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Way back in the fall, an email snaked along to me and I reached out to the writer, Ammar Karimjee, a 2017 MIB graduate, to ask if I could publish it in the blog.  He agreed right away, so the delay in sharing it is all on me.  And yet with students entering in September 2018 still considering what this all means for them, and with the Class of 2018 searching for their own post-Fletcher jobs, I think Ammar’s post is instructive.  Note that the original recipients were staff and faculty associated with the MIB program and the Office of Career Services.  And, again, when Ammar refers to “a month ago,” he was reflecting on summer 2017, but I have confirmed with him that his work situation hasn’t changed.

About a month ago, I moved to Tanzania to begin work with One Acre Fund Tanzania (OAF) as an “Impact Ventures Associate.”  As many of you may know, OAF’s core model provides a range of products: better seeds and fertilizer, along with training — all provided as part of a reasonably sized loan to farmers across East Africa.  On average, farmers who work with One Acre Fund have yields that are 50-100% higher than similar farmers who do not.  In Tanzania, OAF works with about 30,000 farmers.

While the model has significant impact for farmers, growth is relatively slow because the work is very hands-on.  Each new community we enter has to understand the product, be trained, and see results only after a full growing season (or one full year).  To tackle that problem, my team is trying to understand other ways of approaching and impacting farmers that may be faster to scale than the model OAF uses traditionally.

My team is running a trial where we sell very small solar panels that provide off-grid electricity to farmers in the region.  Farmers see the result immediately, and over time, save significant money that they were previously using for other fuel sources.  More importantly, the product is much easier to roll out and does not require significant training.  The hope is that once we have achieved initial impact through this solar product, we can then use the relationships we have with farmers to offer them other products in the agricultural space — such as seed, fertilizer, etc.  We think that this may be a faster way (as compared to the core model) to create a bigger impact for a large group of farmers.

My specific role has two components: managing operations and managing impact.  I’ll be heading up all the logistics around our input distribution (warehouse management, quality control, distribution) for our 5000 farmers spread out over 50 villages.  Our two products at this stage are the solar systems as well as tree seedlings.  At the same time, I’ll be running a survey of about 900 treatment and control farmers observing the impact of both our products.  I’m currently managing a team of six people with two direct reports.  By April, those numbers will have grown to a team of around 20 and three direct reports.  I could not have imagined having this much responsibility — especially in terms of direct people management — just out of graduate school, but I am so excited and am already learning so much.  The best part is that my role will involve both impact evaluation and business planning/financial modeling, putting together both of my fields of study at Fletcher.

I also wanted to share a reflection with you all.  For the bulk of my two years at Fletcher, I thought I wanted my next job to be something that would serve as a stamp on my resume.  That’s why, as many of you know, I was looking at big consulting firms.  As you all probably gathered, I was never truly passionate about that work and I always knew it was a short-term stop on the road to doing something much different.

While I prepped for consulting and finance interviews and saw limited success, I continued to apply to positions I was more interested in, just to keep my options open.  I grew frustrated that I was consistently being unsuccessful in consulting/finance interviews, when I believed I was performing well.  I’ll never truly know why I didn’t get those jobs; however, looking back on the process, I have to believe that a large part of the reason is that it was obvious those roles were simply not a culture fit for me, and that came out in the interviews.

This summer, when my One Acre Fund offer came in, I was still waiting to hear back from a consulting firm about whether I would receive an offer for their Dubai office.  After lots of deliberation, I decided to take the OAF job without knowing the outcome of the other decision.  It meant a lot to me that I took the OAF offer not knowing about the other firm.  Perhaps I had this realization about culture fit a little too late, but I’m happy that I’ve had it now.

What makes Fletcher so unique is how many different interests and passions are represented at our school.  I think sometimes, especially with the MIB program, the need to do what we think is the “right career thing” overpowers the need to do what we truly want.  But there are too many people in the world who just go through the motions and try to check the boxes.  I find it incredible that Fletcher students, by and large, are not part of that thinking — and I’m very happy and proud not to have done that on an individual level either.

I know I’m rambling, but I hope that all of us can do more to help people fight for their true desires in their post-Fletcher jobs.  If any of you ever have a student struggling through the same dynamic I went through, please always feel free to put me in touch.

