be proactive, and take full advantage of the experience.  While this has been great, I do miss my Fletcher classmates.  Soon after the academic year’s end, you realize just how meaningful the Fletcher friendships really are.  Luckily, there are a good number of us still in the Boston area, so it does not feel as secluded as it must feel for those interning in places such as Liberia or Nepal.

Another thing that I learned is that taking some time off between the academic year and a summer internship is helpful for sanity.  Many of my Fletcher friends have done this: visiting family, going on short vacations and road trips, or simply staying put in the Boston area and reading fiction.  (Fiction gains a whole new meaning in the life of a Fletcher student after two semesters of case studies).  I personally was fortunate enough to visit Europe for two weeks, which was a welcome change of scenery.  I would highly recommend taking your mind off anything school or work-related for at least a couple of weeks — your body and brain will be eternally grateful.

Finding a summer internship is a stressful activity for many Fletcher students, balanced as it is against a demanding academic schedule and a vibrant social environment filled with extracurricular activities — as well as many work and personal responsibilities.  In the end, however, almost everyone finds exactly what s/he is looking for, and literally everyone finds something meaningful to do over the summer months.  A couple of tips from my experience are to start the internship hunt early on (mid-fall semester), connect with Fletcher alums, use OCS resources, talk to your classmates, be persistent, and don’t stress too much.

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Returning to the questions blog readers asked me to cover this spring, Mirza is going to describe options for cross-registration.  The opportunity to cross-register for up to a quarter of the classes a student takes toward a Fletcher degree is one of the factors that makes us say that no two students graduate with exactly the same curriculum.

One of the many great options at Fletcher is cross-registering at other graduate units of Tufts or Harvard University, or even beyond.  (Keep in mind that MALD or MIB students are allowed to cross-register for four classes total during the two years at Fletcher.)  With so many great higher education institutions in Boston, such cooperation and sharing of resources among different schools makes sense and you should by all means take full advantage.

Currently, in my second semester at Fletcher, I am taking two classes at Harvard — one at Harvard Kennedy School (Values, Interests and the Crafting of U.S. Foreign Policy) and one at Harvard Law School (Political Economy After the Crisis).  They have both been challenging but intellectually rewarding, and have offered a slightly different perspective and learning environment from Fletcher.  Combining such outside academic experience with the Fletcher experience has been, at least for me, extremely valuable.

Not everyone, however, will find cross-registering beneficial to their academic and professional path.  For some, Fletcher offers exactly what they need, and this is perfectly fine.  It can also be overwhelming to browse through hundreds of captivating courses at other schools, in addition to over a hundred amazing courses at Fletcher.  Still, it is an option well worth keeping in mind as you think about the courses and fields that you’d like to pursue while in graduate school.  One piece of advice is that you should not cross-register during your first semester at Fletcher.  The incipient relationships that you form with your classmates are quite important, and you don’t want to hinder that vital component of the graduate school experience.  As you settle in, however, venturing outside of Fletcher and Tufts will not be a problem, and will likely add considerable value to your academic growth.

Like almost everything in life, there are pros and cons to cross-registering.  Here are a few tips, based on my experience, to keep in mind should you wish to cross-register:

  • A different perspective (Always a good thing.)
  • A new network (Also always a good thing.)
  • A better awareness of the many free events, lectures, and seminars in the area.  (These are the activities from which you will learn a whole lot — really worth exploring, and Harvard offers a great deal of them, all throughout the academic year.)
  • Harvard Square (It’s quite lovely, but bring waterproof boots in the winter.)
  • Access to the beautiful Harvard libraries (They are, indeed, quite nice.)
  • Time spent traveling to Harvard Square (Not so bad, but in the rain and during midterms/finals… it can become a drag.)
  • Group work taking place outside of Fletcher (So even more time spent traveling.)
  • Conflicting class schedules between Fletcher and Harvard (Not usually a problem, but HBS especially can be tricky.)
  • Nostalgia for Fletcher (It’s true — we’re all at Fletcher because we love it for one reason or another, so it’s possible to start missing your “real” home even if you’re away for just a short while.)

