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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:
Processes of International Negotiation
Internal Conflicts and War
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]
Prospective students always ask about the path to Fletcher from wherever they are in their education or professional life. Today I’m introducing first-year MIB student, Scott Snyder, the next participant in the blog’s Student Stories feature, and I’m going to do so by walking you through his résumé. Scott and I sat down recently to talk about the different intertwined factors that led him to enroll at Fletcher last fall. Though résumés generally flow reverse chronologically, my goal is to walk you from start to finish, so let’s start with Scott’s undergraduate education.
Union College, Schenectady, NY; BA in political science, minor in history, June 2004
Research Assistant – Political Science Research Grant, Summer 2003
Semester Abroad, University of Ireland, Galway
Scott was a political science major with an international relations focus. His thesis was on the war in Iraq. He also had the opportunity to participate in an internship that turned into an independent study project.
Office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Albany, NY; Intern, September 2003-March 2004
• Organized conference involving Senator Clinton, the mayors of five major Upstate New York cities and their economic development staff, federal government officials, and business and economic development experts, to discuss the Renewal Community program.
Scott’s supervisor always required interns to take on a project, and Scott’s was to consider how the Renewal Community program (a piece of domestic economic development legislation) was implemented in the area near Union College. The project led to the conference described above, a great introduction to politics, Scott said.
Margaret Walsh for Family Court Judge, Albany, NY; Campaign Manager, June-October, 2004
• Managed a campaign that placed a progressive underdog judicial candidate in office. Involved in all aspects of the campaign including development, communications, oversight of headquarters, and volunteer organization.
Once the internship was complete and Scott graduated from Union College, his internship supervisor helped him get a job with a candidate for a local judicial position. Scott was thus the 22-year-old, nearly completely inexperienced, campaign manager. Judge Walsh won the election. The campaign reinforced Scott’s interest in politics.
What to do after the election? Scott decided to move to Washington, DC, a fun place to be as a newly-minted graduate.
Campaign for America’s Future, Washington, DC; Program Assistant, April-October 2005
• Collaborated on Project for an Accountable Congress – a campaign to educate the public about ethical lapses of members of Congress, including paid media, press releases, constituent outreach, research and events.
Even as he worked at Campaign for America’s Future, Scott was planning his next step, which he thought would be the Peace Corps. But having completed most of the Peace Corps application process, he decided instead to move to Norfolk, VA for a new opportunity.
Operation Smile, Inc., Norfolk, VA; Mission Coordinator, March 2006-February 2007
• Administered pre-mission organization, on-the-ground logistics, and post-mission assessments for medical programs aimed at surgical repair for children with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.
• Recruited and led international medical volunteers, coordinated local patients and families, and communicated with local hospitals and governments to perform over 125 surgeries in a 10-day period for each medical program, with an average of six missions per year in China, Kenya, Peru and Cambodia.
Scott didn’t know at the time that his year in Norfolk was only step one of a six-year career with Operation Smile. In fact, Norfolk wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be, given that he had enjoyed living in DC, but his job required about six months of travel each year, and he was working with a great group of people.
Operation Smile was expanding, and he, along with another coordinator and friend, took positions with a new Hanoi office, requiring a two-year commitment. Though based in Hanoi, he spent much of his time in other Asian locations.
Operation Smile, Inc., Hanoi, Vietnam; Regional Program Coordinator, February 2007-May 2009
• Increased surgical productivity through logistical troubleshooting, staff development, and programmatic upgrades. Conducted trainings for local staff in partner countries at headquarters in Vietnam and Norfolk, VA and in the field.
At the end of the two years in Hanoi, Scott decided to step away from Operation Smile. He took some time to prepare for graduate school and consider other professional opportunities. What he found was that his best opportunity was back with Operation Smile.
Operation Smile, Inc., Norfolk, VA; Senior Program Coordinator, November 2009-May 2010
• Directed a scale-up medical program in Guwahati, India. Created new initiative to be replicated around the world, which increased surgical capacity from 150 patients treated during a mission to 967 in a three-week period.
• Facilitated program coordination for United States Navy Pacific Partnership. Conducted two missions aboard the USNS Mercy Hospital Ship in Sihanoukville, Cambodia and Dili, Timor-Leste.
Scott had been thinking that he would go to business school, and he applied for enrollment in 2010. Instead, he left Norfolk yet again, this time for China, where he was charged with smoothing the occasional cultural differences and communication problems between Operation Smile and their Chinese partner foundation. Plus, he would gain experience in project management and fundraising, skills he wanted as he moved forward in his career.