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Today’s Five-Year Update will be different from the usual because I’ve written it, with details and fact-checking provided by its subject, Manjula Dissanayake, F12.  Back in the spring of 2012, I had long heard about Manjula but I hadn’t actually met him until Kristen and I were staked out in the Hall of Flags one day, snagging students as they went by.  After that, Manjula and I chatted about putting together a post about his path through Fletcher.  Inspired by that experience, I launched the “Student Stories” feature, and included Manjula (then an alumnus) in the mix.

Since his 2012 gradation, Manjula and I have been in semi-regular contact and he’s been kind to include me on his busy schedule when he’s been in the area.  I’ve remained inspired by him and his work.  (Plus, he’s just a very nice guy.)  Today’s post will extend his story from that very first post to this point, five-plus years after his graduation.

While at Fletcher, at the same time as he pursued the standard MALD collection of courses, Manjula also pushed forward the organization he had founded before starting his graduate studies, Educate Lanka, by pursuing business competitions at Tufts University and elsewhere in the Boston area, resulting in funding and mentoring opportunities.  The mission of Educate Lanka is:
“To empower the socioeconomically marginalized children and youth” of Sri Lanka “with enhanced access to quality and equitable education, learning, and employment opportunities,” with a vision of “a Sri Lanka and a world in which opportunities are universal for all.”
This was a natural fit to earn support from the Fletcher community, and Professor Kim Wilson, Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti, and Professor John Hammock are still on the Educate Lanka Board of Advisors.

After Manjula graduated, he returned to the Washington, DC area and to running Educate Lanka full-time.  Each time he and I got together, what was always clear was how challenging it was to build sustainability for the organization.  Educate Lanka was successfully sponsoring students’ education through its unique online platform, but working capital and growth investments were seemingly raised dollar by dollar.  Then, in 2015, a game-changer: Educate Lanka received a Mastercard Foundation Management Grant of $250,000 (facilitated from the foundation side by Reeta Roy, F89), providing the funding stability that Manjula needed to be able to think strategically about Educate Lanka and its mission.  The organization has continued to grow and mature.

Beyond financial stability, the investment from the Mastercard Foundation allowed Educate Lanka to introduce a new social-private partnership model in Sri Lanka (in addition to and to complement the student sponsorship platform), involving major corporate/employer partners such as Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, and SyscoLabs to address the youth skills and exposure gap, making Educate Lanka students more skilled and employable and creating a pathway for an equitable, empathic, and inclusive society.  This video describes the partnership with Sysco Labs (formerly known as Cake Labs).

 

Along the way, Manjula’s work has attracted significant attention.  He was profiled by his undergraduate college, and the Sri Lankan Sunday Times.  He was selected for the Top 99 Under 33 Global Foreign Policy Leaders List; was given the Outstanding Sri Lanka Young Professional Award; was named an American Express Emerging Innovator in the U.S.; and was the winner of Millennial Impact Challenge by Huffington post.  Most recently, Manjula was a member of the U.S. delegation of entrepreneurs who attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November 2017 in Hyderabad and he recently completed his first executive education program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Manjula has also shared his perspective on educating the poor and on international education through his own writing, for the Diplomatic Courier (Future of Work and Global Talent and Non-Profits have Turned a Corner; Philanthropy should Follow) and for the HuffPost, as well as through a TEDx Talk.

Of course, as important as Manjula’s personal achievements are the successes of Educate Lanka.  Since its founding in 2007, Educate Lanka has achieved these milestones:

  • 1200+ students (ages 13-25; 65% female, 35% male) directly supported across 28 communities in all nine Sri Lankan provinces, from all ethnicities and religions;
  • 4500+ years of education funded
  • $500,000+ (around 70 million rupees) in micro-scholarship financing;
  • 450+ alumni with gainful employment.
  • 15 corporate and institutional partnerships
  • 250+ students trained on skills, competencies, and values

This story details an Educate Lanka success, as well as the complexity of the Sri Lankan education system.  It’s the first entry in a “Scholar Stories Series” to highlight the partnership with Mastercard on female empowerment in Sri Lanka.  (Links to future stories will also appear on Educate Lanka’s Facebook page.)

Educate Lanka has also created a global education program (under the private-social partnership model mentioned above).  Among the partners is the St. Mark’s School, right nearby in central Massachusetts, which invites Educate Lanka students to the U.S. every year for its Global Citizenship Institute. (Manjula is a guest lecturer in the program, and the students last year were hosted by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S.)

