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Back to the Student Stories feature! In this year’s second post from a returning writer, Tatsuo reports on a summer when he barely stayed still. Tatsuo is currently pursuing an exchange semester at Sciences Po in Paris.
Last summer, I visited two different types of developing nations: four former Soviet countries in Central Asia and a newly independent country in Southeast Asia. My experiences in these countries moved me in a lot of ways.
After completing last spring semester, I first traveled to Alaska to visit the Arctic Circle and enjoy the beautiful summer. Alaska’s natural scenery completely refreshed me. Then, at the end of May, I joined the Central Asian Leadership Trek organized by the Center for Asia Leadership. The trekkers were mainly from Harvard schools, but also from other prominent schools including Stanford, Columbia, Sciences Po, and, of course, Fletcher.
During the nearly three-week trek, we traveled through four countries — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Compared with the Israel Trek I joined last spring, this trip had fewer participants, and participants also had to do some workshops or TED-style talks based on their backgrounds and expertise. Therefore, the participation was more active and we connected with the politicians, entrepreneurs, and students in this region more deeply.
Before traveling to Central Asia, I had some knowledge about the counties I would visit. All four of the countries became independent from the former Soviet Union 25 years ago. They also inherited many Soviet remains, including infrastructure and bureaucratic schemes. Most of them rely on natural resources for economic development, and their economies and societies are under the strong control of and regulation by the public sector.
I was surprised, though, to find a lot of diversity among the societies and economies, and their problems and possibilities.
In Tajikistan, I felt the Soviet atmosphere most, but also felt the economic struggle of the country since its independence. Kyrgyzstan was the most democratic country in the region. We enjoyed a lot of free discussions with central and local politicians, entrepreneurs, and young students; however, we also saw and heard about the problems related to the unstable, sometimes chaotic political and economic situation. We found that democracy and freedom of speech might not contribute to economic growth well. On the other hand, in Kazakhstan, we were surprised by the great infrastructure, well-maintained public services, and developed and modern cities under the authoritarian but stable regime, while we were also afraid that the further growth of the country — which the regime plans and promotes based on an opportunistic estimate a decade ago — might be uncertain in the current global market situation. Finally, in Uzbekistan, we were impressed by the beautiful historical remains, although we found an ironic contrast between such great tourist places and poor economic conditions, based on primitive agriculture and the chaotic national currency caused by the closed regime.
Talking with people — ranging from the higher levels of the public sector to the local youth — was very meaningful for learning about the realities of these countries that I, like most Japanese, was not so familiar with. Additionally, as I work on infrastructure and transport policy, learning about the regional infrastructure was greatly useful. For example, these countries largely rely on the old infrastructure that the former Soviet Union built and maintained. These plans and networks were not appropriate for the current economic strategies of each country, and some infrastructure, in particular road infrastructure that needs frequent maintenance, was severely deteriorated. Such a finding will contribute to my future research and policymaking regarding how Japan and the international community can support the region.
As a public sector official, I also felt that the career tracks of public elites in the region were very unclear, unpredictable, and vulnerable. I thought the people’s distrust for the public sector might derive from the weak and undeveloped recruiting system for public officers.
Last, but not least, the trekkers traveling with me came from a lot of different backgrounds and with different expertise. Sharing diverse perspectives on the region and discussing with each other made the trek much more special than just a sightseeing trip.
After the thought-provoking trip, I flew from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Timor-Leste and started an internship with a global NGO, the Asia Foundation, Timor-Leste.
I had two reasons to pursue the internship. First, I wanted to have an experience in a least-developed environment, and Timor-Leste is one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as recognized by the United Nations. The other reason was that I could contribute, based on my expertise as a policy-officer, because the Asia Foundation is a policy-oriented NGO.
In Timor-Leste, I mainly researched the public transport sector, particularly the aviation sector, which was receiving little attention. I struggled to research without basic statistics, institutional information — including the fundamental laws and regulations — or implementing capacity. No local officers understood their tasks clearly. No regulations actually worked. No one knew who could tell me about something I wanted to know. However, this chaotic and underdeveloped situation taught me about practical issues and challenges of today’s development studies.
In thinking about what we could do for the economic development and economic diversification of the country under such difficult conditions, I considered very basic questions for a public officer, an elite bureaucrat, and a person from a developed country: What is infrastructure? What is public transport? What is bureaucracy? And, What is a country?
