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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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Today we’ll hear from Gary, our Student Stories blogger in the PhD program, who will return to the U.S. Marine Corps after he completes his Fletcher studies.  Though I’ve often watched as a parade of limousines and police cars escort a dignitary to Fletcher, I had never thought about the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the visit happen, and I’ve learned something from Gary’s post!

One of the great benefits of being a student at Fletcher is the visits of many senior officials and policymakers.  This includes not only leaders from the diplomatic, political, and business realms but also senior military leaders.  For my service, the U.S. Marine Corps, the fall semester saw a “bumper crop” of such visits.  During October and November, the International Security Studies Program (ISSP) hosted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fletcher alumnus General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (the senior uniformed officer in the entire U.S. Armed Forces); the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller (the senior officer in my service); and Lieutenant General David Berger, the commander of the largest field command in the service, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.  Between them, these three officers brought more than 120 years of combined service in the Marine Corps to the table.  However, I’m not going to talk about what they presented during their visits — in part because two of the lectures took place at ISSP luncheons, which are conducted off-the-record — but instead I’ll take a look “behind the scenes” at what goes into making a visit for one of these senior military officers happen.  (The Boston Globe carried an article about General Dunford’s visit here.)

ISSP Fellows with Dr. Shultz and General Dunford, November 14, 2017. (Gary is second from the right.)

General Dunford and his former professor, Richard Shultz, and the ISSP lecture.

As one might expect, a great deal of coordination typically goes into a visit by a senior leader.  Planning begins months in advance.  ISSP mails out the official invitations.  For last semester’s visits, this step took place before I even arrived on campus in September.  After that, suffice it to say that there are a lot of emails exchanged and phone calls placed to work out visit itineraries, menus, locations where people can change from civilian clothes to uniforms or vice versa, and more.  Sometimes the group emails a questionnaire with the questions they need answered for their planning process to move forward.  If one of the senior officers is arriving via nearby Hanscom Air Force Base, then there are additional considerations involving the base protocol officer, base operations, and so on.  If they arrive via Logan Airport, there is a different set of considerations.  There is local coordination for security and ground transportation.  For an ISSP fellow designated as the AO (“action officer”) for a visit, one of the key things to learn right away is the key contacts on the visitor’s staff — it might be more than one person.

For ISSP military fellows (who spend a year at Fletcher on a non-degree basis), coordinating these visits provides an opportunity to interact with the “brain trusts” behind the senior leaders.  Depending on where they are, these groups have different names — Action Group, Staff Group, etc. — but are composed of some of the sharpest young officers in the ranks.  For General Neller and General Berger, their teams consisted entirely of Marines, but General Dunford’s staff features officers from across the services and some Department of Defense civilians.  These organizations house planners, subject-matter experts, advisors, and speechwriters.  In addition to the planning groups, the senior military officers also have aides de camp in charge of coordinating logistics and other general-purpose matters.  It can end up being a pretty large retinue of folks when all is said and done — half a dozen people, or more.

After completing their studies, Fletcher graduates in uniform can end up working in these commander’s groups, based on their developed skills in diplomacy and negotiation, oral and written communication, and statecraft.  For example, the director of General Berger’s Commander’s Action Group, LtCol Sea Thomas, attended Fletcher immediately upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy.  (He was a MALD classmate of Fletcher Professor Rocky Weitz!)  On General Dunford’s Chairman’s Action Group, LtCol Todd Manyx (ISSP Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow in 2007-08) serves as a special assistant, and Army COL Abigail Linnington, who holds a Ph.D. from Fletcher (2013), is the director of the organization.  From the outside looking in, these groups appear to do meaningful, relevant work directly for senior leaders whose voices count.

General Neller engages in a small-group discussion with military officers after his November 28, 2017 ISSP luncheon.

It was a great professional honor for me to meet and interact with these three senior Marine Corps leaders. It is not all that often that a mid-grade officer such as me has the chance to meet top leaders.  I had served with General Berger previously in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005, so it was great to catch up with him now that he has ascended to near the pinnacle of his profession. During General Dunford’s visit, Professor Hess did me the great honor of providing an introduction to the general, and we spoke briefly, comparing our experiences as Marine Corps fellows at Fletcher.  However, the highlight for me was riding with General Neller from the airport to Fletcher, ostensibly as the “on-site lead,” bringing the senior officer up to speed on the “lay of the land” before he steps out of the vehicle and begins the luncheon event.  That did happen, but I also had the chance to chat with my service’s top officer about family, hopes for future assignments, and challenges and opportunities for the Corps.  That’s not something that happens every day — except maybe at Fletcher!

When high-level visits happen, things can get pretty exciting.  You must remain flexible when things change, sometimes even as the visit is already in progress, such as if a flight is delayed and you need to adjust the agenda in real time dynamically.  But once the visits end, things return to normal fairly quickly.  Then it’s back to classes — until the next visit!