As for the next five years, Manjula told me, “I plan to focus the next five years on scaling the two interventions (the online sponsorship platform and the social-private partnership model) towards full sustainability and replication. This phase will position me to achieve my long-term goal of reshaping Sri Lanka’s education into a more inclusive, equitable, and relevant system that is capable of producing a workforce and citizenry that could meet the demands and obligations of our future.”

Whew!  Even for five years, that’s a long list of accomplishments and serious ambition.  I hope it’s clear why admire Manjula.  But I’d be giving a misleading impression if I didn’t note that Manjula’s past five years have included the usual post-Fletcher milestones, such as marriage and the addition to the family of an adorable boy, along with active involvement in a DC-area cricket league.

Manjula was a rock star in the Fletcher community and he has nurtured one of the most dynamic organizations with Fletcher roots.  I’ll certainly be staying tuned to Educate Lanka news so that I can follow its, and Manjula’s success.

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I know that Admissions Blog readers tune in at different points in the cycle — from the fall for application tips to the spring after decisions are released, and all points in between — and there’s limited time to sift through the archives.  One of my personal favorite features is Fletcher Couples.  If you have a spare minute, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these folks who discovered their true loves at Fletcher.  ♥ ♥ ♥

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Here’s a fun admissions-season story.  One of our current MALD students told Kristen about his visa application process.  She liked the story enough that we asked him to write it up.  Here, then, is the tale of Sebastián‘s road to Fletcher and the unexpected result of his visa interview.

I first heard about Fletcher when I was doing an internship at the Colombian Ministry of Defense in 2011.  Back then, Dean Stavridis was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and the Minister of Defense of Colombia was going to meet him on official business.  I was asked to do a profile on then-Admiral Stavridis for the Minister, and while I was researching him I learned about his Fletcher education, and the School peaked my interest.

About a year later (2012), as I was in the process of moving to Washington, DC for an internship with the Colombian Embassy, I met with my brother’s friend who had lived in the city for a few years to hear her friendly advice on DC.  As we were talking, she told me that she was not living there anymore but was visiting a few friends in town.  She was living in Medford and pursuing her graduate education at Fletcher.  I immediately remembered the school where the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO got his MALD and PhD degrees, and began asking her a lot more questions about Fletcher.  It was then that I knew that, in a few years, I wanted to come to this School.

Fast forward to early 2016, when I received my acceptance letter to Fletcher.  I was very excited and eager to begin this new chapter of my life.  A few months later during the middle of the summer, I finished up my job at the OAS in DC and went to Colombia to enjoy some time at home and arrange my student visa.  I went to the appointment at the U.S. Embassy and approached the Consular officer in charge.  As soon as he saw my paperwork, his face lit up with a smile and he began speaking to me in Spanish saying: “You’re are going to Fletcher!  I went to Fletcher!”

He was very happy and excited and told me that I was going to love it.  He also talked about some of his Fletcher experiences.  This coincidence was amazing and made me feel an immediate sense of belonging to the School.  Afterwards, he said that he would throw a going-away party for me before I went back to the U.S., and that he would invite some of the Fletcher alumni in Bogotá.

A few weeks later I was invited to his place, where a bunch of Fletcher alumni from different class years and nationalities were brought together to bid farewell to an unknown guy (me), soon to join this big family.  They all spoke about their experiences while at Fletcher, their challenges, and what life after Fletcher has been for them.  All of them offered some “Fletcher advice” and then finished by saying how much they loved their time here, and how it really opened doors moving forward.  This opportunity gave me a chance to feel all the Fletcher love before I officially arrived, and it proved to be a very good omen of what my time here has become: pure joy and intellectual challenge.

The Consular Officer, Patrick (far left), and Sebastian (far right) along with two alumni and PhD candidate Roxani (next to Sebastian).

 

The first year after graduating can involve lots of movement for Fletcher alumni — leaving the comfort of campus, trying new jobs and cities, and even reevaluating career goals when job markets change suddenly.  Today, we’ll hear from the first of several members of the Class of 2017 who are just wrapping up their first year post-Fletcher.  Sydney-Johanna Stevns was a two-year friend of Admissions while she pursued her MALD.  When we were corresponding about this blog post, I told her how clearly I could picture her sitting in the Admissions Office entryway, waiting for an interviewee or a visitor she would take for coffee.  When not helping out Admissions, Sydney was active with the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.

