Today we bid farewell to Akshobh, our final just-graduated student blogger. As with all of our departing friends, we’re confident we’ll see Akshobh in the future both out on the road and back at Fletcher.
I found myself writing this as I was on the road traveling to Los Angeles, diagonally opposite to Boston (more accurately Medford) in a map of North America, and thought this literal distance also translates into a perfect metaphor. After all, if one were to reflect on such an experience as Fletcher, it’s always better to look at it from a distance in order to gauge the two-year Medford whirlwind, and perhaps gain a clearer perspective.
So how does one accurately sum up two years of the academic avalanche of readings, assignments, group work, cursing your alarm when it reminds you of morning classes, the deluge of events, manic career fair networking, the New England cold that inspired Game of Thrones winters, and above all the truly diverse cohort of individuals and interests you come in contact with. It’s hard to pin it all down; how can anyone encapsulate a myriad of experiences with over 200 people in just over 20 months in 800 words?
The truth is you can’t, no one can, but what I am hoping to try and do here is to acknowledge how my two years of Fletcher have been seminal. Without waxing lyrical, the goal here is to try to honestly reflect on the Fletcher experience.
Back in late March 2016, I was visiting family in the United States from Singapore (where I worked then) when I found out I was admitted to Fletcher for the fall semester. And despite a visit to Fletcher and all the hospitality, warmth and effusive endorsements from alumna and current students, I was still unsure. Was it worth quitting my current job, going through an income drought, taking a financial hit and buying into an uncertain job market after that? To make matters worse, a personal loss in the family meant that I needed to defer my decision and put it on ice.
Over the next year, I spoke to countless friends, family, and anyone familiar with Fletcher about whether going to Fletcher was the right decision for me. It almost became a Brexit decision among those I consulted; that is, there was a ‘stay’ camp that said “don’t quit your job and take the plunge,” and a ‘leave’ camp that said Fletcher would open doors for me, and that I must go.
An investment banker friend who was in the ‘stay’ camp said it was madness to invest in school at this stage, in an uncertain economy, one where tuition costs can outweigh reasonable salaries.
My father belonged to the latter camp and said he would financially support me since the ‘interest’ he had in me was different from that of a bank. Puns aside, I was convinced that this new experience, despite the uncertainty, would be enriching, and that living on the edge of my decision was not going to help, so I decided to take the plunge.
Throughout my experience, I was careful to never once describe my time at Fletcher as a grad school. For me, it would homogenize the whole process. After all, one could go to countless grad schools for international affairs in different parts of the world, but Fletcher was unique. The diversity in the cohort wasn’t restricted to nationalities or languages, but also an eclectic mix of interests. From human rights in Latin America, to understanding mobile payments in Africa, to security in the Balkans, to working with blockchain and FinTech, Fletcher truly encapsulates a myriad of passions and expertise.
I would always facetiously say that you could say something as arcane as human rights of the Martians exploited by the Saturnian policy makers in front of the Jupiter Law Council and you would find someone interested in that. Jokes aside, it shows that the interests and intersectionality of various subjects all find a home at Fletcher either through the students focusing on it, classes offered, or professors with expertise on the same.
My own personal lesson was that I came to Fletcher feeling like Clark Kent (no reference to being a journalist prior to Fletcher), and a great school like Fletcher was the phone booth where Clark Kent throws off his suit and tie and changes into his Superman outfit. More than a second master’s degree, I was hoping for a career metamorphosis, a pivot from what I was doing, perhaps more accurately an Akshobh 2.0 version.
The truth is everyone’s career Superman looks a lot different, and the path to transformation means you encounter a lot of kryptonite along the way. That is the laborious tasks of assignments and papers, cramming through finals, the multiple networking emails, and the occasional job rejection. All of it is a part of your transformation.
Fletcher is the best DIY (do it yourself) kit. The best way to understand Fletcher is to think of an exquisite IKEA furniture item. You have all the tools and you have to assemble it yourself and unfortunately, there is no instruction manual to give you a step-by-step methodology. But the comfort lies in knowing that you have all the right equipment in place, even if it may take a while to find the right career path. But knowing you have gained the right tools means that it’s only a matter of time before things come together and make a good product.
My investment banker friend was right; going to a top school is certainly a heavy investment, but how can I possibly quantify the richness of the experience with the friends I have made, the things I have learned and the places I have seen through Fletcher? In fact, it is the richness of new experiences that enhances our satisfaction and understanding of profound and complicated things.
To the incoming class at Fletcher, to all future incoming cohorts, enjoy the experience and remember that the journey at Fletcher is what you make out of it.
This is my last blog post for now as a student blogger, but as the wise Dan Birdsall from Admissions told me, I can always sign in and write here as blogger emeritus.
Until then, goodbye for now.