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Continuing to catch up with our student bloggers following the fall semester, today we’ll hear from Adi, who is now one semester from completing the MIB program.

Now that I have officially finished the fall semester, I can reflect on what happened, while also looking ahead to my final semester at Fletcher.  What was particularly different compared to my first year at Fletcher was the feeling of freedom and flexibility in choosing my courses.  With most of my MIB core requirements out of the way, I see way less of MIB classmates whom I saw pretty much every day last year, while meeting new students and even fellow second years whom I never met until this semester.  (Surprising as that is, it does happen.)  My second year is all about electives.  I do have one more requirement, but I have decided to push that to my final semester.  So, my fall schedule was completely of my choosing.  I ended up enrolling in the Art and Science of Statecraft with Professor Drezner, Processes of International Negotiations with Professor Babbitt, Large Investment and International Project Finance with Professor Uhlmaan, and Petroleum in the Global Economy with Professor Everett.  Overall, I thought it was a fantastic mix of finance, markets, politics, and hard and soft skills, with topics that complemented each other surprisingly well.

MIBs at the Januarian graduation. (Adi is third from the right.)

My Fields of Study at Fletcher are International Banking and Finance as well as International Political Economy (IPE).  Project Finance and Petroleum both fit my IPE Field of Study, although I think even if they didn’t, I would still have taken these two courses out of curiosity and interest.  Negotiations could have satisfied my DHP requirement, but I already had a DHP course, so I took the course purely out of recognition of the importance of being an exceptional negotiator in whatever professional path I end up pursuing.  Statecraft was taken out of curiosity.  After all, Fletcher is a school of diplomacy, and Professor Drezner is one of the better-known names not just in the school, but in his field of expertise.

In the end, the courses were a great mix.  The cases discussed in Project Finance were fantastic, ranging from aluminum mines in Mozambique to stadium public financing for the Dallas Cowboys.  Petroleum was definitely an eye-opener into just how deeply ingrained petroleum is in the fabric of today’s society.  I may not agree with every single perspective presented in the class, especially on the topic of petroleum’s impact on climate change (understanding Professor Everett spent years at Exxon-Mobil), but it is definitely exciting to hear a well-structured and logical argument that is counter to what I am accustomed to hearing.  The two projects from Negotiation gave me the opportunity to dig deep and analyze the discussions between Indonesia and Freeport, operator of the biggest goldmine in the world.  Finally, in what other class but Statecraft with Professor Drezner would you have a simulation on how countries are supposed to react in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

Thus, my suggestion for future MIB students trying to figure out what to take for their electives is to take the best courses Fletcher has to offer.  Obviously, try to get any required courses out the way (in the first year if possible).  I would highly recommend the four courses that I took this semester, but your interests may not be the same as mine.  I only suggest that you not limit yourself to business courses at Fletcher.  For MIBs, our distinguishing quality compared to MBA graduates is Fletcher’s non-business courses, whether in law, security, or even gender studies.  Recognizing that these are courses that reflect Fletcher expertise would translate to us being equipped with knowledge and skills that make us unique and competitive in the job market, even as we seek MBA-type positions in consulting, investment banking, or multinational corporations.  Plus, I personally find it interesting to learn about something totally outside my main area of study — it enriches the learning process.

I think many Fletcher students agree that we came here wanting an education that would give us a multidisciplinary perspective.  Thus, at some point in our studies, we need to take a course that is the best Fletcher has to offer, slightly disregarding whether the topic is what we intend to build a career in.  I don’t plan to have a career in conflict resolution or policymaking (although never say never), but I am confident that skills from courses on negotiations and statecraft will come in handy, even if I do pursue a career in financial services as I plan to right now.

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The second student blogger end-of-semester wrap-up comes from Kaitlyn, who like many of her fellow students, appreciates a busy schedule.

This first semester, especially the second half, was a whirlwind of activity.  It had never felt so bizarre as when I passed in my last final exam and stepped outside the doors of Fletcher to realize there was nothing else on the day’s — or the week’s — itinerary.  After four months of non-stop activity it was nice to stroll across campus in the crisp winter air and soak in the relief that everything, for now, was done.  At the same time I felt restless.  Having an open itinerary might be refreshing to some, but my natural mode is to be busy.  Hence, as soon as exams were done: I baked chocolate cake for my classmates so we could all celebrate, finished the puzzle we’ve all been working on in the Ginn Library, and then sat down to write this blog post.  The principle topic on my mind was reflection: how did I feel after one semester?  What were my resolutions going into the next one?