Like many of my classmates, I came to Fletcher planning to pursue a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.  At the time I entered, I viewed the field of international environment and development work as being on the upswing, but just in time for me to graduate in 2017, the landscape changed.  I decided to take a month after graduation to mentally regroup and think about a new career path while intensively studying Spanish in Xela, Guatemala.  In this mountain town, I still wasn’t far from Fletcher.  Nearby was a Fletcher friend who started a socially responsible shoe company in Antigua and another who was beginning her first tour as a political Foreign Service Officer in Guatemala City.

After my sunny month in Central America ended, I moved to Washington, DC to begin searching for work.  I reached out to Fletcher alumni and other friends I’d made during my time at Fletcher to learn about their work and to understand opportunities within their fields.  In the end, it was a Fletcher friend who saw a job posting on the Fletcher alumni job listserv, thought it would be a perfect fit, and forwarded it my way.  After responding to the post, I got a call from my soon-to-be boss asking if I could come in on Monday.  What started as a ten-day contract is now my full-time gig.

Hiking up to see the Pachacamac ruins for a much-needed break from meetings and conferences in Lima.

My role is Country Engagement Specialist with the NDC Partnership Support Unit (SU), hosted within World Resources Institute, focused on supporting Latin American countries while they amp up their action against climate change.  In many ways, the work I am doing as a Specialist is what I hoped I would do someday as an Economic Foreign Service Officer and still very much feels like public service.  On missions to Colombia, Honduras, and Peru, I have met with Ministries of Environment, Finance, Planning, Agriculture, Mines, and Energy, among others; representatives from the World Bank, UNDP, Inter-American Development Bank, GIZ, and other government embassies.  In these meetings we identify areas to collaborate across ministries and across international cooperation actors.  This is a central part of the NDC Partnership’s work to support developing countries in their efforts to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — promises countries made as part of the Paris Agreement to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Meeting with UNDP partners at the UN compound in Lima, Peru in February 2018.

As I’m writing this, I am sitting in Bonn, Germany, still jetlagged from my mission to Lima.  While our team is headquartered in Washington, DC, I’m working with our team in Bonn on a temporary assignment to get to know them and our German cooperation partners better.  We also have regional specialists based across the world.  Together, our team of thirty people comes from over fifteen different countries, making it feel very similar to Fletcher.

No two weeks at work are the same.  By nature of being effectively a “start-up” initiative, the NDC Partnership SU is constantly growing and improving its strategy.  At a week’s notice I might have an in-country mission scheduled to provide support for the local government, or be writing our work program and budget, or drafting an agenda for a meeting with our implementing partners.  Through this work I’m reminded of my time at Fletcher: my ability to convey a message convincingly gained from The Fletcher Forum; team management I learned working with FSIG; and ability to tell a compelling story out of a jumble of numbers that resulted from Impact Evaluation and Economic Policy Analysis classes.

Catching up with Fletcher friends during a trip to Boston to discuss collaboration between the NDC Partnership and the Climate Policy Lab at Fletcher.

As exciting and interesting as this job is, I’ve also learned that the jet-setting lifestyle is not the beauty I thought it would be.  There are some airports that I know far too well and half the time I cannot justify unpacking my suitcase.  But it provides insight into a world of international diplomacy outside of the Foreign Service and is always eased by the run-ins with Fletcher alumni and by the chance to learn about new cultures.

Although, during my time at Fletcher I was very focused on working for the federal government, in hindsight I see now that Fletcher’s flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum gave me the skills I needed to adapt when the job market changed.  It’s also clear how the relationships I built during Fletcher were the ones that made finding work and building a new career path possible.  The generosity of Fletcher students and alums, which I have continued to receive since graduating, makes me so grateful to have chosen Fletcher.

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Today we’ll turn back to the Class of 2012, and to a friend of the Admissions Office.  Kartik was a member of the Admissions Office staff for both of his two years in the MALD program.  I remember taking him along for a grad school fair in Boston.  It has been a treat to have an excuse to reconnect with him.

My path to Fletcher was fairly convoluted.  My first job out of college was in the Boston area at an economic policy consulting firm.  The job was mainly focused on economic issues around infrastructure development in the U.S.  As a kid I️ grew up in a few different countries and I️ really wanted work that would let me travel internationally as much as possible.  For the longest time I️ thought that would mean getting an MBA and finding a job as a management consultant or the like.  That was until a friend told me about International Relations as a degree and, after doing some research, I️ found out about Fletcher.