Operation Smile, Inc., Beijing, China; Program Development Manger, May 2010-May 2012
• Managed programmatic and development team of five in China. Created and managed a $1.5 million budget per year, raised over $500,000 from companies and individuals within China, and oversaw the completion of more than 30 medical missions and 5,000 free surgeries performed.
• Developed strategy and initiated execution of Operation Smile’s 20th Anniversary in China – The March of Smiles — involving medical conferences, fund raising galas, and medical programs that operated on over 3,000 children in 2011.
This time, Scott was really ready to pursue a graduate degree. In fact, he applied in 2011 to Fletcher’s MIB program, having decided that the MIB’s blend of a core business curriculum and international relations courses was exactly what he needed. It was the only program to which he applied — a risky strategy that worked out for him — and then he deferred his admission. 2011-2012 was an enjoyable year, especially because his grad school plan was in place. He left Operation Smile in May 2012 and spent the summer in Beijing working on his language skills.
The Fletcher School, Tufts University, Medford, MA, 2012-2014
Master of Arts in International Business
• Concentrations: International Political Economy, Strategic Management, with China focus
• Activities: Non-Profit Sector Representative on Committee for Career Services, VP of ASEAN Society, International Development Group, Asia Club, Tufts Marathon Challenge
Scott is hoping to transition careers from global health to economic development, ideally at an international organization such as the World Bank. What ultimately sold him on Fletcher was the great network of alumni at organizations that interest him, a network that he believes will be a stronger support in his future job search than having a more traditional degree, such as an MBA. Meanwhile, he says he’s “learning a ton” and is getting great base knowledge in finance and accounting. His only regret from last semester was that the transition back to the classroom was a challenge, and he didn’t take advantage of lectures and other special events, at least not as much as he would have liked. He hopes to do more of that this spring.
Fletcher students generally take four classes per semester, which means that Maliheh, whose progress through the second year of the MALD program we’re tracking in the blog, has now completed her twelfth class. She offered to provide comments on those classes that had a particularly strong impact on her intellectually. Here are her notes.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog post, I chose to apply to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in order to gain an international perspective on development and the socio-economic systems in which development takes place. As a means of complementing my quantitative background, at Fletcher I took classes in econometrics, econometric impact evaluation, development economics, development aid in practice, and agricultural and rural development. Compared to all the exposure that I had to different disciplines in physical science, I found economic analysis to be a hard and complex subject. In many cases, it seemed far more complex than analysis in the physical sciences, simply because we cannot usually run controlled laboratory experiments, and because people do not always behave predictably.
I ran my first regression in the summer of 2004, as a student at Sharif University in Iran. I was working as a research assistant, though I did not understood regression at the time. After taking Econometrics (EIB E213) with Prof. Jenny Aker, today I understand that the study aimed to use regression to uncover and quantify interesting causal relations. Prof. Aker equipped us with the facts, intuition, and experience necessary for independent econometric research and for critical reading of empirical research papers, which opened the door for me, creating many opportunities to work at international organizations.
I used the skills I had learned in Prof. Aker’s class last summer, working at the World Bank, Office of the Chief Economist for the MENA Region. The paper that resulted from my research will be presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum in Kuwait in March. I found econometrics to be a field in which many abuses are possible, and in which things can go wrong with every step, from the formulation of the original ideas for the problem, to the printing of the final report. Being statistically literate helps in recognizing when to be skeptical about statistical claims.
Born and raised in the Iranian countryside, I had the powerful experience of living in a rural area where my mother was our village’s only teacher. I was in close contact with acute poverty and famine in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, and I could see how being poor can affect the way people think, decide, spend, eat, and educate. Though, at that time, I could not foresee any solutions for these challenges, I have always been motivated by a desire to find solutions. Later in my studies, I learned that connecting the poor to the growth process is the unifying theme of many development agencies.
In development economics with Prof. Steven Block, we learned more about poverty and its relationship with inequality and growth, long-run economic growth, short-run recovery from economic shocks, and major public-policy challenges facing governments when they implement economic interventions. I also learned that a state’s natural resource wealth, including energy resources, can negatively influence its economic development, through currency appreciation, market volatility, political shortsightedness, and reactionary vested interests. Therefore I could answer my old question on why resource rich countries, such as Iran, perform poorly on improving economic outcomes.