1. It is okay to explore a lot of Fields of Study – and it’s easier than I thought.

At the beginning of the semester, surrounded by many peers who were already firmly established in their careers, it was tempting to think that I should have a very clear idea of the Fields of Study I wanted to focus on, and the specific classes I wanted to take.

And then I talked to more second years.

The advice I got from them ranged from: “don’t worry about Fields of Study — just take whatever looks interesting,” to “take one that will get you a job and one that is for fun.”

I’m too much of a planner to like the first option, but the middle ground between the two is one that suits me well: plan one, and give myself the freedom to build the second one based on what’s most interesting.  There are plenty of opportunities to explore different subjects, even with only 16 credits in the MALD program.  Auditing courses, attending special events, and talking to peers and professors are all ways my fellow first years and I have found to explore Fields of Study that didn’t fit in our schedules.  There’s also always that one class that takes you completely by surprise – as was the case for me and Art & Science of Statecraft.  I took it because it fulfilled a breadth requirement and looked the most interesting.  Turns out, it was my favorite class from my first semester!  I’ll be taking the follow up course in the spring.  I am not sure it will be part of a Field of Study, but if my experience in education has taught me anything, it is that following my interests is the most rewarding way to go.

2. Fletcher’s community really is the best.

I cannot emphasize enough how much everyone supports each other.  It is much different than undergrad; here everyone is equally passionate about their courses and equally invested in the quality of their work.  My study groups worked well together for the first time in my life, and I had my first good (actually amazing) experience with a group project in “Gender, Culture, and Conflict.”

And outside classes, our community in Fletcher’s dorm has become very close knit: we organized movie nights during exams, celebrated birthdays, and organized “Blakeley chats,” where our peers could give mini-presentations about their work and their experiences.  By far the high point of my semester was one of these community moments: Medford had its first snow just before finals started.  And my excitement and celebration over that was exponentially more memorable and special because I could share it with my friends and fellow bloggers (shout out Akshobh and Prianka) for whom it was a “first snow.”



1. Garder plus du temps pour pratiquer le Français

I worked hard this semester on reading and writing French.  I reached the point where I could do both without translating back to English, a proficiency goal I never thought I’d reach.  Next year I’ll take the oral half of my French proficiency exam and (security clearance pending) have an internship in Paris this summer.  Thus, my second resolution is to invest more time into practicing my conversation skills — by taking advantage of the language courses offered at Tufts’ Olin Center and carefully planning my spring classes around a French audit.

2. Get More Involved!

There’s never time to do everything that’s going on at Fletcher.  I didn’t try too hard to do so while adjusting to the rigors of grad school.  With my first semester over, my most important resolution for 2018 is to add more activities to my schedule: get more involved with clubs, attend more events, and buy a giant paper calendar to better plan my job and classwork around events.

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With the fall semester behind us, the Admissions Blog Student Stories writers are starting to report in.  Today we’ll hear from Mariya, who kept herself more than busy throughout the semester.

Hello readers!  It has been a while since I last wrote.  Let me take a moment to update you about my life at Fletcher.  Traditional wisdom has it that your third semester at Fletcher is the hardest — this has certainly been true in my case.

For me this year has been about change.  Physically, I moved into new, smaller apartment two streets over from my previous home, and acquired two lovely roommates: Riya, an old friend from last year; and Misaki, a first-year student from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.  Academically, I decided to switch up my security and diplomatic history courses with finance and investment courses.  Thanks to the flexibility of a Fletcher curriculum, doing so was no problem. And personally, I am making conscious efforts for self-care, including making time for mindfulness and spirituality.  I am grateful to the Tufts Chaplaincy and Fletcher’s meditation room, which have facilitated this growth.  Change is often stressful, but for me, it has been refreshing and beautiful.

Earlier this semester, Fletcher alumnus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford came to campus for a talk.  He said something that particularly resonated with me.  “To be successful,” he said, “surround yourself with good people.”  As I reflect on my fall semester, I feel grateful to be surrounded by good people who share my passions, challenge and motivate me, and make me appreciate the Fletcher community all the more.

Here’s a list of activities that have pushed me to new horizons — I hope it gives you a flavor for what a busy second-year MALD student looks like.

♦ Competing in a research challenge. Four peers and I submitted a 22-page report resulting from eight weeks of research, interviews, and model valuation for a medical device company as part of the Boston CFA Research Challenge.  Thanks to Professor Patrick Schena and mentor Cameron for their guidance and expertise.  We’re hoping to advance to finals like last year’s team!

♦ Serving as a TA.  I welcomed the quintessential graduate student experience: serving as the teaching assistant for an undergraduate course called “Peace Through Entrepreneurship,” taught by Fletcher alumnus Steven Koltai.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with and learning from both the professor and the highly motivated students.  One of my favorite moments from class is teaching economic development theory.