During Fletcher:

I had developed a quantitative background during college and my job.  When I started at Fletcher, I found that taking theoretical and qualitative classes on subjects I️ had never studied before was a lot harder than I️ had initially anticipated.  However the experience was definitely made easier by the professors and my fellow Fletcher students, who were a lot of help during that time.  I️ was lucky enough to get into Professor Everett’s petroleum class in my first semester, which I️ have to say was a definite life-changer for me.  I️ had known that I️ wanted to go into the field of energy post-Fletcher, but I️ wasn’t sure doing what/where — that class definitely helped make that decision for me.

My experience in the petroleum class solidified my belief that international energy was a space rife with interesting issues and it would be an interesting path to follow as a career.  What I️ learned in that class and others in the environmental concentration is content and skills that I️ still use to this day.  In hindsight, I️ also have to say that the classes I️ took outside of the environmental stream, like Professor Trachtman’s law class, were also very helpful.

As an aside, I️ want to point out that my extracurricular activities at Fletcher included hosting Fletcher Follies, and the experience of making light of often serious issues showed me a side of Fletcher that I️ hadn’t previously experienced.  I️t was a transformational and extremely fun experience.

After Fletcher:

Between my two years at Fletcher, I️ interned at a small consulting firm in Washington, DC that specialized in political risk and energy.  Then, after graduating, I got a job with a few colleagues from that firm who left to start their own practice in New York.

As a member of a small team, right out of grad school, I️ had significant responsibility for what I️ was working on.  This involved a lot of client sales and conferences along with actual research and presentations.  We were dealing with global energy issues where I️ got to travel to a number of very interesting places and deal with some extremely interesting problems.  These spanned the spectrum from corruption issues in Brazil to the opening up of the Iranian oil sector.

In 2015, after three years in that job, I got an opportunity to expand my energy work and go into the field of equity research for the energy sector at Bernstein, where I️ am presently.  Today I️ work on stock pricing in the energy sector — my team is responsible for setting a price for energy stocks that many investors trade off of.  In addition, about half my time is spent answering investor questions about various global and local issues that could potentially affect commodity and stock prices.  These topics can span anything that might directly or indirectly cause changes in the energy markets, which makes the job both very interesting and challenging.  I️ need to talk about what is happening with scud missiles falling in Saudi Arabia in the same conversation as the EPA’s clean air rules.  Many of these topics remain those about which I️ learned to form opinions in my classes at Fletcher.

The one thing that I️ do regret to this day is not taking the corporate finance classes with Professor Jacque.  Being in a finance job was not something that I️ had ever wanted or worked towards, but it definitely took me longer to learn the ropes because I️ didn’t have a background in finance.  In hindsight, I️ think the corporate finance classes would have been very helpful and I️ would recommend them highly to anyone who is still at Fletcher.  You never know when you might need them!

I️ have kept in touch with quite a few Fletcher friends who have been invaluable in both my professional and personal growth and being in New York has given me a real appreciation of Fletcher connections.  I️t is also incredible how many Fletcher graduates I️ have run into in countries around the world, whether I️ am visiting for fun or for work.

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Continuing an annual tradition, it’s Valentine’s Day, which calls for stories of Fletcher couples.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these eight alumni who gained more than an education from their Fletcher experience.

Eric, F95, and Caroline, F95
We were both dating other people our first year at Fletcher.  One of us was unceremoniously dumped at the end of that year, the other nearby with soothing words.  Those soothing words continued all summer by phone with Eric in DC and Caroline at Middlebury.  Feelings intensified when reunited in Medford that fall, with the minor issue of one outside relationship still in the mix.  Awkwardness was averted by hiding behind study dates that were almost always followed by dinner.  When the issue finally came to the fore, Eric asked Caroline, “Why are you afraid of trying this?”  Her answer: “Because it might work.”  Dating ensued.  MALDs were minted with no jobs in sight.  Caroline went to Philly, Eric to Chicago.  We reunited for a Fletcher classmate’s wedding, at which point another Fletcher classmate told us to choose to be together.  Engagement followed, though the engagement ring was quickly returned in favor of two tickets to Hong Kong, where we worked, lived, and had two daughters over eight years.  We’ve now been together 24 years, married almost 21.  We’re happily settled in Seattle and about to send our oldest daughter off to college.  How time flies!

The happy couple and their Fletcher friends — in a photo of a print from a pre-digital photo album.


