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In addition to Adi, three more Student Stories writers will graduate on May 20, and I plan (hope) to share Annotated Curricula for all in these next two weeks.  I’ll start today with Pulkit, who is wrapping up exams for his MALD degree.  Note that while MALD and MIB students are required to complete two Fields of Study, Pulkit has chosen to complete three.

Pre-Fletcher Experience
B.E., Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering, Punjab Engineering College, India
Research Analyst, McKinsey & Company, Gurgaon, Haryana, India
Executive Director, Phoenix Hospital, Panchkula, Haryana, India
Global Shaper, World Economic Forum

Fields of Study
International Security Studies
Humanitarian Studies
International Organizations

Post-Fletcher Professional Goals
I hope to work in the humanitarian sector or in community development – especially in education or public health.

Curriculum Overview

Semester One

Design and Monitoring for Peacebuilding and Development (½ credit)
The Role of Force in International Relations
International Organizations
Sustainable Development Diplomacy
Health, Human Security and Emerging Pathogens (½ credit)
Varieties of Corruption (½ credit, Certified Audit)
Elementary French I (Audit)

Before coming to Fletcher, I knew I wanted to take a mix of skills-based and academic courses — and to focus on security studies and international organizations law.  I hit the ground running by starting with a pre-session module on Design and Monitoring with Professor Scharbatke-Church.  This module set the tone for me in terms of the rigor and effort professors would expect from their students.  It also helped me set foot in a new academic environment.  During orientation, I passed the economics equivalency exam, so that I could take an advanced economics course in the future.  I took required courses in the International Security Studies and International Organizations Fields of Study, which were basically foundational courses in political science and international law.  I was very motivated in my first semester, and I ended up taking a heavy courseload — with four credits, including two modules, and two audits.  I audited Elementary French at the Olin Center for Language and Cultural Studies, which is a great resource for Fletcher students.  I was also involved in a pro-bono consulting project with Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS).  In hindsight, overall, my first semester was very rewarding.

Semester Two

Evaluation of Peacebuilding and Development for Practitioners and Donors (January-term, ½ credit)
International Humanitarian Response
Nuclear Dossiers: U.S. Priorities, Dilemmas and Challenges in a Time of Nuclear Disorder
Non-Proliferation Law and Institutions
Peace Operations
Elementary French II (Audit)

I took a short break of about a week after finishing my first semester requirements, and was back in the classroom for the January module on Evaluation.  In the spring semester, two courses were being offered on nuclear security and policy, and I thought it was a great opportunity for me to study that subject area.  The Non-Proliferation Law and Institutions course was outside my comfort zone, but I still enjoyed learning about international treaties and law on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  I also decided to take Peace Operations with Professor Ian Johnstone to learn about international efforts in peacekeeping.  To try something new and different, I took International Humanitarian Response, a course that opened an interest area in humanitarian studies and response.  This course also included a three-day field simulation in Andover, MA.  I continued to audit French at the Olin Center.  By the end of the semester I had finished my field requirements for International Security Studies and International Organizations.

Summer

Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant to Professor Ian Johnstone
Non-resident Research Assistant, Pacific Forum CSIS
International Summer Academy at the Institute for Peace and Dialogue in Baar, Switzerland
Graduate Assistant, Office of Development and Alumni Relations (ODAR), The Fletcher School

My summer was made up many different opportunities and experiences — from being a teaching and research assistant (TA/RA) to Professor Ian Johnstone to traveling to Austria and Switzerland to spending time in Boston.  It was a little unstructured, but very rewarding again.  You can read more about my summer experience here.

Semester Three

Gender, Culture and Conflict in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
Development Economics: Policy Analysis
International Humanitarian Law
Education in Armed Conflict (at Harvard Graduate School of Education)
Politics of the Korean Peninsula: Foreign & Inter-Korean Relations (Certified Audit)

This semester was probably one of my busiest.  I have detailed my responsibilities for the Fall 2017 semester in this blog post.  Since I had already completed my two field requirements, I decided to explore and pursue the Humanitarian Studies Field of Study.  Before beginning the semester I passed the equivalency exam for the quantitative reasoning requirement.  With an engineering background, I decided that I didn’t want to take a quant course, and wanted to use that saved credit to take something different.  For the economics breadth requirement, Policy Analysis with Professor Julie Schaffner was very rigorous and challenging.

The Gender, Culture, and Conflict and Humanitarian Law courses were exceptional — and gave a theoretical and legal perspective to human security and humanitarian response.  I personally think every student who studies security studies as a field of study should be required to take the Gender class.  Using a gender lens makes one understand and realize the consequences of war — on people, their livelihoods, as well as the political economy of a state.

For my class at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I worked on a narrative project of a refugee whose education had been disrupted because of conflict.  In addition to the course work, I was a TA for the International Organizations class, managing editor for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, and on the Student Council.

Semester Four

GIS for International Applications
Corporate Social Responsibility in the Age of Globalization
U.S. Policy in South Asia
Negotiation Workshop (at Harvard Law School)
Forced Migration (½ credit, Audit)

I stayed in Boston over the winter break and it was a particularly cold winter.  At the end of my third semester, I had finished all my field and breadth requirements.  During the fall semester, I had also been accepted for the spring into the Negotiation Workshop at the Harvard Law School — which was a nine-hour class every week.  Including the travel time back and forth to Harvard and the preparation for the class, it was a big time commitment.  After speaking to my peers who had taken this class in the past, I decided to commit to it and build my class schedule around it.  The class was my first foray into the field of negotiation — and the class itself was structured so that we were expected to practice the science of negotiation by means of simulation exercises.  The class was exceptional because it helped me reflect on my own behavior and to learn from others.