Overall, cross-registration is not a biggie, and there are so many great courses that it’s worth at least a quick look to see if something strikes you.  The rest is just logistics — a bit annoying, but not enough to prevent you from taking a great class.  A quick note regarding MIT, Boston University, and other Boston-area schools: they do not participate in the official cross-registration process with Fletcher, but it’s possible to take classes there with the instructor’s permission and a couple of logistical “tricks.”  Feel free to talk to me about it if you wish to find out more — I’ll be taking classes at both MIT and BU next year.

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I suppose that most Fletcher students ultimately miss a class or two — they’re out and about for a job interview, or they attend a special lecture and ask a classmate to take notes for them.  I’m pretty sure, though, that I’ve never (in my long Fletcher life) heard of a student returning a week late from spring break, due to his music tour through Russia and Europe.  Here’s Mirza’s report, which hit my email inbox on Sunday, midway through the tour.  Blog readers in Belgium can catch the final gig Saturday night at the Dunk! Festival.

As I was preparing for my new life as a graduate student at Fletcher last summer, I made a decision to no longer pursue music in any capacity, in order to focus all my attention on school.  As music for me was never just a hobby, I couldn’t envision balancing the demanding schedule of running a small business that I am passionate about while concurrently being a full-time student.  In addition, my music partner was in the midst of his own MA degree, and together we simply could not dedicate sufficient time to Arms and Sleepers.  We talked about it, and decided to call it quits.

Throughout my first semester at Fletcher, however, I realized that despite the busy and hectic graduate school schedule, most students maintain their personal interests and successfully balance their professional aspirations with personal passions.  This is why there are so many student clubs, after all, and even a school band, Los Fletcheros.  Through my classmates, I learned that it’s a good thing that the library is not open 24/7, that Fletcher shouldn’t take up 100% of one’s time and energy, and that pursuing other interests makes for a healthier and more fulfilling graduate school experience.  By the end of the fall semester, I decided that there was nothing really wrong or impossible about calling oneself a musician and a graduate student at the same time.  My schedule would certainly prove tricky, but not unmanageable.

One of my first endeavors as I return to music has been a two-week long tour of Europe and Russia.

Tour schedule

One week fell during the spring break, and for the second week I will be missing a couple of classes.  I decided that this would be a worthwhile pursuit, since it means that I would not need to be employed during the semester, allowing me to focus on my studies.  By working intensely for two weeks, instead of a few hours each week, I could set up a schedule for the semester that would suit my personal preferences.  Moreover, taking a small break from Medford and doing something completely different for two weeks would provide mental rejuvenation.  Though completing assignments while traveling non-stop is exhausting, being in an entirely different mindset for a short while could be quite rewarding.  Finally, pursuing several passions is never a bad thing, no matter how divergent they may be.  Each has its own benefits and can contribute immensely to personal growth.

Arms and SleepersI am writing this blog entry at a Starbucks next to Red Square in Moscow, Russia.  The tour thus far has been extremely demanding and hectic (two hours of sleep last night, travel early in the morning, write a short paper today, perform tonight), but I am quite happy to be exploring new places, meeting new people, and being in a different environment from my usual day-to-day.  I have managed to complete class readings, and will even try to Skype into one of my Fletcher classes.  I am also meeting two admitted students in Moscow and Kyiv, Ukraine to chat about Fletcher.  So, though a busy schedule, it’s proving to be personally rewarding, fulfilling, and memorable.

The lesson for me — mostly learned from my classmates — has been that managing several different interests while in graduate school is possible and perhaps even worth it.  Not only that, but if you can maintain in some capacity your pre-Fletcher work position, it could be a good way to pay for your living expenses while in school.  (The burritos and frozen yogurts in Davis Square.  The vending machine snacks during marathon library sessions.)  Not everyone will have this option, but for those who do, it’s worth considering before setting foot on campus.