Cass, F16, and Matheus, F16

We met at the New York Career Trip student/alumni reception.  After a few months, Matheus asked Cass on a date during Americana Night and she agreed after watching his performance on guitar.  We were married in Manhattan at New York City Hall with a handful of friends, totally impromptu.  We still wear the wedding bands that we ordered with same-day delivery from Amazon Prime, and we celebrated our first wedding anniversary at our Fletcher graduation together.

 

Sarah, F10, and Trevor, F11
Sarah and Trevor first met at Fletcher in 2010, and quickly bonded over their shared love of single malt Scotch and Professor Glennon’s classes.  In 2014, they made it official at a small wedding at a Virginia winery, attended by Fletcher friends from around the globe.  The couple make their home with their pup Diesel in Washington, DC, where Sarah is a Lead Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton and Trevor is the Deputy Head of Policy for the DC office of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  They enjoy travel, hiking with Diesel, hanging out with their fellow Fletcher alums in DC, and trying not to be too anxious about the state of the world.

 

Mary, F88, and Jim, F87, FG89
Fall 1986: Mary arrives at Fletcher as a new first year.  Settling into the dorm, she keeps meeting second-year students who say: “Oh, you were in the Peace Corps?  You’re interested in Students for Development Studies?  You should meet Jim!”  Jim returns from a summer internship in Somalia, reconnecting with friends who keep saying: “Hey, there’s a new first-year student you have to meet — her name’s Mary!”  And so we were matched before we met.  Turns out we had lots more in common than met the eye: similar family backgrounds and deeper values, etc.  A year later, we’d been married and welcomed Baby Aaron into our family in Blakeley Hall, where we had taken the job of resident directors.  Diapers before diplomas!  The Fletcher community was so warm and welcoming; our memories from those days are precious.  We headed to Washington, DC with degrees in hand, and Baby #2 on the way.  Since then, we’ve lived and worked in Thailand, Jerusalem (where #3 son was born), Croatia, and Vietnam, having wonderful family adventures along with great professional experiences.  Both of us still work in international development, currently living at home base in the DC area, where we continue to treasure Fletcher friendships as much as ever.

 

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Today’s update from the Class of 2012 is special in many ways.  First, it has been written jointly by two MALD graduates, Aaron Morris and Ho-Ming So Denduangrudee.  Second, Ho-Ming sent it along only a few days after bringing a new baby into their family.  Third, Ho-Ming and Aaron make up one of the first Fletcher Couples I featured on the blog.  Finally, as a first-year student, Ho-Ming wrote about her long path to Fletcher.

Pre-Fletcher

Similar to a lot of future Fletcher classmates, it turns out we lived and worked at random places at the same time: Boston, post-undergrad where Aaron worked in investment consulting and Ho-Ming worked as a research assistant and at a climbing gym; Thailand, where Aaron worked on the Thai-Burmese border with former political prisoners on advocacy projects, and Ho-Ming worked on indigenous rights and community development projects across the region; and Colorado, where Aaron valeted cars and ski bummed, and Ho-Ming worked for a small human rights defenders fund.  Aaron knew he wanted to contribute to bridging the business and international development worlds, and Ho-Ming was interested in minority rights.

At Fletcher

We met on the first day of orientation and were on seemingly different tracks: Aaron was a development economics/security studies MALD and eventually became an advisee of Professor Block; Ho-Ming went to Fletcher to study human rights with Professor Hannum, who had previously taught one of her early mentors at the UN.  At Fletcher, we were constantly challenged to work on and be exposed to topics beyond the scope of our respective foci, whether by each other or by our peers, professors, the curriculum, or the institution.  We quickly learned there are no silos in our interrelated world, and a Fletcher education continually underscores this.  Some horizon-broadening moments were more trying than others — for instance, that semester when Aaron convinced Ho-Ming that taking Professor Jacque’s Corporate Finance class would be a great idea.  It is a great idea.  There may be some tears and terror alongside learning, but it is worth it.  (Opposite of a pro tip: if you actively try to avoid eye contact, rest assured, Professor Jacques will call on you.)

Post Fletcher

After graduation, Aaron took a job in Jakarta with the ASEAN basketball league in business development and strategy, and Ho-Ming signed on to work on indigenous rights and sustainable development as part of a United Nations forestry initiative.  In four wonderful years in Indonesia, Aaron ended up taking a job as a management consultant at Bain & Co., and Ho-Ming returned to community-based work through the Samdhana Institute.