♦ Staying hopeful. Former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra and now Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont sat down with Fletcher’s State Department Fellows (Rangel, Pickering, and Payne) and shared his experiences and advice.  His wisdom gave us hope to continue our chosen paths in diplomacy.

♦ Sharing ideas.  I am so proud of the Fletcher Islamic Society for hosting a number of impactful events this fall, including an ISSP luncheon with Fletcher alumnus Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Aizaz Chaudhry, a guest lecture on the Palestinian Diaspora, a panel discussion about intersectionality and diversity in the Muslim community at the Gender Conference, and most recently, a community dialogue on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

♦ Interviewing leaders. What a privilege to sit down with Ambassador Chaudhry and with Sean Callahan, CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and interview them for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

♦ Role playing.  “Representing” the Chinese defense ministry, I helped my team devise a strategy to effectively respond to the hypothetical unfolding crisis on the Korean Peninsula for this year’s SIMULEX.

♦ Exchanging perspectives.  My “U.S.-Russia Relations” course, which Skypes with students at MGIMO university in Moscow, has given me an appreciation for the Russian perspective on world affairs.  It was great fun to moderate a panel on the “Instability in the Middle East and the Threat from Radical Jihadism” at the Fletcher-MGIMO Conference on U.S.-Russia Relations.

♦ Learning from professionals.  In Professor Michele Malvesti’s “National Security Decision Making” course, it was an honor to be in the presence of high-profile individuals who came to class as guest speakers to share their knowledge with us.  We had the privilege to learn from General Tony Thomas (Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command); Mr. Thomas Shankar (Assistant Washington Editor of the New York Times); The Honorable Derek Chollet (Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs); and The Honorable Nicholas Rasmussen (Director of the National Counterterrorism Center).

♦ Leading a workshop.  Recognizing the importance of professionally marketing ideas, Pulkit and I led a “Blogging and Website Design Workshop” supported by the Ginn Library and the Murrow Center.

♦ Celebrating Diwali.  Dressed in salwar kameez, saris, and kurtas, Fletcher folks came together to celebrate Diwali, Hindu festival of lights.

♦ Meeting a celebrity.  It was inspiring to learn about Michael Dobbs’ path from Fletcher to the House of Lords.  He was on campus for a two-week stint, teaching a leadership workshop, engaging in lectures and debates, and meeting students one-on-one.

♦ Cruising the Boston Harbor.  Thanks to a classmate’s friend, about twenty of us enjoyed a BBQ lunch on a cruise boat in the Boston Harbor.  What fun!

♦ Sharing my experiences.  My summer in Bangkok affected me in more ways than one.  After reflecting on my faith journey, I decided to share my poem “Return to Spirituality” at the Winter Recital in the Goddard Chapel earlier this month.

♦ Enjoying a home-cooked meal. There is no replacement for the intimacy and the deep connection that is shared when someone invites you to their home.  Thanks to the lovely Airokhsh for hosting a delicious Afghan meal for 15 or so of her female friends and allowing us to take a break from the hustle and bustle of student life.

♦ Organizing a Trek.  Much of my energy was devoted to organizing the first-ever Fletcher Pakistan Trek.  Though the trip won’t, in the end, take place, the leadership team and I worked hard to raise funds, design a robust itinerary of meetings and outings, coordinate with local contacts, and work within the school guidelines to make this opportunity available for 10 classmates.

♦ Presenting in London.  More details coming in the next post!

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Who reads a lot?  Students read a lot!  So, on behalf of the blog, Kristen invited students to suggest winter reading for all of us.  The list below is a mix of books connected to specific classes, along with books that would appeal to someone with Fletcher-ish interests.  And here’s the list, with the name of the student doing the recommending in “Fletcher orange.”

Ankit: Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
“This book provides a riveting account of a South African childhood at the time of apartheid and beyond.  A must-hear audiobook for anyone remotely interested in that era in South Africa.”

Meera: The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene: An Intimate History, both by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Emperor of All Maladies is a surprisingly gentle and empathetic discussion of the history of cancer and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011.  The Gene: An Intimate History discusses the discovery of the gene and the history of genetics.  Again, highly recommended for non-scientists interested in science-y things.”

Filip: The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong
“The book is an amazing read for people interested in how judges really decide cases.  In a time when the Supreme Court had to decide cases related to abortion, the death penalty, and Watergate, it shows how many judges make a decision based on their personal preferences first, and only then start looking whether they can couch their decision into a legalistic framework.”

Jared: Submission: A Novel, by Michel Houellebecq
“Taking place in 2022, a political satire where a traditionalist and patriarchal Muslim party aligns with the socialist party to win the French presidential election.”