I took Corporate Social Responsibility with Professor Jette Knudsen, basically to expand my worldview and take a case-study-based class in the Economics and International Business Division.  The class helped me understand the complex relationship between the private sector and government regulation, and the social responsibilities of privately owned businesses.  I took the U.S. Policy in South Asia class as a supplement to my capstone thesis on non-proliferation law in the context of U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement.  Over this semester I also finished a non-resident consulting project with the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, based in Geneva, Switzerland.

With a heavy courseload, the extra-curricular activities, and my part-time work responsibilities, I knew I would be stretching myself to finish my capstone.  I was also enjoying my classes and final semester at Fletcher — so, I decided to extend my program and work on my thesis over the summer, while I look for work.  It is amazing to think that we are two weeks away from graduation.  It has been a remarkable and astounding journey of learning.  The diversity of classes and the opportunities I have had at Fletcher have truly exposed me to the field of international relations.  As I prepare to wrap up my assignments, graduate, and transition into the summer, I can honestly say that it has been a blast.

 

With no advance planning on my part, it looks like this will be Student Stories week!  Today we’ll hear about Mariya’s Spring Semester. 

Green grass, colorful flowers, and trees in bloom — spring is finally here!  As I sit on the third floor of Ginn Library staring out at our beautiful campus, I can’t help but smile and feel grateful for spring.  Although I still have a few finals left before I officially fulfill all my graduation requirements, I thought I’d take a break from studying and reflect on some of the highlights of my spring semester.

Russia Trek — From March 15-25, I participated with 15 peers in the first-ever spring break study trip to Russia.  Organized and sponsored by the newly launched Russia and Eurasia Program, the trip felt like an experiential sequel to the U.S-Russia Relations course I took last semester.  Whereas the course gave me an academic foundation to understand the U.S.-Russia relationship, the trip provided a hands-on opportunity to negotiate and learn from colleagues at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, experience Russian culture, and nurture friendships that will last a lifetime.  We spent a weekend in St. Petersburg and a week in Moscow, where our trip culminated in presenting our negotiated memos on cybersecurity and the North Korean crisis to the Russian Foreign Ministry and U.S. Embassy Moscow.  In addition to these milestones, I enjoyed roaming the Red Square at night, eating eclectic cuisines from post-Soviet countries, indulging in modern art at the Hermitage Museum and Tretyakov Gallery, shopping for matryoshka dolls and ushanka fur hats, and touring the many Orthodox churches including the famous, onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral.  And, of course, I ran into the Fletcher family in Moscow: Maria and Nikita, who were exchange students at Fletcher during my first semester.  Overall, it was an incredible trip and I’m very humbled for having had the chance to experience Russia.  Who knows, maybe I will be posted there one day!

Capstone — I am relieved to say that my capstone is written and submitted!  Although I had been doing research all year long, including original interviews, I did not begin writing until after returning from Russia.  The topic for my thesis — destruction of cultural property during armed conflict — was inspired by my travels, particularly in Turkey where I saw a lot ruined sites and landmarks.  Using Bosnia and Armenia as case studies, I delved deeper into ethnic warfare, protection of cultural property under international law, and memory politics.  It was stressful and hectic to complete my master’s thesis in four weeks, but I disciplined myself to take advantage of every bit of free time I had.  I would like to recognize my capstone advisor, Professor Richard Shultz, who was instrumental not only in my thesis-writing, but also my entire Fletcher career.  My classmates and I created a tribute video for him as a token of our appreciation, highlighting memories from his famed Role of Force course in the International Security Studies field.

Innovation Field Lab — Given my desire for a career in public service, I decided to take “Harvard Innovation Field Lab: Public Problem Solving in Massachusetts Cities.”  Co-taught by Professor Jorrit de Jong and Mayor of Somerville Joe Curtatone, the course expanded my knowledge, thinking, and approach to public sector problem solving.  The class not only gave us tools and expertise but also an opportunity to apply them to the problem of distressed properties in six Massachusetts cities.  My colleagues Adam, Carlos, Kysie and I worked with the City of Lawrence by conducting field visits, interviews with officials, and meetings with key stakeholders.  After semester-long research, we pitched three innovative and actionable solutions in a presentation to Mayor Dan Rivera on our last class.  I feel empowered having taken this course and I am excited to apply the framework of “discovery, design, and delivery” to international problem solving.

DC Career Trip — It feels like ages ago, but in mid-February, a month after returning from Beirut, I participated in the DC Career Trip organized by the hardworking staff in the Office of Career Services (OCS).  The two-day trip is an opportunity for career exploration, information-gathering about specific organizations, and networking with practitioners across career fields through site visits, lunch panel discussions, and evening alumni networking receptions.  Many students in the past were able to secure internships or jobs from this exclusive opportunity.

Although I feel blessed to already know what I will be doing after Fletcher, I decided to participate in the DC trip to familiarize myself with the Fletcher alumni community in Washington, which is home to me.  In my actual home in Alexandria, my parents hosted a Fletcher Feast for my friends and we enjoyed a traditional, home-cooked Pakistani meal and a “Fletcher cake” to top off the weekend.