Our Fletcher roots continue to manifest throughout our careers and lives.  While Ho-Ming was at the UN, Professor Moomaw facilitated key introductions to support the Government of Indonesia delegation during global climate change COPs, Fletcher alumni and students joined us as colleagues at various moments in our respective careers, alumni were generous with sharing their networks and many became close friends.  We even managed to expand the community in a small way, when a dear colleague and friend opted to attend Fletcher for a mid-career MA.  We were fortunate to be able to attend his graduation in Medford, which coincided with our five year reunion.

We are currently located in San Francisco, prompted by an internal transfer opportunity through Aaron’s work.  Ho-Ming has kept a foot in Southeast Asia, building fun partnerships, including this one one linking the outdoor industry, climbing, and an incredible indigenous activist/regional MP to pilot ecotourism and support indigenous tenure security in remote Eastern Indonesia.  She’s recently taken on a new position strengthening institutional partnerships at Build Change, a social enterprise focused on enhancing disaster resilience and recovery for low income neighborhoods in emerging markets.

Fletcher expanded our horizons and imbued in us a truly interconnected perspective on the world.  On the macro policy and industry level, this has been invaluable.  On a civic and personal level, particularly in divisive times, we are grateful that Fletcher taught us — above all — to listen and always be mindful of a bigger picture.  We might not always agree, but Fletcher has emphasized to us the importance of trying to understand.  As partners, as parents, we strive to serve as resources for each other and, we hope, a wider community that bridges industries, nationalities, and worldviews.  At Fletcher, we were given the tools to foster similarities that drive all of us, to strengthen the connections between us and, not least, to be thoughtful and reflective — to engage and look for ways to be inclusive, share responsibilities. and be thoughtful about how we can create a better world.

It has been a while since the blog featured a Five-Year Update, and I’m excited to kick off the profiles from the Class of 2012 — a group that seems especially full of wonderful people.  I’m extra pleased that the first of these posts comes from Vanessa Vidal Castellanos, whom I interviewed for her MALD application in 2011 and I’ve been in contact with ever since.  Vanessa is currently serving as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer.  When she was a student, she appeared in the Admissions Blog before running in the Boston Marathon.

This Five-Year Update is written from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I have been since September 11, 2017 — such an important date for many around the globe.  As I booked my travel to permanently change stations, the travel agent hesitantly asked:  “Are you sure you want to travel from the United States to Saudi Arabia on September 11?”  Honestly, the significance of that date hadn’t crossed my mind.  I thought back to exactly five years earlier when I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States of America on September 11, 2012.  That day, as I prepared to introduce our speaker before the swearing-in ceremony for the new Foreign Service officers like me, I choked and contained tears while watching on television as then President Obama and the Secretary of State received the bodies of those who had been killed in service in Benghazi, Libya.  It was at that moment that I realized how honored and proud I was to be joining the diplomatic corps of the United States.

My diplomatic career began after my admissions interview to The Fletcher School, which is when I first considered the U.S. Foreign Service.  I knew I wanted to work in public service, but also knew something was missing from most of the jobs I had heard of, and that was the international component.  Thanks to Jessica, who encouraged me to apply for the Pickering Fellowship after my admissions interview, I became a Pickering Fellow.  After graduating from Fletcher, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service — exactly the career I had dreamt of, I just didn’t know the name for it.  I went on to complete an internship at the operations center in Washington, DC, covering East Asia and the Pacific, but in tune with everything that was happening in the world.  I remember every day was something new, and briefing high-level officials as an intern was nerve-racking to say the least.  I questioned if I would be able to fulfill my five-year contract as part of the Fellowship.

After serving in various capacities at U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Switzerland, Zambia, and now in Saudi Arabia, I understand and appreciate the value of diplomacy to create mutual understanding between the people and governments of different countries.  I absolutely love engaging the people of the host country, hearing about their needs and dreams, and finding ways the U.S. government can provide support.  I have always said the United States is not a perfect country, but we have tons to share and I am glad to have resources at hand that I can offer and that mutually benefit others and the United States.  It’s not always as easy as it sounds.  Sometimes perspectives are controversial.  However, having people-to-people conversations about those standpoints and then influencing U.S. foreign policy, even if only in the slightest, is reassuring.

There is no question that without my education at Fletcher — thorny and touchy discussions, mock chief of staff meetings, public diplomacy, negotiation simulations, and sample policy briefs — and the network of friends I built, I would not have this diplomatic career.  The Fletcher community at the Department is real and truly vibrant.  (I always had my doubts if it could live up to the hype, during the annual Fletcher D.C. networking events.)  I am grateful for my Fletcher experience and the international worldview it gave me; I could not imagine my life without it!