During the two months, the deputy country representative and Fletcher alumnus, Todd Wassel, F06, and other helpful staff allowed me to research my field of interest freely in the very supportive environment of the office. I also used the resources of the NGO, including government contacts and visits to local districts. With that support, I was very satisfied with my internship, although two months was still too short to learn about the small but very diverse country.
It was also meaningful that I could compare this “least developed country” with other developing nations after visiting Central Asia. I know that there are many problems in such a struggling country, such as corruption and the lack of capacity in the public sector, the lack of economic and financial policies including a currency, dependence on importing goods, noncompetitive local industries, and even confusion over establishing an official language under great linguistic diversity. These problems cannot be solved in the short term. On the other hand, my experience of interviewing and making visits to the field showed me that public sector experts — those who take care of basic bureaucratic work in their developed home countries — must be playing a necessary role. People who work to regulate an industry, operate an agency, or manage a government should join the field of international development, because how the public sector works and develops can benefit from the advice of experts who actually have experience doing it. It was very thought-provoking for me, coming from one of the biggest and strongest public sectors in the world and studying international development.
Before the summer, I felt that a three-month break would be very long. (When I worked in Japan, my summer break was less than a week…) But last summer, I visited a lot of towns, regions, and countries, met many and varied people, faced a lot of troubles and fun, and learned a lot of things. Now, the summer has flown, and my fall semester in Paris has begun. I actually feel this summer was very short.
In the first of the Student Stories posts for 2016-2017, McKenzie reports on her internship in Johannesburg, South Africa this past summer.
Howzit future Fletchies! It was great to return to town after three months in South Africa this summer (or winter, as it happened to be in the southern hemisphere).
Living in Johannesburg, I worked at Edge Growth to expand the 10X-entrepreneur (10X-e) program for scale-up or growth-stage startups across South Africa. Through my job, I helped develop materials for 10X-e bootcamps and facilitated one-on-one growth strategy and execution workshops for portfolio companies of Edge’s flagship impact fund, the Vumela Fund. I also got to support the Vumela Fund directly, helping strategize pipeline development and deal sourcing efforts and contributing to the due diligence of a prospective investment.
Fletcher students use their internship to accomplish a number of different goals. Some use it to “test out” a new career field or to gain practical skills in a specific area, others to explore a new region of the world, and still others to conduct research for capstones. Through my internship, I reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a career in impact investing and gained experience working alongside a fund investing in growth-stage companies in an emerging market setting.
But summer internships aren’t only for professional growth — I took the opportunity to travel and see as much as possible of South Africa over weekends and public holidays. I attended braais (like barbeques), where I feasted with friends on grilled meats and braaibroodjes (pretty much a grilled cheese sandwich with onions and tomato), while discussing local politics and the municipal elections that were to take place in August. I attended my first-ever rugby match to watch South Africa’s beloved Springboks take on the Irish (and win!). I explored food markets in the reviving central business district of Jo’burg. I visited the sobering apartheid museum to steep myself in the rich yet horrifying past, and did yoga on Constitution Hill (a former prison and now the site of South Africa’s Constitutional Court), in honor of Mandela Day.
I was also able to travel to both Cape Town and Durban in the course of my work, and spent time hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head or dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean after facilitating workshops for some of Vumela Fund’s portfolio companies. Finally, while in Tanzania for a separate project with an Omidyar Network portfolio company, I met up with a classmate working in Arusha to take a short safari in Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed my summer and was able to find the perfect mix of professional experience and personal growth. While I was sad to leave a country I was only just beginning to know, I’m excited to be back at Fletcher and kicking off my second year. At the same time, I know that each semester goes by in the blink of an eye and I am trying to savor every day. For those of you looking to begin grad school this time next year, remember to enjoy the next eight-to-ten months, in between drafting your personal statements and updating your résumé. The time will be gone before you know it!
The photo is from my favorite hike in South Africa (so far — I hope I’ll get back for more one day…). It shows me halfway up the India Venster trail on Table Mountain, with a view of Lion’s Head and the Atlantic Ocean in the background among the mist and clouds.