Utsav: The Zero Marginal Cost Society, by Jeremy Rifkin
“This book changed the way I think about technology, society, and emerging trends important for humanity’s future.  What was also amazing is that the author is a Fletcher alumnus  (F68) and has the same birthday as mine, 26th January!”

Julio: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard
“If you like history, and particularly ancient history, you’ll love this book.  It takes you on a journey through Roman history in a really amenable way while based on the latest research and findings.  I particularly love how it allows you to peek into Roman daily life though anecdotes and stories, and how it connects the politics of Ancient Rome with today’s world politics.”

Protiti: This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel
“It’s a feel-good romance where the woman is actually in control, not a damsel in distress.”

John: Alamut, by Vladimir Bartol
“This is, perhaps, my all-time favorite.  Written by a Slovenian in 1938, it serves as an allegory for the absolutist fascist state of Mussolini.  It is set in 11th century Persia and details the story of Hassan ibn Sabbah, the leader of the hashishin cult, from which we derive our English word “assassin.”  The book is also loosely the basis for the Assassin’s Creed video game series.  Aside from the elegant writing and capturing imagery, the reader will be struck when they realize their empathy is directed as the 11th century equivalent of modern suicide bombers.”

Kelsey: “Leasing the Rain,” by William Finnegan
“This article is from a 2002 issue of the New Yorker, but is very Fletcher-y (especially for MIBs/business MALDs).  It’s about how privatization can go terribly wrong when community stakeholders are not engaged.”

Claudia: Havana: A Subtropical Delirium, by Mark Kurlansky
“I just finished reading Havana and it was great!  Lots of history but a very easy, engaging read.”

Iain: Dune, by Frank Herbert
“A 1965 science fiction classic that I finally read for the first time this semester.  Life on the desert planet of Arrakis touches on so many dynamics that are relevant to international politics today, from climate change and resource scarcity to inequality, great power relations, religious fervor, and guerrilla warfare.”

Colin recommends a few books:
Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, by Richard Neustadt and Ernest May
“The core text of The Historian’s Art, this book has changed how I view ‘time as a stream’ and make decisions.  In a tweet, don’t rush into anything … and be very careful with analogies!”

The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
“The single most influential book I’ve read at Fletcher (and not for class).  The subtitle says it all: this is ‘the definitive guide to doing the right things well.’  Fletcher folks can do many things well, but choosing which are the right ones to focus on can be challenging.”

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman
“Or any of her books, for that matter.  Tuchman is a splendid writer, and each of her books memorably and cogently address important events that formed the world we live in.”

The Leader’s Bookshelf, by James Stavridis
“As soon as I decided to come to Fletcher, I started reading what the dean was writing.  Here, he writes on reading — a passion of his, and a key skill for any Fletcher student.  From this book, I learned a lot about how to read (and picked up a few suggestions on what to read).”

Laura: The Arrival, by Shaun Tan
“It’s a beautifully illustrated wordless graphic novel that captures the experience of displacement and immigration.  Anyone who has felt like ‘a stranger in a strange place’ will be able to connect with the story and artwork.  Can’t recommend enough, and neither can Amazon.”

Greg: Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
“Written by the author of Black Hawk Down, this is a meticulously researched, well-rounded, and vivid description of arguably the most important battle of the Vietnam War.”

Hiram: Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Though well-known in some national security circles, it’s a book I wish more people read — people in economics and STEM in particular.  It presents a deeper and more multidisciplinary way of thinking about risk, and even when readers disagree on some particulars, they will learn from it and do their jobs more conscientiously.”

Oleksandr recommends two books:
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam
“The Korean War, with its causes and consequences, is crucial to understanding the Korean Peninsula today, and why the Asia-Pacific looks the way it does.  David Halberstam, who wrote The Best and the Brightest while toiling as a visiting professor at Fletcher, delivered yet another page-turner.”

Shoe Dog: a Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight
“Phil Knight takes readers back to the days when he himself was a young graduate of a small business school (Stanford) with no clue nor vision for what to do next.  His journey is both fascinating and inspiring.”

Ryan: The Taking of K-129: The Most Daring Covert Operation in History, by Josh Dean
“I actually bought this book a few weeks ago to use as a source while writing a Fletcher term paper on U.S. covert operations decision-making at the Presidential level during the Cold War, but I accidentally ended up reading it in 24 hours — it didn’t necessarily expedite the paper-writing process, but I was hooked from page one.”

Jonathan: Windfall, by Meaghan L. O’Sullivan
“It’s a very new book that observes that: 1) fracking has created a boom in cheap, cleaner fossil fuels; 2) this unconventional oil and gas revolution is putting tremendous economic and political pressure on OPEC countries/Russia; 3) climate change is demanding cleaner technologies still.  Given those observations, O’Sullivan argues that the ‘energy abundance’ will have massive geopolitical implications, causing civil strife and destabilization in legacy producer states and economic booms in states that embrace unconventional production and clean energy technology.”