 

Check out Vanessa’s video, which the U.S. Embassy shared on its Facebook page.  It’s from a series in which Embassy staff share details about their home towns. 

In yesterday’s Thanksgiving reading, Mariya’s interview, we learned about the early life and Foreign Service career of Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Peter Haymond and his wife Dusadee Haymond.  Today we’ll read about their experiences at Fletcher, where they met. 

How did you meet at Fletcher?

From the Haymond photo album: Dusadee Haymond in front of Fletcher Field during her student days, with Fletcher buildings in the background

Peter Haymond: Because of my background in Thailand, I sought out the Thai students at Fletcher when I first got there.  The student I was probably closest to was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as we got into the second year, he of course introduced me to the new crop of Thai students, and that’s when I met Dusadee for the first time.  She was already a diplomat for Thailand.  She assumed at the beginning that our graduating class years [Dusadee, F87 and Peter, F86] meant that I was older than her which led to, in the Thai way, showing respect for seniors.  A few months in, she found out that wasn’t necessarily the case.

We dated the summer after my first year.  Beginning from when I departed for Morocco (after completing my MALD), I was writing a weekly letter to this young woman here who I had met the previous year.  We had three years of weekly exchange of the old airmail grams, folding in three parts.  There was no email.  Phones were prohibitively expensive. We met once a year at one place or another.

Dusadee Haymond: I remember we met in the cafeteria and he greeted me in Thai!  But I just wanted to study so we were good friends for a year.  Then we dated summer of 1986 and got married in 1989.  For three years we were split, he wrote these beautiful, romantic letters.  Usually my responses were complaints, but he was romantic.

PH:  Our theme song was “Yesterday is Here” by Tom Waits.

Well today’s grey skies
Tomorrow is tears
You’ll have to wait ‘til yesterday’s here.

Mr. Haymond, what inspired you to complete a PhD after your MALD?

PH: I worked a bit for Dirck Stryker, [former] professor of economics who did a lot of development projects in Francophone Africa.  The summer between my first and second years, I spent at a livestock project he was doing in Niger.  When I was coming to the end of my MALD and casting about what to do next, he helped me learn about and apply for a Shell Fellowship, and found me a place to land with one of his collaborators in Morocco.  So I went to Morocco for a year as a teaching assistant with this professor at l’Ecole Nationale d’Agriculture in the city of Meknes, and did research for what turned into a dissertation.  It was on small-scale fruit and vegetable markets and the role of middlemen, because at the time there was a move in Morocco to try to take control of agricultural markets that were not already controlled by the government.

When I got tired of writing, I moved to Thailand to get married and worked two years — one year teaching English and economics at a private university and one year working in a financial firm — while she was continuing on with her diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I was working on my dissertation in the evenings, which is why it took so long.  And Dusadee kept reminding me that our agreement was she would only get married to someone with a PhD.

DH: Actually, I did that because his dad came around and asked me to make sure that Pete finished his PhD.  So I set the condition for getting married.

From the Hayden photo album: Peter and Dusadee Haymond (side-by-side on the right) with fellow Fletcher students.

Did you partake in activities at Fletcher?

DH: I didn’t attend parties much because I didn’t feel comfortable with my English.  I did a lot of Thai cultural promotion — Thai nights, cook Thai food, dress up in Thai clothes, and teach others simple dances.

PH: I hung out with the Thai students a lot.  Can’t say I was the most social person at Fletcher, but I was comfortable with the Thai students in general because of my background.

What were some of your favorite classes at Fletcher? Any particular class you recommend as a must-take?

PH: I was a development economics person and had a background in Asia, so I enjoyed those classes.  Some of the classes and lectures that had the most impact on me were when I tried something that was out of my comfort zone, where I did diplomatic history.  For example, a professor who had been there for 30 years gave a lecture on the Balkans and it was stunning.  I enjoyed and sought out classes following my particular interests, but the ones that made the most memorable impression were often ones where I didn’t know much going in and I wasn’t expecting anything.

DH: I was majoring in diplomatic history.  I remember a really good background course “History of U.S. Foreign Policy” taught by Professor Alan Henrickson. He is my favorite!  For a foreign diplomat, it gave you the across-the-aisle viewpoint about why Americans think a certain way and do certain things.

Any final words?

DH: Remember, the connections you make at Fletcher last a lifetime.

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