Alrighty, back to studying for international financial management and econometrics!

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I just sent off the Student Stories blogger crew for 2017-18, following our annual gathering.  Back to studying and paper-writing they went, following the only hour of the year when we all come together.  Six of this year’s seven bloggers were able to attend.  Here’s the group:  Pulkit, Adi, Mariya, Prianka, Akshobh, and Gary.

I had hoped we had picked a time when everyone could come, but schedules are very unpredictable this time of year and Kaitlyn was unable to join us.

It is truly a joy to work with these writers.  They have all volunteered their time for at least one year and whether they blow right past a deadline or submit a post on time, I never take for granted their generosity!  I’ll miss working with Pulkit, Adi, and Mariya, who are graduating after two years of blogging, as well as Prianka who will complete the one-year LLM (and her blogging commitment) this month.  I hope (expect) to welcome Akshobh, Gary, and Kaitlyn back for another year of writing in September.

One additional note.  I’m not the only one who appreciates these folks.  They’ve all been busy with multiple commitments throughout the year.  I’d like to highlight, though, that Pulkit recently received the Presidential Award for Civic Life, one of the University’s highest honors for students.  I’ll let Pulkit tell you more via a tweet.

Congratulations, Pulkit, and fellow graduates Mariya, Adi and Prianka!  Thank you to all the student bloggers for your help all year!

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Alongside the last day of classes today, the blog’s Student Stories writers are wrapping up their commitments for the year.  Gary, our writer from the PhD program, is naturally looking ahead to the writing of his dissertation and some pre-research research was involved.

You may have heard the rumor before.  A student puts hundreds or even thousands of hours of work into formulating, researching, analyzing, writing and finally defending their doctoral dissertation…only for it never to be read by anyone outside the dissertation committee.  To put lie to that falsehood, I plumbed the depths of the Fletcher dissertation archive held at Ginn Library.  I selected from the hundreds of available dissertations by picking those written by people with whom I now have or previously have had a connection.  For some writers, I have been their student somewhere along the line or they are fellow military officers (active or retired); and for others, I used their research as a resource to prepare for military operations I have personally participated in.

Fenway Park doesn’t have the only Green Monster in the Boston area…here is Ginn Library’s own “green monster” of Fletcher dissertations.

Just to be clear, I didn’t read the dissertations I picked out from cover to cover — after all, some of them exceed 500 pages in length.  I mainly read the abstracts and the front matter to get a sense of where the writers, some now notable members of the commentariat, government, think tanks, and so forth, were in their personal journeys while writing their Fletcher dissertations.  It was an intriguing experience that I may repeat in the future because I felt like there was a lot more to discover.

A 341-page dissertation on left (from 1993), and on the right a 360-page dissertation from 2012.

With those introductory remarks out of the way, I’d like to provide some general macro-level comments about the nine dissertations I examined for this post.  The first notable feature of many of the dissertations was the inclusion of a curriculum vitae or CV.  Invariably, these are interesting time capsules of a sort.  Looking at where the writers were long ago in their personal journeys makes it easier to imagine a similar path forward for those of us studying at Fletcher today.

Some dissertations include an acknowledgments page, from which it is notable to see the personal connections and broad support required to complete any such project.  Often, the authors list out their closest colleagues from among their PhD cohort, and I can imagine those groups of former students studying, debating, and analyzing together in the same spaces in the Fares PhD Research Center under Blakeley Hall where our current crop of PhD candidates does the same thing.

Finally, it’s easy to notice that the physical bulk of dissertations has changed over time.  In years past, dissertations were printed only on the fronts of each leaf of paper, leaving the backs blank.  This made for some massive tomes, the shelves groaning under their weight.  More recently, as the available shelf space for Ginn’s green monster has dwindled, dissertations are now printed on the front and back of each page, making for far more slender volumes.

The cover of Dean Stavridis’ 1984 dissertation. Don’t try to check this one out!

Moving on to the three dissertations I want to examine in greater detail today, the unifying theme is that they were all written by current members of the Fletcher faculty or staff.  I am compelled to start with Dean Stavridis’s 1984 work, not only because he is the head honcho of the school, but also because of the unique marking on its front cover.  I would wager that it is one of the only, if not the only, Fletcher dissertation whose demand might warrant such a marking.

Dean Stavridis’s 1984 dissertation was entitled “Marine Technology Transfer and the Law of the Sea,” and it tipped the scales at an impressive 529 pages.  I’d say he was ahead of his time in seeing the intrinsic value of the Law of the Sea treaty and suggesting ways in which it could be improved to increase the chances of full Western (read U.S.) buy-in/ratification, but that wouldn’t be a surprise.  Our dean is characteristically ahead of his time on many issues, which I think we will eventually see in cyberspace and the idea of a new triad consisting of cybercapabilities, special operations forces, and unmanned platforms, among other topics.  Like me, Dean Stavridis attended Fletcher as an active duty military officer.