One of the best aspects of my job is working with Fletcher students. And of the different projects on which I work with students, my favorite is the blog. I’m very happy to be ready to relaunch the Student Stories blog feature. Each year since the series was launched in 2012, I’ve invited students to tell their stories throughout their two-year experience in the MALD or MIB program. Though I provide general suggestions for what they should write (start with an introduction, finish two years later with a farewell), I encourage them to write about whatever seems important to them. That way, the same series can include Liam’s suggestions of Boston-area must-do activities, Aditi’s account of a stressful semester, Diane’s survey of Blakeley Hall residents, and Mirza’s report on a spring break tour of Europe performing for Arms and Sleepers.
Starting tomorrow and continuing next week, I’ll be sharing the latest updates from second-year writers: MIB student McKenzie, MALD student Tatsuo, who is pursuing a semester in France this fall, and MALD student Adnan. Once we have heard from the returning writers, I will let three new writers introduce themselves. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of the autumnal Tufts University campus that I took on my way to work this morning.
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Given that it’s been almost three months since graduation, I realize that my “farewell” post for the Fletcher Admissions blog is coming a little late. The past three months seem like a whirlwind, and I haven’t yet had a chance to take a breath and fully process them or reflect on my time at Fletcher as much as I would like. This is because, in addition to graduation, a lot of other things have changed for me — I got married, started a new job, temporarily moved back home, and am now preparing to move to a new city.
Graduation weekend was a great opportunity to meet everyone’s families and raise a champagne toast (or several!) to the past two years. The speakers were all incredible, and it was amazing to see some of my classmates stand in front of hundreds of people and deliver inspiring speeches about our time at Fletcher. As fun as the weekend was, it was also bittersweet: saying goodbye to friends and professors and leaving my home for the past two years wasn’t easy. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel very excited for the next phase of my life, and everything I had to look forward to, including a new job, a new city, and a new husband!
After graduation weekend and my wedding, I headed home to Mumbai, where I was fortunate to start my new job at Vera Solutions while I wait for approval of my paperwork to move to Geneva, Switzerland. Vera Solutions is a consulting company that builds technology solutions for social sector clients. Given that it has offices in both Mumbai and Geneva, it was a perfect opportunity for me to learn the ropes, with the added bonus of getting to spend time with family and friends at home. I also had the chance to connect with some Fletcher folk living in Mumbai, as well as to represent Fletcher at a coffee hour for prospective students.
Although I still feel as though the full impact of my time at Fletcher hasn’t sunk in, I’m glad that I was able to find a job using the skill sets — in technology, monitoring and evaluation, public speaking and presentation, and accurate data analysis — that I had wanted to gain from my MALD. The past two years weren’t easy, and definitely came with their fair share of stress and anxiety, but I feel that my experience at Fletcher was all that I had hoped for in the beginning, giving me solid technical skills, amazing learning opportunities both in the classroom and outside, and a wonderful set of friends all over the world.
Like Tatsuo’s post from last week, this one, from Adnan, has been awaiting action from me for a little while. But at the same time as Adnan describes wrapping up his own first year, his focus in the post is to offer suggestions for incoming students, and I decided to hold it until closer to the arrival of the newest members of our community. With that said, I’ll let Adnan take us back two months to Commencement at the end of May.
One of the great things about sticking around in Somerville after finals ended was getting to attend Commencement weekend. It was wonderful to celebrate with members of the Class of 2016, many of whom I’m not just good friends with, but had also learned to rely on for all sorts of advice as I navigated my way through my first year. Saying goodbye is never fun, and thinking about how quickly time had flown bummed me out a little. Listening to Commencement speeches by Dean Stavridis, Arianna Huffington, Fletcher alumna Susan Livingston, Professor Schaffner and the graduates themselves, however, was quite uplifting. It reminded me of everything that makes Fletcher amazing, and left me feeling grateful that I have one whole year to go. Officially “half a master of law and diplomacy” now, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far, and hope it helps new students make the most of your limited time here.
First, prepare to be swamped. Between readings, assignments, papers, extra-curricular activities, events, part-time jobs, and trying to build a social life, you’ll wonder how to juggle time. It’ll often feel overwhelming, sometimes even unmanageable. And you know what will make it worse? Stressing about it. The sooner you learn to take it easy, the happier and more productive you’ll be. That does not mean sitting back and letting Fletcher pass you by. Rather, remind yourself that you’ve got what it takes, and you’re not here only to do as much as you can, but also to have fun while doing it.
