First-year Alumni: Mariya begins her Foreign Service career

Veteran blog readers might remember Mariya from her time as a Fletcher student – she was a prolific enough blogger to earn her own tag, after all! It’s hard to believe she’s been graduated from Fletcher for over a year now, and it was thrilling to see her at April’s Open House for admitted students as an alumni panelist. It seems only fitting to have her provide our first alumni post from the class of 2018:

مرحبا فليتشر! – Hello Fletcher!

Wow! It has already been a year since I wrote to you as a Fletcher graduate. Today, I send greetings from the nation’s capital, where I am currently living and studying Arabic.

After graduating from Fletcher this time last year, I packed all my belongings and left Boston for good. I spent the summer with my older sister Maryum and her two boys in Alexandria. I completed a short, monthlong internship at Population Reference Bureau, a research organization that analyzes large demographic datasets and creates tools and training that advance policy making around the world. For the other two months, I babysat my nephews: taking them to the library, parks, and the pool. I really enjoyed being a meaningful part of their lives.

As the leaves began to de-color and temperatures cooled down, I prepared for my dream career: the U.S. Foreign Service. I joined the “195th A-100” cohort in September 2018 with my Fletcher classmates Russell Hathaway, Norva Hall, and Priya Knudsen, as well 76 other accomplished individuals from all walks of life. “A-100”—the 6-week orientation training course for incoming foreign service officers—familiarized us with the State Department protocol, policies, and procedures; sharpened our skills in cable writing, negotiation, teamwork, and public speaking; and allowed us to get to know one another through social activities.

Perhaps the most exciting day of A100 was the Flag Day Ceremony, a tradition whereby newly minted diplomats find out their first assignment through a suspenseful announcement. As different country flags projected onto the screens and orientation coordinators called our names, one by one, an audience full of family and friends cheered and clapped boisterously. It was an electrifying experience! My heart pounded heavily as each flag appeared, and amidst the noise, I finally heard my name: “Mariya Ilyas going to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!” I was incredibly surprised and very happy! I have always wanted to learn Arabic and serve in the Middle East and couldn’t think of a better place at which to start my career.

Equally important was the Swearing-In Ceremony led by Secretary Mike Pompeo. On Friday, October 12, my “Lit 195th” (cohort nickname) colleagues and I took the oath of office to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America. On this special day, I was surrounded by family, friends, mentors, Pakistani neighbors, and even my college host parents (Wanda and Erv) who drove down all the way from Maine just for this occasion. It was a day of great honor for me and my family because it is the day we achieved the American Dream. To us, the ceremony symbolized one of greatest aspects of America: that even an immigrant from a working-class background can, with hard work and education, go on to become a diplomat and represent the most powerful nation on Earth.

On that day, I reflected about my life in the United States and the career on which I was about to embark. Some 20 years ago, a consular officer in Embassy Islamabad took a chance on my family. In granting us an immigrant visa, he probably did not realize that one of the four little girls at his window would one day go on to do exactly what he was doing. As I raised my right hand and pledged to uphold the Constitution, I thought about that exact moment: how that one officer’s leap of faith in my family’s desire to pursue a better life in America changed our lives forever. I will perhaps never get to thank that officer in person, but as I serve as a consular officer in Amman, I will never take lightly the power I have to change other people’s lives.

Since A100, I have been enrolled in a full-time Arabic language course at the Foreign Service Institute. I am learning to speak in the Shami (Levantine) dialect while reading in Fusa (Modern Arabic Standard). Arabic is a very beautiful yet difficult language, and I’m grateful to the highly qualified and patient teachers who encourage me every day.

Outside of my Arabic studies, I volunteer with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy as a managing editor of Charged Affairs journal, and participate in the OSCE Scholarship for Peace and Security 2019, an 8-week webinar course on conflict prevention and resolution through arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. I find these activities to be a meaningful way to blend my extracurricular, academic and career interests.

I have about four more months of training left in Washington. I’m already feeling time slip by. One of the blessings of this year has been the opportunity to be close to my family, who lives in Alexandria. I get to visit them every other weekend and even got to spend the Holy month of Ramadan with them. I look forward to spending the summer with them as well, before packing my suitcases and moving to Amman.

Speaking of which, let me know if you’re ever in the area! I’ll see you in Jordan! أشوفك بالأردن!

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