Next of the reviewed dissertations is Professor of Practice Michele Malvesti’s 2002 work, “Risk-Taking in Countering Terrorism: A Study of U.S. Presidential Decisions to Use Special Operations and Covert Action.”  Her dissertation is an examination of prospect theory as applied to decisions to conduct counterterrorism missions during the Carter and Reagan administrations.  An interesting note: Professor Malvesti went directly from completing this PhD to working on counterterrorism issues on the National Security Council Staff for five years and, as a result, she is an example of a great resource who has “been there, done that” at very high levels of the U.S. government.  I was fortunate to take her National Security Decision Making course last semester, and I found it to be very engaging.  Bridging the gap between the policy world and academia, the course is loaded with top-notch guest speakers, contacts of Professor Malvesti from her time in government.  Last semester we heard from the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the Assistant Washington Editor for The New York Times, and many more.  For those reading who will someday attend Fletcher, I highly recommend the course.

Last for today, a look at the 1998 dissertation of Professor Sung-yoon Lee, “The Antinomy of Divine Right and the Right to Resistance: Tianming, Dei Gratia, and Vox Populi in Syngman Rhee’s Korea, 1945-1960.”  It is an examination of the seemingly opposing forces of Confucianism and democracy in Korea during this period.  I am currently a student in two courses with Professor Lee and last semester I took another one of his courses.  (One of my concentration areas at Fletcher is Pacific Asia, and my dissertation research is related to China-North Korea relations, so it makes sense that I would take many of his courses, as he is one of American academia’s premier Korea experts.)  With the shifting relationship between the U.S. and North Korea throughout this academic year, it is not surprising that Professor Lee has been in great demand as a live commentator on numerous television and radio programs.  He records many of these from Fletcher’s world-class television studio, part of the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World.

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I’m having trouble believing it, but this is the last full week of classes for the spring semester, which wraps up on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday will be study days before exams start on Wednesday.  With that in mind, it’s a good time to recap the academic pathways of our graduating student bloggers.  Today we’ll look at Adi‘s “annotated curriculum”  for his two years in the MIB program.  As you’ll see, an annotated curriculum is what it sounds like — a useful device we’ve developed for students to describe how they combined their courses and out-of-class activities during their studies at Fletcher.

Pre-Fletcher Experience
I managed external partnerships and public relations for CISDI, a social startup working on healthcare development in Indonesia.

Fields of Study
International Finance and Banking
International Political Economy

Capstone Topic
Strategic Positioning of Indonesia’s National Holding Company

Post-Fletcher Professional Goals
I would like to merge my newly developed financial skills with my social development background.

Curriculum Overview

Semester One

Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance
Global Investment Management
The Arts of Communication
Financial Statement Management
Strategic Management
Managerial Economics

Activities:
FSIG advisory project

A little more than two years since undergraduate does not sound like a long time, but in my first semester, I definitely needed an adjustment period to revive my schooling and student habits.  That is why I really enjoyed the Strategic Management course, which was a two-week Monday-to-Friday session before the fall semester actually started.  Corporate Finance was the highlight of my semester.  While there was no way for me to avoid taking it, since it’s a required MIB course, I truly enjoyed this first exposure to finance and it inspired my interest to learn everything about the topic.  Taking this course in the same semester as Investment Management and Financial Statement Management was not easy, but the courses complemented each other in deepening my financial knowledge.  Managerial Economics was a good refresher on my economics knowledge from undergraduate.  I also really enjoyed Arts of Communication.  I took it knowing that enhancing my public speaking skills could only do good for my personal and professional development, but I must say that the whole experience surprised me in how practical and hands-on the projects were.

Semester Two

International Financial Management
Global Financial Services
The Political Economy and Business Environments of Greater China
Marketing Management
Macroeconomics
International Financial and Fiscal Law

Activities:
FSIG due diligence project
Management of the Fletcher Finance Club, 2017-2018

My second semester was still filled with a lot of required courses for the MIB program, including International Financial and Fiscal Law, Macroeconomics, and Marketing Management.  I also had to pick a regional course, for which I decided to learn about China because of all the talk about China being a global superpower.  As it turned out, I did learn a little bit of everything about China, including its history, its relations with neighboring countries and regions such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, its industrial development, political set-up, and cultural matters.  Completing my course list for this semester were two classes with Professor Jacque, whom I had for Corporate Finance.  In International Financial Management, I learned about derivative usage, including hedging, speculating, and risk management.  For Global Financial Services, I explored different cases of financial disasters throughout history.  I decided to really double down on my finance training, to ensure that I could pivot into a career in the financial industry, either for my summer internship or after Fletcher, and thus these two classes were the highlight of my semester.

Summer Internship
Citibank in Jakarta, Indonesia

Semester Three

Large Investment and International Project Finance
Petroleum in the Global Economy
Processes of International Negotiation
Art and Science of Statecraft

Activities:
CFA Challenge
FSIG advisory team lead

After a first year full of required courses, I finally had some flexibility in choosing classes in my third semester.  My class on Petroleum was interesting because it discussed a topic that is connected to most issues, but which I have little exposure to or knowledge of.  Negotiation has always been one of the most recommended classes at Fletcher, and it definitely equipped me with practical knowledge that I can bring in future engagements, in both my personal and professional life.  Art and Science of Statecraft was the outlier of the semester, in that it was not business related, although its common theme on power can easily be implemented in a business setting.  Finally, I really enjoyed my Project Finance course.  The cases discussed were fascinating, ranging from talking about an aluminum mine in Mozambique all the way to building a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.  It was a class that brought everything together, from financial modeling to political risk and cultural awareness.