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do in preparation for Fletcher — and life — is to know yourself. You’ll have a dizzying number of options. Picking what’s best for you will require having a clear idea of your interests and goals, one you should revisit and refresh frequently. Furthermore, the more clarity you have about what you want, the easier it will be for your professors and peers to guide you. For every class you enroll in, think about what you’ll take from it and how it will help you reach your goal. Be strategic about complementing fields of study with the right extra curricular activities. Think about the professional and personal narrative you are building. Have a roadmap — a sense of your bigger picture — and know that what works for someone else may not be the best for you. Every Fletcher student is unique. That being said, it’s equally important to be flexible and open to trying new things. If you’ve discovered a new interest, which you probably will, dare to pursue it. It’s all about finding the right balance, and that’s always easier said than done.
When you get caught up with Fletcher life, you may not always remember all the resources available to you, but it’s important to use them! One that I’ve found to be particularly helpful is Fletcher’s alumni network. Fletcher graduates are doing great things, and as a student, you have access to them. Look up alums working in areas you wish to join and reach out to them. In my experience, they’re always happy to provide guidance and help. Don’t miss the chance to meet them during the New York and Washington DC career trips, and other alumni networking events. Also, visit the Office of Career Services frequently. Make an appointment to review your resume, or practice your interview skills. The OCS also arranges events and workshops that you want to keep an eye out for. And don’t forget that you have the option to cross-register at Harvard and can also access classes at MIT. Use this opportunity to experience what they have to offer and tap into their networks.
Lastly, always stay on top of your game. Manage your time well, and hustle. Don’t let things pile up, and keep clearing your plate as you go. So take those equivalency exams before classes start, get your second language proficiency requirement out of the way as soon as you can, and go to PDP. Plan ahead to the best of your ability. Try to get a head start on your capstone project so you can use your summer to travel and do field work for it, if necessary. Start applying for summer internships as early as you can. The more effectively you manage your time, the more of it you’ll have to spend with your friends and have fun. And you’ll want a lot of that, because, in my experience, those moments are the ones you’ll cherish the most.
Due to a little disorganization on my part, I’m only now sharing a wrap-up of the spring semester that Tatsuo sent me in June. With apologies for my delay, let’s revisit Tatsuo’s extremely busy semester.
My second semester at Fletcher is over and half of my study in Medford/Somerville has quickly passed. I realize that the phrase “time flies” is true.
Many friends in the MA and LLM programs and second-years in the MALD have left the School. I was a little surprised that few first-year students were at commencement. In my home country, first-years would also attend such an event to say goodbye to students who are leaving. Maybe Americans like more casual opportunities to say goodbye to their friends and they think formal events like commencement are mainly for families. On the other hand, we Japanese (and other East Asians?), think that formal events such as commencement are good opportunities to say farewell to each other. For our families, we like more casual settings.
Looking back, this semester was very fruitful for me.
My first Field of Study is Law and Development; however, I am also interested in another area of international relations, Maritime Affairs. The economic and cultural prosperity of Japan largely depends on the sea surrounding our country. The ministry that I work for is also responsible for the vast area of maritime issues, from the shipping industry to marine leisure to maritime security conflicts.
Unfortunately, Fletcher does not offer a Field of Study in Maritime Studies, even though the school has some highly experienced professors in the area. Fortunately, the School allows students to design their own Field of Study. Thus, I combined some relevant courses and designed my tailor-made Field of Study, “Modern Maritime Issues and American Foreign Policy.”
I took four and half a credits this semester: Global Maritime Affairs, which was the core of my self-designed Field of Study; Science Diplomacy, another course for my Maritime Studies Field; The Foreign Relations of the United States Since 1917, which was the last class for Professor Henrikson; International Investment Law; and Islamic World (0.5 credit). I took the last two courses for my interest in development studies.
For non-native English speakers, especially Japanese students who were accustomed to a more passive style of study in our college and high school education, it’s difficult to join the discussion in large classes (although at Fletcher, “large” means only 20 to 30 students in a class), so I try to take at least one small discussion class each semester. Science Diplomacy, led by Professor Berkman, had only around ten students, and the lectures and discussions were friendly and easy to join. The class focused on issues concerning the Arctic Ocean and the relationship between science and diplomacy.