(Photos were borrowed from the Arms and Sleepers facebook page.)

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Fall slipped away without a second post from Mirza, but I’m happy to say that he’s still very much part of our Student Stories feature.  Unlike Maliheh, who is in the final semester of her MALD program, Mirza has completed only four courses, and is now taking his second group of four.  Graduating students’ curricula have a way of looking very planned and intentional.  What Mirza shares below is that the curriculum formation process is best approached with an open mind.

After submitting my enrollment deposit for the Fall 2012 semester, I immediately began compiling a comprehensive list of courses and Fields of Study that I wished to pursue at Fletcher.  The idea was simple and quite reasonable: the more prepared I was at the outset of my Fletcher career, the more I would get out of the MALD program by the end of its two years.  I spent the summer before my first semester crafting intricate tables with various combinations of courses, highlighting breadth requirements with tacky colors, and endlessly matching courses with depth and certificate requirements.  I even met with a professor and emailed the Office of Career Services.  I was determined to be as prepared as possible.  Though I did also manage to do other (more fun) activities over the summer, this “figuring out my two years at Fletcher” became a passion, if not an obsession.

So, naturally, I strolled into class Shopping Day after the week-long Orientation thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  For me, these shopping sessions would be purely informational since I had my class schedule firmed up — not only for this semester, but for the ensuing three semesters as well.  Everything needed to happen in a particular manner for my academic grand strategy to materialize.  There was no room for deviation — that’s what undergraduate study had been for, after all.

My grand strategy lasted for about 24 hours.  One full day of classes, and I was back at the drawing board.  Slowly but surely, I was switching from one class to another.  Econometrics replaced finance.  A security studies class replaced a law class.  International communication replaced policy analysis.  By the time the add/drop period ended, I had switched all but one of my original classes.  The prudent summer planning was in shambles, and I was rethinking my entire approach to the academic curriculum at Fletcher.  The simple truth was that everything — classes, people, events, and new opportunities — was exciting, but also slightly overwhelming.

What I learned was that being here matters.  Even though two years is a short amount of time, and knowing one’s academic direction and career trajectory is essential, there is only so much that can or should be planned prior to joining Fletcher in person.  Why?  For me, the key was meeting peers who voiced passionately just how interesting and useful a particular class is — a class I didn’t think much about when reading its description in the course bulletin.  I also came to understand the importance of studying with a great professor — even if I don’t ultimately specialize in that professor’s field of expertise, I will value his or her contribution to my development as a productive and successful Fletcher student.  And factoring the advice of peers and professors into my course selection will help me create the curriculum that will best support my job search and career.

Once classes began, I also discovered the importance of being involved in the Fletcher community outside of class, leading me to redistribute my course load for a more realistic balance.  And, finally, before I enrolled, I hadn’t foreseen that learning and intellectual growth can take unexpected turns, and even at the master’s program level, it is possible to discover new — and previously untapped — interests.

If you are planning for your Fletcher program, take it from me, you simply cannot anticipate all this without being here, and that is entirely o.k.  Those two special (and potentially most memorable) years of your life begin in late August, and the real planning starts in the Hall of Flags.

Mirza’s first semester classes:
Econometrics
Processes of International Negotiation
Internal Conflicts and War
International Communication

And this semester:
Entrepreneurial Marketing: Building a Winning Business Plan
Analytic Frameworks for International Public Policy Decisions
Political Economy After the Crisis [cross-registered at Harvard]
Values, Interests, and the Crafting of U.S. Foreign Policy [cross-registered at Harvard]

Fields of Study:
International Information and Communication
International Business Relations
International Security Studies

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As I wrote yesterday, today we’ll start an occasional series of posts profiling students and their paths before and during their Fletcher years.  Mirza Ramic is a first-year MALD student.  He immigrated from Bosnia, and listed for me the other places he lived before coming to the U.S.:  Croatia, Italy, Czech Republic, Tunisia, and Egypt.  For his undergrad studies at Bowdoin College, he double-majored in Government and Legal Studies along with Eurasian and East European Studies.  Here’s Mirza’s description of how he ended up at Fletcher.