Semester Four

Political Economy of Development
Global Private Equity
Political Economy and Business Context of Latin America
Managing NGOs and Social Enterprises
Building Sustainable Cities and Infrastructure (HBS Cross-Registration)

Activities:
CFA Challenge (Regionals level)
TA, Public Finance – Tavitian Scholarship Program

And yes, here we are, the final semester.  Back when I was a first-year, it seemed strange when alumni and second-year students kept talking about how time flies, and yet it is true.  With most of my required courses out of the way, I took one final “required” course in Political Economy of Development to complete my International Political Economy Field of Study.  I managed to cross-register at Harvard Business School, taking a class on Building Sustainable Cities, which built a lot on the knowledge that I described in my Project Finance course the previous semester.  I registered for two half-semester module classes in Private Equity and Latin America, with Private Equity providing me with practical experience in managing a fund, and Latin America fulfilling my curiosity about a region that many at Fletcher are focused on, and yet I know little about.  Nonetheless, I would say that Managing NGOs and Social Enterprises is my favorite class at Fletcher so far, which is funny because at the beginning of the semester, this was the only class I did not plan to take.  The cases and concepts discussed in this class brought me back to my work prior to Fletcher, and generated ideas I hope I can implement someday.

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Students returned yesterday from their Spring Break week and I think we all share a common shock that we can see the end of the semester ahead of us.  On the other hand, January seems so long ago.  Today, Student Stories writer Kaitlyn reports on her second semester in the MALD program, one in which she has tested her organizational abilities.

It is spring semester at Fletcher, and I am the equivalent of a “sophomore” in my MALD degree, with a quarter of the program behind me.  Naturally, I did the exact same thing with my class schedule that I did as an actual sophomore in undergraduate.

I thought too many classes were interesting and decided: Heck, I’ll just take them all.

Fletcher allows you to do two cool things: take an extra half-credit class once in your MALD program, and audit language classes next door at Tufts’ Olin Center.  I wanted to do an extra half credit now, so I could have an easier schedule next year when I do my capstone project.  And I wanted to audit a French class so I could have a bit more practice before my internship this summer.

When I scheduled my classes, I ended up finding three half-credit courses that looked interesting.  Those, plus French, left me with a schedule of seven classes for the semester: three full-semester classes at Fletcher, French, and three half-semester modules.  (Most people take only four or five classes each semester.)  All of my friends who saw my schedule looked at me like I had three heads.  I admit: it did become somewhat of a juggling act during midterms, but it was not half as bad as people assumed.  And a major reason I was able to manage that course load was organization.  I made two big decisions that made my semester go much smoother: I optimized my study space, and I planned each week so I could balance studying and free time.

My Study Space

During my first semester, I had my desk in my room, which wasn’t the best place to study.  I felt too comfortable to do work.  And then in my free time I was constantly looking at my desk, thinking about work.  So I was less productive and more stressed.  This semester, I decided I needed to change it up a bit.

Bless my roommate.  She was very accommodating and let me move my desk into the corner of our common room.  And she let me put up two calendars up on the bigger wall out there.  I had a dry-erase calendar for the month, and a huge weekly schedule of sticky-notes over the desk.  This helped me develop a really organized study routine.  Every Sunday I wrote down the new weekly schedule, and each morning I could check both calendars as I walked out the door.  It was much more efficient for me than leafing through a weekly planner that often got lost in my backpack.  Having a clear separation of my work and my study space also meant I was more productive when I studied.  And it meant I got to leave my school work — even my laptop — in a different room at the end of the day.  That helped me feel more relaxed in my free time.

A Balanced Week

Every week, I had an average of three classes a day, Monday to Thursday.  And starting in March I had one class on Fridays, too.  It meant that generally, I had readings to do every night.  That was a long week by anyone’s standards and I knew I needed to make sure I didn’t get burned out.  So I had one goal: plan one night off in the middle of the week.  I found that it made me more productive when I had something to look forward to, and it was a great way to make sure I could go to extracurricular events: Social Hour on Thursdays; 101 discussions on historical issues that the Student Council organized; and parties hosted by other Fletcher folks.  The best one was the celebration of China’s Spring Festival that my roommate helped organize in February.  I planned my week around that party, and had time to bake a cake for it, too.

I also had to get creative about my study time.  Mondays, when I had four classes, even working at my reorganized desk was a struggle.  So I got off campus.  Davis Square is a lovely 20-minute walk from Fletcher and it has great coffee shops, perfect for getting my class readings done after my long Monday schedule.  There is also Mugar Café in the Fletcher building, which became my go-to place to study between classes.  It’s also close to everything, which was excellent for taking study breaks to head to on-campus events.  My favorite event was the Puppy Kissing booth that Ginn Library hosted for Valentine’s day.  (Nothing is better for productivity than spending time with a puppy.  Fact.)

All in all, managing my seven classes is just as much about my study time as it is about my non-study time.  I love all my classes, and though I’ll happily not take so many in future semesters, I don’t regret the packed schedule in the slightest.

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Mariya is one of the busiest students I know, which makes me lucky that she continues to write for the Admissions Blog.  And not only is she busy, but she’s busy in varied international locations.  Today we’ll read about her fall and winter travels.

Hello readers, and belated Happy New Year!  My fall semester ended with reflections, and this semester, too, begins with reflections.  As I think about all the opportunities I have had at Fletcher, I cannot help but be grateful for so many unique experiences.  To give you a sense of the types of opportunities Fletcher students can pursue during their time here, I would like to highlight two international experiences that have broadened my academic horizons.