Spending last summer working at the World Bank, I also became aware of the tremendous policies and programs initiated and implemented by international organizations, and I was always wondering how they measure whether a particular intervention, policy change, or program actually causes change in development outcomes. I found answers to my question back at Fletcher in the fall, when I took Prof. Aker’s course in econometric impact evaluation in which we were provided with a set of theoretical, econometric, and practical skills to estimate the causal impact of a policy or program.
Thus, not only did Fletcher’s curriculum help me to connect my past aspirations to my future goals, but my education at Fletcher was well matched with the need in industry. There was a neat back-and-forth between what I learned, how I was able to apply it, and new questions that emerged and would be answered in later classes. The relevance of my Fletcher curriculum so far has ensured there was never a gap between what I learned in the classroom and what I saw applied in the field.
Today is Shopping Day, when students can sample new course offerings. The regular class schedule will kick off tomorrow and, before it does, Roxanne shares her observations on her first Fletcher semester.
Selecting courses for a new semester has always been one of my favorite times in the academic life cycle. Before I dive into the Spring 2013 course offerings at Fletcher, I would like to reflect on some of my favorite moments from my first semester.
As part of a group project to present on the conflict in Rwanda in the 1990s, I read Scott Straus’s The Order of Genocide. Through interviews with convicted prisoners who confessed to their involvement in the Rwandan genocide, Straus sought to understand why individuals participate in acts of mass violence. In an excerpt from the book, he articulated the question that guides his research in a way that deeply resonated with my own interests:
“I never expected to be in Zaire or Rwanda or to cover raw violence, but once I witnessed such events, I could not let go of them easily. Eventually my trauma formulated itself as an intellectual question: Why does violence of this magnitude happen?”
The causes of violence, as well as responses and strategies for prevention, were a recurrent motif in my studies this semester. Another highlight, however, emerged out of my participation in a luncheon series on non-violent, rather than violent, conflict. The International Security Studies Program (ISSP), in partnership with the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, offered a series of luncheon lectures on civil resistance and non-violent movement formation. The backgrounds of fellow participants in this series range from journalism and community organization, to veterans and PhD students. As Jessica has written in the Admissions Blog many times, there are more events and luncheon series at Fletcher than one could possibly attend, and this program on Nonviolent Civil Resistance has been among my favorites.
Another series of events that created many cherished memories for me is Fletcher’s Cultural Nights. These events showcase the many regions of the world from which students hail, through singing, dancing, musical performances — or even videos inspired by the various regions we are celebrating! Along with nine of my friends, I performed in a Balkan dance medley on Mediterranean Night, showcasing a Greek, Bulgarian, Bosnian, and Turkish traditional dance. Fiesta Latina was also full of warmth and laughter, and I am already looking forward to more of these cultural events next semester.
Student collaboration is not only a theme of how we celebrate and dance, but also how we learn and study. My study group for Peace Operations met every Tuesday to discuss the assigned reading for the class. The group consisted of five first-year students who had met during orientation, decided to help one another navigate the extensive reading load, developed a template for taking notes, and organized review sessions for themselves before the midterm. This was a perfect complement to learning inside the classroom, and was always something to look forward to in my calendar. Admittedly, it is initially challenging to adapt to the coordination and compromise required to co-write group papers or divide the workload and responsibilities of group presentations — but I am beginning to enjoy this process, and I’m grateful for the many life lessons along the way.
When I reflect on the moment I first felt at home at Fletcher, I think of Professor Dyan Mazurana’s lecture during a Fletcher Global Women lunch event. Professor Mazurana spoke about her work on gender and mass atrocities, retraced her path to her current endeavors, and shared the personal and professional challenges and rewards of being in this field. I felt similarly exhilarated attending an event by the Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights, which featured Nadine Puechguirbal, the Senior Gender Adviser for the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Cynthia Enloe, one of the leading thinkers on gender and international politics. It is refreshing to leave the campus and experience Boston’s thriving academic and professional community. Finally, no mention of my cherished memories of the semester would be complete without acknowledging the Fletcher Storytelling Forum, the project Katherine Conway-Gaffney and I co-created earlier this year. Listening to my classmates’ experiences of home and away has made me grateful to belong in the Fletcher community.
All the books I borrowed from the various Boston libraries have now been returned to their shelves, and I am getting ready to browse the 2013 course offerings. In the next two months, we can look forward to the legendary Fletcher Ski Trip, a concert by our favorite school band, Los Fletcheros, and the NYC and DC Career Trips. Stay tuned for updates, and Happy New Year!