And several students suggested a book by a member of the student community: Heil Hitler, Herr Göd: A Child’s WWII Memoirs from Occupied Austria, by A. P. Hofleitner
It’s about his grandfather’s experience as a child in Austria during WWII.

So there it is — more reading than any of us will do during the winter, but plenty to pick from if you’re interested.  Happy reading!

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Laurie gets the credit for the topic of today’s post.  She had learned that two of our new students were friends from their undergraduate days.  One of the two, John, is an Admissions Graduate Assistant, who told us, “Courtney and I met during our freshman year at Vanderbilt University and remained friends throughout our time in Nashville.  After graduation, we went our separate ways and fell out of touch.  Three years later, we were surprised to find ourselves together again in the MALD program at The Fletcher School!”  I asked John and Courtney to interview each other, and today’s post is the result.

John Zeleznak: We knew each other mostly through Model UN at Vandy, but we actually met first semester in a first-year writing seminar.

Courtney Hulse: That’s right!  But it was a math class.

JZ: So, the real question is: what were we thinking?

CH: I was thinking, “This is the way I’m going to avoid taking calculus.”  And then I ended up taking calculus anyway.

JZ: The same thing happened to me!  The writing seminar was called Cryptography.

CH: It was a cool hybrid between a history class, an English class, and a math class.  We did problem sets on basic cryptanalysis, and we also wrote papers on the historical context in which the codes were used.  I liked it because it was interdisciplinary.

JZ: Definitely!  And clearly we’re both still gravitating towards interdisciplinary curricula.

JZ: So for the past few years, I’ve been in China, and you’ve been in New York.  When I saw that you were in the Fletcher Facebook group, I messaged you and was like “Oh my gosh–are you going to Fletcher?”  And we reconnected and met up during orientation.

CH: I was so happy to know that I’d already have a friend at Fletcher.

JZ: A friendly face in the midst of the craziness that is orientation.  So tell me what you’ve been up to since graduation.

CH: I actually found out I got a job on the same day we graduated.  I was literally still wearing my cap and gown.  I moved to New York to join the policy team at the UN Foundation.  It was 2014 and the Sustainable Development Goals dominated the work until the agenda was agreed in September 2015.  Then the work shifted to other portfolios, like UN reform and peacebuilding.

JZ: Wow!  What was the most interesting part of your work with the UN Foundation?

CH: My favorite part was witnessing the race for Secretary General because it was much more transparent than it had ever been.  The president of the General Assembly used his position and influence to draw attention and legitimacy to a UN Resolution about reforming the way UN leaders are chosen.  He helped make selection more inclusive.  I followed the race for our organization.  It was fascinating to see these major changes happening from up close.

JZ: I can see why!  Was it your work at the UN Foundation that motivated you to pursue a degree at Fletcher?

CH: I noticed that many of the people who were doing the types of jobs that I eventually wanted to pursue had done graduate programs in diplomacy and international relations.  My boss at UNF had been a professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, so the first time I heard about Fletcher was actually at a panel that she was speaking on about IR graduate programs.

JZ: That’s pretty great.  So what solidified Fletcher as your top choice?

CH: I loved how interdisciplinary it is.  I’ve always been interested in the places where academic fields overlap.  In undergrad, I used political science and anthropology to look at how different cultures interact with each other and to understand public diplomacy.  I wanted to do more of that type of work in grad school.  I also loved how welcoming everyone is.  When I visited, the students I met treated me like their friend.  The Fletcher alumni I met shared fond memories, and it was wonderful to hear that they are still in touch with the with the people they met at Fletcher.  That element of community was something that I really valued and wanted to be a part of.

CH: So tell me more about what you were doing after undergrad and what drew you to Fletcher.

JZ: For the past two years, I’ve been serving with the Peace Corps as an Education Volunteer in southwestern China.  I was teaching at a university in Chongqing, which is a city of about 8.5 million people.  I was teaching mostly oral English, but since my students had pretty solid English skills, my department let me teach public speaking, debate, and negotiation.

CH: That’s so cool.

JZ: It was such a great experience, not only teaching English, but focusing on these specific skills and trying to get my students to be comfortable speaking English in a more informal setting.  I enjoyed getting to know my colleagues, my students, and exploring China.  My counterparts and I hosted a Peace Corps international creative-writing competition, convened discussion groups, and held holiday parties.  I think language study in China is very different than in other parts of the world, so one of the focuses of my service ended up being to encourage my students and colleagues to have fun with using English in unscripted situations.

CH: That’s really interesting. So what drew you to Fletcher?