Presenting a paper in London

In November, I presented my paper titled “Religious Roots of American Democracy” at the “Democracy and Rule of Law” conference at the University of Westminster in London.  My paper explores the role of religion in the founding and shaping of American democracy and politics.  There were about 15 other scholars of different ages who traveled from all over the world (India, Turkey, Serbia, Italy, Canada, Poland, to name a few) to meet in this intellectual forum, share their research, and solicit feedback.  I was impressed by the diversity of topics presented at the conference.  A German scholar, for example, gave a presentation about heavy metal screaming as a form of cultural resistance and freedom of expression.  A practicing lawyer talked about the principle of legality in the EU’s economic crisis management as it related to Greece’s recession.  And a research fellow shared his paper on whether an Italian law was capable of guaranteeing the rights of beggars against the will of the majority.  I was the only American in the group and my presentation on religion in democracy drew numerous questions.

Although intended mainly for the scholars who would later refine their papers for journal publication by the Center for the Study of International Peace and Security, which hosted the conference, the event was open to the public.  In fact, I met a couple from France who approached me afterward to say they enjoyed my presentation and we engaged in a lengthy dialogue contrasting our countries’ religious freedom laws.  My time in London was very short — literally two full days — but it was nice to connect with my Fletcher scholarship donor, Kate Hedges, who kindly showed me pockets of the city a tour bus would have skipped.  I squeezed in a few touristy excursions before catching a flight back.

While my paper will not be published until April, check out my op-ed published in the Kennedy School Review about the role of religion in the public eye.

Learning Middle Eastern politics in Beirut

In January, after completing a half-credit “J-term” (January course) on lobbying at the Harvard Kennedy School, I flew to Lebanon for the weeklong Beirut Exchange Program.  Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, encouraged me to apply to this opportunity, given my regional interests in Middle Eastern politics.  A group of 12 professionals from around the world engaged with politicians, journalists, and civil society activists to get an in-depth picture of Lebanese politics.  With the upcoming election in May and the changed electoral law, politicians and Lebanese citizens alike wait with anticipation the unfolding future of their country.  It was fascinating to hear different perspectives on sectarian political representation, Palestinian and Syrian refugee crises, and Lebanon’s 2006 war as it relates to regional geopolitics.

The agenda was jam-packed with lectures, workshops, and a day trip to Tripoli, an hour north of the capital.  There was little time for tourism, but a group of us took advantage of our evenings to explore the downtown nightlife, admire the close proximity of mosques and churches, and indulge in delicious Lebanese cuisine.  I fell in love with the creamy hummus, fresh tabbouleh and perfectly seasoned moutabbal (also known as baba ganoush, an eggplant dip mixed with tahini).  And as always happens on all my international trips, I met a Fletcher alum in the program!  A middle-aged media commentator from Pakistan studied under the same capstone advisor as me: Professor Richard Shultz.

Both of these international experiences were incredible, and would not have been possible without generous support from the Fletcher Educational Enrichment Fund, the Graduate Travel Support Program of the Provost’s Office, the Dean’s Fund, and various campus institutes.  I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to be at a place like Fletcher where students are supported in the opportunities that knock their doors.

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We’re going to close out the fall semester updates with Akshobh’s report on his semester and how it met his expectations.

Outside Blakeley Hall

I had been forewarned that nothing can truly prepare you for a New England Winter.  In my previous post, I wrote about how, after seven years of living on the equator, the only weather I had experienced oscillated between rain or no rain.  In Singapore, where I lived for seven years, it was summer throughout the year.  December 17th or June 6th made no difference — t-shirts and shorts were the norm.  The closest I had come to see snow was in an indoor mall in Dubai.  (My New Englander friends have told me that doesn’t count.)

On December 9th, on a snooze-filled Saturday morning, I woke up to see something miraculous outside Blakeley Hall — the winter’s first snow.  Yet I had half expected a tepid response to something seasonally expected from many who grew up around snow.

Much to my surprise, even friends who grew up around snow showed the same alacrity to be outside as I did.  The first day of snow is, indeed, quite mesmerizing.  My fellow blogger, Kaitlyn, a native New Englander, describes winter as her favorite season.  (It seems like it will take more than three decades of snowy winters to change her mind.)

In front of Blakeley Hall with fellow bloggers Prianka (right) and Kaitlyn (far right).

There are many perks to living in Blakeley Hall.  The stellar ones are the value for money in terms of rent and the bonhomie you forge among the seventy-odd residents – if Fletcher is about community, Blakeley is a microcosm.  But most of all, for folks like me who are used to tropical habitat, the commute from Blakeley to Fletcher is only seventy steps away.  The short commute is the biggest asset in Boston’s blistering blizzards.

Sitting away from the snowfall in Atlanta, Georgia during the winter break gave me a good chance to reflect on a first semester that whizzed by.  Going back to the classroom after years in the newsroom was always going to be hard.  But what kind of a program am I in and what sort of people does Fletcher attract and what sort of careers result?

The MALD is no doubt esoteric; after all, it is truly one of a kind.  And safe to say that there is no cookie-cutter MALD candidate, since unlike other degrees (say an MBA, JD or an MD), a MALD is truly malleable, and can be shaped to work for one’s self in a manner like no other.