Fletcher offers a lot of courses dealing with diplomacy or negotiation, but Science Diplomacy was unique for two reasons. First, the course dealt with scientific results and methods to use them in diplomatic negotiations. Most of us at Fletcher are not scientists and do not have science backgrounds. At least in my country of Japan, we (political or legal professionals) tend to think that scientists live in a different world. When I was a college student, I was interested in connecting people and studies in the arts and sciences. I helped to organize a forum on outer space development that gathered many researchers and students with different backgrounds, to improve exchange among them. The perspectives in Science Diplomacy at Fletcher awoke that interest again.
Additionally, Science Diplomacy focused on “common interests” for all the participants. In most diplomacy case studies, we have to define certain interests for each participant in the negotiations, even if these negotiations are not zero-sum games. However, this course provided another perspective on participants’ interests, by introducing the context of science. It was thought provoking for those of us struggling over global issues with many deeply intertwined interests.
Outside of classes, I joined a project led by Harvard Law School’s Law and International Development Society (LIDS). For the project, our team drafted policy guidelines for local stakeholders in Afghanistan seeking to promote community development in resource-rich areas cooperating with local government and mining companies. It was a very interesting practical opportunity to learn how we could use legal skills to tackle issues of international development. Thanks to the instruction and support of CLDP, the U.S. agency that provided the project to LIDS, I learned a lot, from Afghanistan’s unique practices to global issues for mining-community development. On the other hand, I was afraid that our work could deprive Afghan stakeholders of an opportunity to develop legal and policy skills. When I was a young officer of the Japanese Government, I drafted a lot of policy papers and guidelines. I could not complete the work alone because of my inexperience, and I had to draw on support from my boss and colleagues. As a result, over time, I acquired the skills I needed to be effective in my work. With that history in mind, the project was a very thought provoking opportunity for me.
For recreation between studies, I took part in a Fletcher student activity, Fletcher Strategic Simulation Society (FS3), where we mainly enjoyed playing board games. In Japan, most board games are for family parties. especially including small children, and the rules tend to be simple. When I asked my Japanese classmates to join FS3, they worried it would be a little childish. But in the U.S., college students enjoy many board games and the rules can be very complex, requiring strategy to win. This cultural difference is the mirror image of the perspective on manga or anime. Many Americans think that comics and cartoons are not appropriate for intellectual adults. By contrast, in Japan, even old or well-educated people like manga and anime, because many are very literary and include social satire.
I like to play strategic simulation games with Fletcher’s future diplomats, officers, and negotiators. In particular, I was very excited to play “Diplomacy,” which is a classic game dealing with World War I. Players negotiated, allied, and deceived each other, posing as great powers of the era. It took more than four hours to complete a game, but I truly enjoyed playing “Diplomacy” with the people of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Also outside of classes, I tried to organize a Japanese Table. At Fletcher, there are many language and culture tables, and I wanted to make my contribution to the cultural diversity of Fletcher. Additionally, I wanted to find people who are interested in Japanese language and culture, and to increase the number of interested students. One of the reasons is that I work for Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. I regretted that I could not organize the table too many times. The number of students who participated was not too large — except when we served Japanese cuisines and drinks! On the other hand, I realized that there are a good number of Fletcher students who are learning Japanese, although the Japanese presence in the U.S. has been dramatically decreasing over the past few decades, compared with that of China and other emerging countries. I think one of the reasons that it continues as an interest at Fletcher is that many students are focused on security studies.
We also have Japanese students at the School, and most of us have worked for the government. I think it should be our role to build, strengthen, and deepen the community to benefit both our country and international society, by staying connected to people from other countries who are interested in our culture.
Yes, it’s July, but we’re still catching up with the students who are sharing their stories on the blog. Today, let’s read McKenzie’s summary of the first half of her experience in the MIB program.
Wow – what a year! I can’t believe that this time last year I was telling my former company that I’d be leaving to pursue graduate studies. I had no idea of the types of adventures I was embarking upon when I accepted my offer here. As it is for most of us transitioning out of the work world and back into an academic setting, the fall semester was a bit of an adjustment period for me. I had to calibrate how I would prioritize my time between academics, Fletcher friends, my “pre-Fletcher life,” and family.