Applying to graduate programs is not meant to be easy.  The application process itself requires that you showcase your ability to take initiative and tackle new challenges.  Of course, not everyone will be successful — or more specifically, successful at gaining admission to his or her dream school.  For me, “success” was realized only after bitter disappointment.  This is a brief vignette about the lows and highs of that often turbulent process.

My journey to Fletcher began in 2009.  At the time, I was a full-time musician.

I was traveling the world, meeting wonderful people, and spending most of my days at home with strange instruments.  Things were going well.  Still, I was fully aware that my passion for music had its career limits, and that the demanding travel schedule would not allow me to pursue other personal interests.  As an immigrant to the U.S. and a transnational nomad for most of my youth, an international affairs program seemed like an ideal choice for me.  I visited Fletcher for an information session, and was immediately fixed on the MALD program.

I didn’t apply that year because my music career demanded all the attention I could offer.  I would wait until the following year, when I had more time to devote to assembling the “perfect” application.  I was convinced of my abilities, of my personal story, professional experience, and future aspirations, and of my willingness to work hard.  In fact, I was so sure of myself that I only applied to Fletcher.  In January 2011, I submitted the online application.

The day I received my rejection letter from Fletcher was not a good day.  It was cold and rainy, and I was already tense in anticipation of a hectic travel schedule.  I was disappointed with myself and suddenly doubtful of where my life was going.  The next few months would be filled with adventure and an opportunity to experience the world from a unique perspective, but upon my return home, I would be facing difficult questions.  I realized that if I was to reapply next year, I would need to work much harder at convincing the admissions committee of my potential.

A couple of days after my flight from Singapore landed in New York City, I composed an email to the Office of Admissions requesting application feedback.  Though not all IR graduate schools will provide it, receiving feedback is quite a wonderful way to pinpoint the parts of your application that need improvement.  (Of course, it is up to you to implement these changes.)  When I received my response, I printed a copy of the e-mail.  I stared at it for a while, feeling overwhelmed and less convinced of my abilities than the year before.  Much work needed to be done to be successful in applying to graduate school.

The next five months would test my academic, writing, and organizational stamina.  I enrolled in two night classes while working full-time, increased my participation in relevant community activities (including managing a United Nations World Food Program USA fundraising campaign), continued traveling and performing as a musician, and submitted applications to Fletcher and seven other graduate school programs.  I entirely rewrote my essays and recruited friends and co-workers to provide advice for improving my application.  I carefully and stubbornly followed the feedback that Fletcher provided.  A successful application very much depended on a deep personal commitment to every step along the way.

Fall and winter of 2011/12 was one of the most challenging periods of my life, and was followed by two long months of compulsive e-mail checking.  Unlike before, this time I was absolutely terrified of rejection.  I could not fathom receiving another e-mail that opened with “We regret to inform you….”  I also could not envision applying for a third time — this would almost certainly be my last shot at getting in.   While I was excited about hearing back from the other programs I applied to, Fletcher remained my top choice, and I knew that I would attend if was I to be admitted.  Still, my convictions guaranteed nothing; the matter was now out of my hands.

The day I received my admission offer from Fletcher was a good day.  It was sunny with clear skies.  I thought back to my feeling of disappointment exactly a year before.  Then I remembered the application feedback that I received.  I had needed to make a daunting list of improvements, and I had nearly given up on it.  Now, all of that was behind me, and the top of Packard Avenue was directly ahead.  At 9 am on Monday, August 27, I would officially be a Fletcher student.

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