At Fletcher, pick any world issue or geographic region, and I guarantee you will find either a professor who is expert on the subject, or a student who is studying that particular issue, or someone who is from the region or has worked there: from understanding food security in Malawi, to exploring how blockchain can be used to solve problems in healthcare, to considering the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the security threats arising out of asymmetric warfare in the South Asia.  Perhaps the words Law & Diplomacy in the acronym MALD, don’t quite capture the intellectual depth and expertise the school has to offer.  It’s not surprising when you and your roommate, both in the MALD program, could discover that in the whole two years — four full semesters — you’ve never been in the same class.

My focus at Fletcher is to be at the nexus of geo-politics and geo-economics, for I feel foreign policy and business are no longer two disparate entities but the common portion of a Venn diagram.  Governments and businesses can no longer ignore each other, for global political events affect economic outcomes.

In short, my goal at Fletcher is to understand a country’s tale (history & foreign policy) and how companies scale (business).

Hence my first semester saw me take a mix of classes, including National Security Decision Making: Theory and Practice, traditionally for the security junkies and foreign policy wonks, as well as Starting New Ventures (where I was one of only three first-year students, in a predominantly second-year MIB class) dealing with cases about entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.  There are few places and few programs that offer such an eclectic mix.

Interviewing Harvard academic Joseph Nye for the Fletcher Security Review.

My interests drew me to partake in events such as Simulex, where I was the Director of National Intelligence for the U.S in a Fletcher-wide simulation also featuring China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan handling an East Asia Crisis.  I interviewed leading Harvard academic Joseph Nye on soft power for the Fletcher Security Review, had lunch with Lord Michael Dobbs, discussing political leaders, and attended guest lectures from two four-star generals.

Meanwhile my interest in economic affairs led me to organize and moderate a panel on President Trump’s trade policies titled “Trump: Trade & Tirade.”  In addition, two other Fletcher students and I were selected to attend the World Bank Youth Summit in Washington, DC, which focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact.

With (right) Christina Saas, F09 (MALD), Co-Founder of Andela and TingTing Yang, F14 (MIB), a World Bank employee.

Fletcher’s global influence was evinced when at the World Bank in DC.  Every time we unfurled the Fletcher flag, we found an alumnus at the bank who came up to us and said, “Hey, I went to Fletcher, too.”  It’s almost as if the Fletcher flag was our business card.

Looking back, the decision to take the plunge and return to school was never easy.  I had friends and family who were divided on the issue of my giving up a stable income and taking a hiatus from the working world.  The camps were split, so much so that I facetiously say that it became a Brexit decision: there was a “Stay Camp” (don’t quit your job and move halfway around the world) and a “Go Camp” (take the plunge, it’ll be worth it).

An investment banker friend asked me how I could justify paying tuition and foregoing two years of income.  To which I replied that when I walk into the Hall of Flags and see all the illustrious alumni names on the wall of this hallowed institution, I am reminded that I am going to school with peers who will rise similarly to the highest echelons of government, become future diplomats, and serve their country’s military.  And I will have sat right beside them while their intellectual moorings took hold.

So how can I put a dollar value on that experience?

With a Fletcher classmate, outside the White House.

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Continuing the student bloggers’ fall-semester recaps, Prianka reports on her first semester and some of the special activities open to students in the LLM program.

One semester down and just one more to go.  Saying that time flies would be an understatement.  The last semester was definitely challenging, but in all honesty, had it been anything short of challenging, I would have questioned whether I was doing something wrong!  Being the first Admissions blogger from the LLM program, I thought I would talk about my experiences thus far at Fletcher.

Fletcher’s LLM program is not a traditional LLM program.  The most obvious difference is that Fletcher is an international affairs school and, by virtue of the same, the courses on offer are not restricted to legal subjects but are also in economics, international business, diplomacy, history and politics.  How does one pick just eight courses?  And if that weren’t enough, Fletcher students also have the option of taking courses at Harvard University.  This has its positives and negatives — definitely more to choose from, but it often makes me feel like a kid in a candy store on a budget!  Despite being happy with my four carefully selected different types of candy, I still wonder whether I would have been happier with one of the other candies, particularly one of them that seems to be selling out fast.

Looking back at some of the main reasons I decided to study at Fletcher — the number of students enrolled in the program, the interdisciplinary nature of the course, the presence of faculty in the area of law that I was interested in — I consider that I was right in my reasoning.  These are also some of the factors that differentiate the LLM program at Fletcher from the LLM program from a law school.

The education that one gains from a graduate school experience is not restricted to the courses on offer but also from conferences and guest lectures.  Being part of an international affairs school, we’ve had a number of prominent personalities deliver lectures, including the current Croatian President, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and others described in previous blog postsThe LLM program also organizes High Table lunches based on, to a certain extent, the particular interests of the current student cohort.  Last semester we had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Alberto Mora and Dr. Lynn Kuok, F04, at High Table lunches.  While Mr. Mora spoke about the legality of enhanced interrogation techniques, with Dr. Kuok we discussed competing national, legal, and political interests in the South China Sea.  The High Table lunches are quite exclusive and intimate, with only the LLM students and the law faculty in attendance.

Another interesting event that the LLM program participated in was an International Law Weekend in New York.  Not only was this an opportunity for some of us to visit New York for the first time, but we also attended discussions over the course of two days on the theme of “International Law in Challenging Times.”  With each of us having interests in varied fields of law, the event had a little something for all.