It seems Fletcher students are up at all hours pursuing all manner of endeavors — from starting businesses to competing in case competitions; from working one, two, and sometimes three jobs or internships in between classes, to traveling abroad to conduct research as part of a capstone project; or from organizing Fletcher’s famed Culture Nights to planning and participating in many other school traditions. It is tempting to jump in and sign up for all of these things at once. I didn’t go quite that far, but I did spend the fall semester enrolled in five courses, leading an advisory project for the Fletcher Social Investment Group (FSIG), competing as a member of a team in a public equity research challenge, working part-time, researching target firms for my summer internship, and attending the numerous great events that happen at Fletcher. I did this while traveling on weekends for a friend’s bachelorette party and wedding, visiting friends and family back home, attending a career trip in New York, and building new friendships with some of my classmates here at Fletcher. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time winter break rolled around.
At some point after submitting my last final exam on a cold, December morning, I realized that I was running through grad school without fully and completely appreciating the opportunities around me. Over the subsequent weeks, I spent time prioritizing the activities and experiences I wanted to be sure to savor in my two years here and returned to campus in January with a plan to pare down certain commitments to fully value the benefits of others.
As I reflect back on the spring semester, I’m happy to report that I was really satisfied with the new balance I found. Ironically, I was able to feel as though I was doing more by doing less. In January, I took a break from all things academic to go north on the Fletcher ski trip. In February, I went to DC for a two-week intensive training on impact investment and social enterprise management. In March, I began transitioning into my now current role as CEO of FSIG and traveled to India with five close friends from school. In April, I spent more time on the weekends exploring the sights and opportunities offered by Boston. And in May, I survived yet another round of finals, attended the Diplomat’s Ball, and played bubble soccer during “Dis-Orientation” week, which is a collection of activities and events between the end of finals and commencement weekend dedicated to celebrating the end of school for second years.
This leads me to an important aspect of this school that makes it so great, yet can also make it challenging: there is a tremendous diversity of opportunity at Fletcher. The hardest (and most rewarding) task for students is to identify the two to three opportunities that best fit with their career and personal goals. I’ve managed to pare down and focus on those that are most important to me, and it’s been interesting to see my classmates go through a similar process. The most exciting aspect, however, is that even as I have defined the activities I would benefit from or enjoy the most, I have friends at Fletcher whose interests led them to entirely different opportunities. While we’re each invested in our own “flavor” of Fletcher activities, it’s always interesting to learn about the events and happenings of friends studying completely different areas.
With that, my concluding piece of advice for incoming and prospective students is two-fold. First, in addition to the myriad courses that you are undoubtedly considering, know that beyond the classroom are tremendous opportunities to build practical skills and experience in the area of your choice through student activities and clubs. The second is perhaps lost on every generation of ambitious, enthusiastic incoming first years, but to the extent possible, you should prioritize the opportunities most important to you. This is tremendously difficult at Fletcher, but the rewards from focusing on the most essential elements across your classes, activities, jobs, family, and social obligations will make your time at Fletcher that much more special.
I’ll leave you with these thoughts for now. Over the summer, I’m heading to South Africa to work with the portfolio companies of a small firm in Johannesburg, helping them to scale up proven business models and transition from small, unstructured startup teams to more developed, growth-oriented companies. I’ve never been to South Africa, but I am excited to dive in and learn as much as possible about the people and history of one of Africa’s largest economies. For those of you joining us next year, enjoy the summer and we’ll see you in the fall. For the rest of you, thanks for sharing in my experiences here at Fletcher — I look forward to checking back in September!
Recently graduated student bloggers Ali, Alex, and Aditi are wrapping up their stories for the blog. First to report on the conclusion of her Fletcher experience is Ali.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was writing to you with excitement about the end of first year and my summer internship at YUM! Brands. Today, I write with even more enthusiasm about the completion of my degree and my return to that same place.
Fletcher has been a wonderful two years for me. I’ve made new friends and colleagues; gained the knowledge and experience I need to transition to the private sector; accepted a fantastic job in my hometown; and completed a capstone project that took me back to Brussels, where my professional journey began.
It was interesting to end my Fletcher career back in Belgium, thanks to capstone research funding from Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. During my spring break there, terrorist attacks at the airport and local metro station made international news that showed me Belgium is not the same place I lived before. Its quirky citizens and hidden, lively bars have become more exposed to worldly cares. Belgian companies are being acquired by international competitors; family brewers are innovating to stay relevant amongst microbrewers; and ISIS is launching a full assault on the country. Just like the little country I love, I have changed and become more exposed to the world, too. While many students at Fletcher dedicate their lives to careers abroad, I can’t imagine not using my new travels and knowledge to return home and create change from there.