JZ: After undergrad, I knew I wanted to get a graduate degree, but I was unsure about what to focus on.  I didn’t want to commit time and money to a degree that I wasn’t passionate about, so I took some time.  While I was in China, I realized I had a strong interest in forced displacement and migration, which may have stemmed from the experiences I had working with resettled refugee communities during undergrad.  I was looking at programs that had a strong background in international affairs, but that allowed me to focus on that subject.  Still, I recognized that there was a good chance that I would change my mind — being abroad for so long, readjusting to the U.S., and being back in an academic environment.

CH: So you didn’t want to commit to a program that only focuses on refugees and resettlement.

JZ: Exactly.  The interdisciplinary features of Fletcher’s curriculum were a big draw for me as well.  I was also really impressed by the Fletcher community and how it was highlighted at career fairs and virtual information sessions.  I had heard from current students about how there were a lot of opportunities to get involved on campus and that the student community is really active.  Having a strong sense of community was one of the reasons why I ended up at Fletcher.  There is also a large Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community here which has been really great as I readjust to life in the U.S. and life as a grad student.

CH: That’s so important.  This transition can be really stressful — from applying to deciding to moving to actually starting school.

JZ: Absolutely.  So, if you could give prospective students one piece of advice about applying to graduate school, what would it be?

CH: Talk to people!  And, if you can, visit.  I know that’s not feasible for everyone, but I remember when I visited thinking that these were my people.  Seeing campus really solidified my decision to come here.  If that’s not an option for you, talk to people who’ve gone through this experience.  Fletcher alumni are all over the world, and they love talking about their time here.

JZ: I would also say really get to know your program.  Know your school, but really know the opportunities that exist within your program, both with regards to the curriculum and to your career goals.  You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going, but you do need to think about how a program might help you get there.

CH: I really love that Fletcher has a required Professional Development Program during the first semester.  The staff urges us to ask ourselves questions about what we want to do and how we can structure our time here to prepare ourselves for a career in international affairs.  I’ve found it useful to be considering these questions early on.

JZ: I agree.  There’s a lot of self-reflection, and that’s been really helpful.

CH: If you can figure out where the gaps are, you can make a plan for filling them.

JZ: At this point, we’ve been at Fletcher for almost a semester.  What’s been your favorite part of your classes, your time on campus, your time in Boston?

CH: Probably the speaker events.  I’ve loved hearing from the impressive people who come to campus and from the professors who are already here.  They’ve spoken on such a wide range of issues and current events, and they’ve been very candid.  It’s also been fascinating to hear about the experiences that other students have had

JZ: For sure.  Everyone here has such different backgrounds, and yet, we seem to find a lot of connections.  Whether it’s working with the same person or living in the same part of the world or concentrating in the same fields, the people at Fletcher make the world seem a little more connected.  And I guess the fact that we both ended up here is a good example to make that case!

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Twice a year, we’re lucky to be able to connect prospective students with current students over a cup of coffee in a city near you.  How does this happen?  We ask students to volunteer, and they do!  Once they have pinned down a date and location, we’re in business.  As of today, the cities in which we’ll offer coffee hours is:

Abu Dhabi, UAE
Amman, Jordan
Ann Arbor, MI
Atlanta, GA
Bogotá, Colombia
Boston, MA
Chapel Hill, NC
Chicago, IL
Cleveland, OH
Dallas, TX
Dubai, UAE
Dublin, Ireland
Geneva, Switzerland
Hanover, Germany
Havana, Cuba
Islamabad, Pakistan
Karachi, Pakistan
Kathmandu, Nepal
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Los Angeles, CA
Mexico City, Mexico
Minneapolis, MN
Mumbai, India
New Delhi, India
New York, NY
Norfolk, VA
Phoenix, AZ
San Antonio, TX
San Francisco, CA
Seattle, WA
Seoul, South Korea
Taipei, Taiwan
Tbilisi, Georgia
Tokyo, Japan
Toronto, Canada
Washington, DC

There’s a good chance that more locations and dates will be added.  You can learn more here and sign up here.  (Filter for “off-campus events.”)  Don’t leave our students sitting by themselves in a café!  Join them, and other prospective students, for coffee/tea/whatever and a chat!


One of the most robust of the sub-communities within the broader Fletcher community is that of returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs).  They’re also a social bunch, and they organize themselves each year for activities.  To that end, students are invited to indicate where they completed their Peace Corps experience.  Here’s the list for this year.

Dominican Republic
Sierra Leone

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The final new Student Stories introduction comes from Akshobh, who started the MALD program in September after a journalism career.  Akshobh is a regular presence in the Admissions Office, conducting interviews for us each Friday.

In front of the Singapore skyline in my last week in the city state.

Leaving Singapore was excruciatingly hard!

I grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai), India and moved to Singapore fresh out of journalism school, knowing few people and precious little about the city state.