It turns out I needn’t have worried about sustaining the blog’s new Student Stories feature. I started off with only two students — Mirza and Maliheh, plus Manjula on the alumni side — but today I’m introducing Roxanne Krystalli, who has an interest in writing and who volunteered to be included. I love volunteers! Roxanne is a first-year MALD student, studying International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. For her second Field of Study, she is in the process of designing one on the theme of Gender and Conflict. Prior to Fletcher, she worked with women affected by conflict, in affiliation with the United Nations, Peace in Focus (co-founded by current MIB student Kate Fedosova, and Kyle Dietrich, 2009 MALD graduate), and other organizations in Egypt, Uganda, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. Today, Roxanne tells us about her interests and a special project she has initiated.
I arrived at Fletcher with three different, but connected, interests: First, I came here to further study the intersection of gender and conflict, which I had explored in my field work with ex-combatants in Colombia, survivors of sexual violence in East Africa, and women parliamentarians in the Middle East. Second, I was fascinated by non-violent movements and civil resistance, with which I became better acquainted through the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict. And third, the thread that tied everything together was my fervent belief in the power of storytelling. Whether as a co-designer and implementer of curricula on creative peace-building through visual and written stories in post-conflict areas, or as a budding writer, photographer, and blogger, I was fascinated by the power of stories to air grievances, generate empathy, move individuals to action, and create community.
In Fletcher classrooms, stories are rigorous, academic, footnoted. This made my MALD classmate, Katherine Conway-Gaffney, and me wonder: What about the other stories? The more personal stories? The stories the members of this community carry within them? Katherine and I first met through the “buddy program” that pairs incoming first-year students with second-year students with similar interests, and we quickly discovered that we both believed the power of this community lies in the narratives that exist within it.
It is this shared belief in the power of storytelling that led us to co-found the Storytelling Forum. The format is simple: Students are invited to share stories that have affected their lives and work, in response to question prompts. This is not an academic discussion, or a how-to; rather, it resembles the conversations that would unfold at a café among friends. Our first evening of sharing stories, moderated by Professor Eileen Babbitt, revolved around the theme of the personal dimensions of work, and the thrills and challenges of an international life, while the second evening focused on notions of home and family. Students’ suggestions for future storytelling evenings include topics ranging from questions of love, solitude, and companionship, as they relate to an international career, to stories about humility, uncertainty, or grief. The project is independent and student-run and, since many of the stories are so personal, we have restricted readership to members of the Fletcher community.
My first semester at Fletcher has been nothing short of humbling and inspiring. Looking into the various stories that inhabit this community, and slowly seeing how they intersect or diverge, fuels my gratitude for being here. Stay tuned for more updates on stories from the Fletcher community!
I’m going to be stuck in a meeting all morning, but I’m lucky again that students sent a blog idea into my inbox. Not just any idea, but an exciting bit of news for lovers of competition!
The Huffington Post is sponsoring the Reader’s Choice Awards for the IGNITEgood Millennial Impact Challenge, described as “a nationwide search for ideas to make the world better through service.” Among the 200 social innovators (under the age of 30) who submitted their ideas are TWO who are affiliated with Fletcher. Wow!
The second is that of PhD student Kartikeya Singh, affiliated with ENVenture, which he describes in an email as seeking “to empower youth to participate in the emerging energy entrepreneurship field, whilst simultaneously tackling energy poverty issues in the developing world. Winning this award will launch the pilot in Uganda and will push us into being able to expand to India. ENVenture fellows will create business plans and address the barriers to scaling of decentralized energy technologies in the developing world.” ENVenture is competing in the Green category.
Lucky for Fletcher, you can vote in each of the two categories. The competition ends November 26. Good luck Manjula and Kartikeya!
Today I’m introducing the second student who is participating in the Student Stories feature in the blog. Maliheh Birjandi Feriz is a second-year student pursuing Development Economics and International Environment and Resource Policy as her Fields of Study. Like Mirza, who told his story a few weeks ago, I asked Maliheh to contribute to this blog feature simply because I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. I hope blog readers will find her story interesting.
I received dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Industrial Engineering and Petroleum Engineering from the Sharif University of Technology (known as the MIT of Iran), and a Master of Business Administration from the same university. One of the best things about an engineering career is the wide range of projects you can work on. I’ve done everything from computer programming to simulate an oil reservoir, to a system-dynamics analysis exploring the impacts of deforestation on household income. Although it might sound unrelated, the analytical skills I acquired in engineering came into play as important factors in explaining my success in business. Through my experience working on practical projects, I learned that engineers who turn into organization managers and leaders need not completely give up their technical creativities; a high ranking manager can also be a technology expert, and in fact, this combination of expertise is well suited to the rapid pace of innovation and global competition. As an entrepreneur, I launched my own management consulting firm, and tried to sell multidisciplinary services in a market that was then blind to environmental values, and also ignorant of young women entrepreneurs, which brought me enormous cultural challenges.