At YUM! Brands, I’ll be working to explore the material impact of extra-financial environmental, social, and governance issues and to improve the company’s performance and transparency around them. I’ll communicate proactively with key stakeholders, like investors, and use their feedback to drive internal change, as well.
Fletcher isn’t just a place for students desiring careers in governments and non-profits abroad. It’s also a great training ground for people looking to transform the world of business right here in America.
See everyone back in Kentucky soon!
Three student bloggers will graduate on Sunday, Alex, Aditi, and Ali. They’ve all been particularly great to work with and I’ll miss them! You can expect to see their words of farewell in the coming weeks, after they have graduated and had a chance to process their experience. For today, we have Alex’s Annotated Curriculum for his two years in the MIB program.
Strategy Consultant, Monitor Deloitte in Washington, DC
General Manager, Valsek Nutritional Foods in Addis Ababa
Fields of Study
International Energy Studies (self-designed Field of Study)
International Finance and Banking
The PPA Crutch: The Implications of Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreements in New England (Advisor: Professor Kelly Sims Gallagher)
Post-Fletcher Professional Goals
Develop business models and financing mechanisms to bring renewable energy to scale in new markets
Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance
Financial Statement Management
Strategic Management (½ credit, Summer pre-session)
The Arts of Communication
Climate Change and Clean Energy Policy
Managing Operations in Global Companies: How the World’s Best Companies Operate (Audit)
My first semester was all about laying the groundwork for a meaningful time at Fletcher. The core MIB classes, especially Finance, helped our cohort develop the key business skills necessary to be successful at Fletcher and beyond. Perhaps more importantly, taking a few classes as a group really brought the MIB class together, which has been invaluable both academically and personally. I also greatly enjoyed my elective classes like Communication and Clean Energy Policy, as mentioned in previous posts, and the professors have turned into great mentors over time.
International Business Strategy & Operations
Political Economy & Business of the EU
Engineering, Economics, and Regulation of the Electric Power Sector (at MIT)
Global Private Equity: From Money In to Money Out (Audit)
In my second semester, I finished up my MIB requirements and started to delve deeper into my energy concentration. My business classes felt very much like B-School, in terms of the content they covered and the hard skills they built, with one big difference: I was taking them at an international affairs school. As such, my professors and classmates brought an incredible depth and breadth of international experience to bear, and the policy context was always discussed. I also took an enlightening Electric Power Sector class with a bunch of engineers at MIT, which really got me into the nitty-gritty details of how power systems work. Also, Fletcher’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy sponsored me to go to an energy conference at which I was able to wrangle an internship during the semester at Commonwealth Bay, a wind-energy private equity firm, where I performed market analysis and due diligence on wind projects.
One of my professors introduced me to BlueWave Renewables, a solar-energy developer, where I got an exciting opportunity to apply what I had been learning in my classes and to gain further exposure to the thriving cleantech ecosystem in Boston. As discussed in my previous post, I helped build out a platform for community solar, a new business model designed to bring solar to the three quarters of Americans who cannot own their own solar panels. Thanks to my business and energy classes, I was able to hit the ground running and make an impact in a short period of time.
International Business Transactions
Large Investment and International Project Finance
Petroleum in the Global Economy
Leadership: Building Teams, Organizations, and Shaping Your Path
The Art and Science of Statecraft
The third semester was my first opportunity to truly cast a wide net across the amazing diversity of classes offered at Fletcher. International Business Transactions covered topics such as contract law, which, although it may sound dry, is where “the rubber hits the road” in business; I discovered this when I was starting a business in Ethiopia, and it is one of the reasons I decided to come to Fletcher. Project Finance and Petroleum complemented each other very well, and contributed to my Field of Study requirements. Leadership, which was taught by a great professor on loan from the Harvard Business School, provided a valuable soft-skill counterpoint to more analytical courses I had taken so far. Finally, Statecraft was an interesting foray into the mental models of one of our well-known professors, renowned equally for his colorful analogies and for his direct language. On top of all this, I also worked with the wonderful Fletcher Social Investment Group to lead a team of classmates on a consulting engagement for EverVest, a renewable energy financial analysis software startup.