Last but not least, we also have dinners hosted every now and then that give us the opportunity to get to know each other, and to interact with the law faculty in a more informal setting.  In the first few weeks after we began our Fletcher journey, Professor Antonia Chayes hosted a dinner for the LLM batch to meet each other as well as the law faculty.  Towards the end of the semester, Professor Burgess and his wife hosted a holiday party at their home.  The dinner was a nice end to the semester, but left me personally grappling with the fact that I was half way through my LLM journey.  I remember back in Orientation week keeping an eye out for students with red LLM folders amongst the sea of 200 students carrying black MALD folders; seeing all the red folders in one place was comforting, particularly in the first few days when everything seemed unfamiliar!

This brings me to my bucket list, described in my first post.  Nearly four months gone, a couple of check marks in and a couple of new additions to the list.  I did go for my first Black Friday sale but, most disappointingly, didn’t stand in a queue to get in or even wait in a line to check out, but did leave with more bags than I anticipated!  I also did buy my first lottery ticket but, sadly, lady luck wasn’t on my side that day.  Building a snowperson still remains on the list and, by my next post, I hope that I check it off.  A couple of new additions to my bucket list are to go for an ice hockey game and, if I can muster up the courage, to go ice skating.  After a couple of falls just walking in the snow, I’m very wary of going on the ice!

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Before he wrote this fall-semester update, Pulkit asked me whether he could describe some challenges he experienced.  That seemed like a great topic to me.  Fletcher students work hard!  And the Admissions Committee needs to ensure that every admitted student will succeed.  Pulkit’s reflection captures nicely the balance that all students seek and the particular challenges faced by folks who are looking for an academic or career shift.

As I sat down to write my last post before the end of 2017, I couldn’t fathom that I was about to finish three semesters at Fletcher.  Since the day I received my letter of acceptance, it has been an exciting and rewarding journey of self-discovery.

Fletcher has given me opportunities to push myself to give my best, both inside and outside of the classroom.  Apart from my regular academic work, a large portion of my semester was spent working as an elected Student Council representative.  As a student representative, I ensured that I was hearing and giving voice to the concerns and suggestions of the student body.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with the Office of Student Affairs, other administrative offices, and other student representatives to find constructive and sustainable solutions to issues related to student life and community at Fletcher.  That being said, this role had its own set of challenges — including decision making, coalition building, and receiving criticism.

Israeli-Palestine Dinner hosted by Mahmoud, Heba, Yair, Yonathan, and Jules.

The other big commitment last semester was serving as the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.  Apart from managing a team of staff editors and The Forum’s web page, along with the executive leadership, early efforts for this academic year included creating a new section of the website for student publications.  The idea is to provide a platform for students to publish the stellar work they are doing in their classes, for their capstones, and otherwise.  In addition, fellow Admissions blogger, Mariya, and I also facilitated a peer-to-peer learning series in partnership with the Murrow Center and Ginn Library.  At Fletcher, my peers are amazingly skilled in soft and hard skills.  To that effect we wanted to create learning opportunities for our fellow students and organized hands-on skill-based workshops in blogging, website design, and citations editing.

Reciting poetry at Open Mic Night.

Speaking of academics, my evolving interests also drove me to take more classes in the International Law and Organizations and Diplomacy, History and Politics divisions and study a mix of Human Security and Humanitarian Studies courses.

After three semesters, I can’t help but also reflect on some of the challenges I have faced along the way, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with readers.  As I had mentioned in my first post back in November 2016, coming from a physical sciences background, it was indeed a huge step for me as I transitioned to pursue studies in social sciences.  Most classes at the graduate level — at Fletcher and at Harvard — involve a large amount of reading.  With four classes, it became overwhelming to finish all the readings for a week.  I found myself challenged to finish my assigned homework in time, especially with all the extra-curricular activities I was involved in.  This was also a big change from what I was used to in the past, as most professors require us to finish the readings before a class.

Most of the classes are also discussion-based where students debate — be it on a particular article of international law and its potential implications on the ground or on a matter of policy.  One of the significant challenges I encountered was having an opinion on issues that were gray.  Before starting school, I had expected that solutions to complex world problems could be black and white.  Very quickly I learned that there could be multiple perspectives to and interpretations of a problem.  I also realized why it was so very important to understand all sides of an argument before making conclusions, and — unlike math or physics — even if there was no conclusion or final answer, it was okay.  In many of my classes I have been left with more questions than answers.  As one student put it — perhaps that is what graduate school is all about, to have more questions than answers, but also to have the ability to ask the right questions.

Another element of a professional graduate program is networking.  Fletcher has provided me numerous opportunities to meet and interact with illustrious alumni and important persons in the field of international relations.  But it has not been easy to feel comfortable at networking — building relationships with different professors, attending conferences and reaching out to folks working in the areas of my interest.  This again, was not something I was used to.  With a little bit of self-encouragement and push from my peers, I try improving and being better at it.

Besides managing my time, finishing my homework and fulfilling my extra-curricular roles, these are interesting challenges to have and to look forward to.  Overall, in retrospect, from taking classes across different disciplines with different professors, to learning about and from my classmates, and participating in activities on and off campus, my time at Fletcher has been such a joy and a life-altering experience.

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