Through running my own business and face-to-face conversations with senior-level managers, I became aware of my then very local perspective on environmental systems, without a clear connection to the broader regional and global efforts. However, finding a graduate program in which I could enhance my knowledge of global environmental issues, and at the same time interact with people who can see both sides of this interdisciplinary spectrum, was not an easy task.
This was my motivation for applying to the Fletcher School. I came to Fletcher intending to leverage my experience on environmental policy-related issues and reorient it through an international lens, but I found that my coursework had an even more profound impact. In my previous degree programs, disciplines were kept strictly separate. At Fletcher, I found that the pieces fit neatly together through an interdisciplinary approach. With an opportunity to select classes from several disciplines simultaneously, I was able to uncover my own competitive advantage, which will shape my career for the rest of my life. Moreover, I have taken advantage of this multidisciplinary environment in different ways to sharpen my skills in research, leadership, teaching, writing, and communicating with others.
At Fletcher, I found people were genuinely interested in different cultures. To declare oneself as Iranian was not an unusual thing. From my first visit to The Fletcher School, and seeing the flags of all countries (including Iran’s) around the Hall of Flags, I realized that it is safe here to say, “I am an Iranian.” Not only did I feel completely comfortable with my classmates, but here I was also exposed to a very diverse environment.
Now I am in my second year at Fletcher. I spent last summer as a consultant at the World Bank, and I am preparing applications to PhD programs. Although only a little more than a year has passed since I first enrolled at Fletcher, I feel like I’ve gained ten years worth of perspective on how my academic and professional experience will fit together in the future. I don’t think I could have gained this perspective in any other way.
Those who have been reading the blog for a while and others who have scrolled through the archives may remember Manjula, a rock-star 2012 graduate. When we talked in the spring, Manjula agreed to my request to follow his story a little further, especially since he is continuing work started at Fletcher (as described in the spring’s blog post). Recently, he sent me the first of what I hope will be a series of updates. He wrote, “My post-Fletcher life as a social entrepreneur dedicated to Educate Lanka has been a challenging journey, but a very exciting one at the same time.” And he listed some of the highlights of the four short months since he left campus:
- The “It Only Takes Ten” campaign to raise funds for Educate Lanka was successfully launched and has made significant progress.
- Our story was published on USAID/State Department’s Diaspora Forum.
- I presented a speech at the U.S. State Department’s South Asian American Employee Association Cultural Diversity Event.
- VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth) presented me a Diaspora Volunteer Award and partnered with Educate Lanka.
- Our project on Global Giving was a success and is ongoing.
- I was interviewed for a Sri Lankan television (Young Asia Television) program.
Manjula and Educate Lanka are still benefiting from the support of his former classmates. Last spring, Fletcher students, faculty, and staff recorded two videos to kick off the “It Only Takes Ten” campaign. The videos are similar, but I’m going to share both anyway.
Many languages, One Meaning
and Many Countries, One Meaning
Quite a few Fletcher students have a goal to establish a nonprofit, and it’s an inspiration to all of us to observe Manjula’s work. He tells me that he has a few more projects lined up for the coming months. I’ll be checking in with him so that I can provide an update toward the end of the year.
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.
Last spring I started thinking about an aspect of Fletcher that I never tried to cover consistently in the blog — the individual stories, and pathway through Fletcher, of our students. In truth, the issue was always making time to do the research and writing — I’ve always found our students to be interesting, and I enjoy chatting with them. Presenting them in an engaging and accurate way would take more than just a chat, though, and year-after-year, I felt it was a project that was better left undone than done poorly. But this year, I’ve decided to take it on. I asked a few students if they wanted to work with me, and two have agreed so far. If time allows, I may add more.
So tomorrow, one of our first-year students, Mirza Ramic, will introduce himself by describing his long path to Fletcher. Mirza and I met very briefly two years ago, when he came for an interview. Then we were in email contact for a year or more. And then we finally re-met in September. The long history explains why I asked him to work with me in writing about a “typical” Fletcher experience. (Typical in that Fletcher students take so many different paths to, through, and from Fletcher.)
I should note that I offered to do the writing, but Mirza chose to tell his own story. I’ll be checking back with him throughout his two years in the MALD program. Sometimes he’ll write and sometimes I will. I hope blog readers will enjoy this new feature.
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