Energy, Entrepreneurship, and Finance
International Energy Policy
Political Economy and Business Context of Latin America
International Financial Management
Management, Finance, and Regulation of Public Infrastructure in Developing Countries (at Harvard)
My fourth and final semester has been great because the foundation I have built up over the last year and a half has enabled me to engage with the material in a way I could not have done before. My two energy classes are a nice culmination to the thrust of my studies here, and indeed they provide timely input as I wrap up my thesis for the capstone requirement. International Financial Management, affectionately dubbed “Jacques Deux” after the French-American professor who has taught a notorious regimen of finance classes for decades, proved to be as difficult and enlightening as promised. The Infrastructure class at the Harvard Kennedy School has provided another good perspective on the matter, and a chance to meet new like-minded people. Finally, I have supplemented my studies by conducting energy policy research for a Fletcher alumnus at EnergySage, an online marketplace for solar.
I am excited by my prospects post-Fletcher, but know that I will be sad to leave this place. Throughout my two years here, I have had the pleasure to work with supportive professors and a diverse yet cohesive set of classmates. As demonstrated above, Fletcher has also consistently opened doors for me, both at other top-tier schools and at cool companies. I know I will look back fondly on my time here, and now understand more and more why the Fletcher community is so strong.
I’m always amazed and impressed at how Fletcher students organize their lives. They all have a full slate of academic commitments, but they also want to engage with the community in many ways. For student blogger Adnan, the School’s traditional “culture nights” have been a highlight throughout the year.
On an April weekend evening, for the first time in my life, I stuck my face in a pie. It felt funny, but tasted really good. Sadly, there was no time to savor the chunky apple filling because I only had a minute to eat as much of it as I could — without using my hands — as my friends watched and cheered. While struggling to finish, I learned an important lesson: having dinner before entering a pie-eating contest is not the best idea. (In my defense, the barbequed chicken, mac and cheese, and corn bread served earlier were hard to resist.) I lost, but the experience is one I will likely remember fondly for many years to come. A few minutes later, I was all cleaned up and back on stage for my first-ever swing dance performance, which was reminiscent of scenes from the 1978 Hollywood blockbuster, Grease. April is a particularly busy time of the year, so I hardly had time to practice, but a few lessons from my very talented classmates made me performance-worthy. Or so I hope. And thankfully, the motion didn’t trigger my digestive tract into reverse action.
Like the four culture nights before it, Americana Night, the last one for the year, was a huge success. Culture nights have been one of the highlights of my Fletcher experience, and I’m proud to have performed in all but one of them. Performances feature students in dances, songs, fashion shows, poetry recitals, trivia quizzes, and skits that give their classmates a glimpse of the region being honored. And the variety of ethnic food that’s served gets us lined up in a queue that often wraps the entire venue. The year kicked off with Asia Night in October. Given the region’s rich diversity, the evening’s entertainment ranged from Indonesian pop songs to classical Nepalese dance. I participated in a Bollywood dance segment, and it was heartening to see the enthusiasm with which my international friends learned each step. Their bhangra moves would easily put many of my friends back home in Pakistan to shame.
Fiesta Latina in November was my personal favorite because I got to learn salsa. It’s something I had always wanted to do, so I was particularly diligent about practice, and ended up performing better than I had expected.
Mediterranean & European Night in February saw performances ranging from flamenco and belly dance to dabke, hora, and even a chest-hair competition. I sang a French pop song with a group of Francophone friends. People who asked me afterward were surprised to learn that I don’t speak French. At Africana Night in March, it was good to only be a part of the audience for a change and watch my classmates perform dances like batuku and kuduro while enjoying goat curry and injera.
Not only do culture nights celebrate the diversity of our community in a manner that is inclusive and fun, they’re a Fletcher tradition that reflects the school’s spirit like few other events do. On the one hand students take ownership of the cultural traditions they are most familiar with to ensure things are done right; on the other, they sign up to learn whatever they find exciting. Performance leaders generously lend their time to teach and practice with their peers until they’re ready to be on stage. We also lend and borrow ethnic clothing items to help each other build outfits and costumes for performances. In many ways, culture nights embody what Fletcher represents: learning through engaging and sharing, and having a good time doing it.
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