It then became home for seven amazing years, in two different journalism jobs, first with ESPN STAR Sports, and then as a business news reporter and producer with Channel NewsAsia (part of MediaCorp) the largest PAN-Asian English news broadcast channel in the region.

I often say that my career in journalism was a serendipitous affair.

The final 18 selected from India – I am third from the right in the second row.

I inadvertently stumbled into the auditions of ESPN STAR’s nationwide hunt for a presenter — through a show called Dream Job.  The winner of the program would be offered a one-year contract as a sports presenter.  I was short-listed in the final 18 among 100,000 applicants.  As one of the final 18, I would go through several televised rounds of high-level sports quizzes and debates, conduct mock interviews, and host mock sports bulletins in front of an elite panel of judges.  Each episode was broadcast on the network’s leading channel and beamed right into the homes of people across India.

Through the show, I realized I wanted to get into broadcast journalism and applied to journalism school.  One of the internships I pursued was with the same host network — my boss happened to be one of the judges who had seen me on the show and he offered me an internship in Singapore.  On completing a two-month internship, I was offered a full-time job for after my final semester in journalism school.

Interviewing Feon Ang, Vice President of LinkedIn, Singapore.

After a few years with a sports broadcast network, I segued to working for Channel NewsAsia as a business news reporter and producer.

I covered news pertaining to Singapore’s economy, and interviewed economists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policy makers across a gamut of industries.  I soon realized that I was fortunate to meet, and get these fantastic perspectives, from industry leaders; however I myself would also need to develop these skills and build on domain expertise.  The most conventional option was to look at business school after a few years of working, but I was more passionate about geopolitics, foreign policy, and diplomacy.

As a business reporter in Singapore, I saw the intersection between geopolitics and macroeconomic events.  Decisions made by governments affected economies and the private sector.  Hence I realized that a program at Fletcher would provide the best of both worlds.  Like all prospective students, I cast my net wide, applying to a host of business and international affairs school.  But the acceptance from Fletcher made all the difference.  Not only was Fletcher the first to accept me, but the outreach from the Admissions Office, current students, and alumni was so welcoming and hospitable.  My visit to campus as an admit sealed the deal.  I understood just why Fletcher epitomizes community.

Me on the left, interviewing a tour guide in the city of Mumbai, India.

This was back in 2016, however a sudden family emergency — the prospect of applying for my permanent residence in Singapore — weighed down on my decision to start in fall of 2016.  The only viable option was to request an unlikely deferral.  And to my surprise back then, the Admissions Office understood my predicament and ensured that I was able to defer my admission to 2017.

Staying on for another year in Singapore provided by far my most fulfilling professional year.  I moved to a new team at work, where I got to do longer and more in-depth business stories and travel to India to report on a country special episode.

At TEDx NTU in Singapore in October 2016.

In addition to my work, I was invited last year to give a TEDx talk at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore on journalism and was fortunate to moderate high-level panel discussions on media, technology, millennial employees, and smart cities across a range of events.

Then of course, the time came to be “shipping up to Boston.”  Having lived for seven years on the equator, the only weather change I was used to was between rain or no rain.  Moving from the tropical warmth of Southeast Asia to the blistering blizzards of New England was going to be a challenge.  But if anything, the warmth of the Fletcher community will be enough to fight off any New England cold.

For me, I refrain from referring to “grad school” since I feel it homogenizes Fletcher with all other grad schools.  Fletcher epitomizes diversity, like no other.  The diversity isn’t just in terms of nationalities represented (though, the Hall of Flags shows that).  The diversity at Fletcher is in terms of backgrounds, thought processes, and interests.

From human rights, to climate change, to gender studies, to energy, to diplomacy, to security studies, to understanding private sector merger & acquisition deals, there is truly something for everyone at Fletcher.  I feel positively overwhelmed with how much there is going on here.

Within my first few weeks, I was already co-chair of the ASEAN Club, taking up roles at Tech@Fletcher, a member of the Fletcher Political Risk Group, getting involved with the Murrow Center’s first televised bulletin, an Admissions ambassador, and interviewing experts for the Fletcher Security Review.

With Lord Michael Dobbs, Fletcher Alum and Author of House of Cards.

There is no normal day at Fletcher, although some days would include lunch and a political communications workshop with one of Fletcher’s finest alums — Lord Michael Dobbs, followed by a special guest lecture in class from a four-star general talking about national security decisions.

Fletcher’s biggest asset is truly its community.  From Fletcher’s Annual Faculty and Staff Waits On You Dinner, where faculty and staff don aprons and scurry along, carrying dishes to serve their students, to Fletcher Feasts, where students are randomly assigned to a host to break bread (sometimes literally) in the comfort of a home-cooked meal hosted by one of their own classmates, to when a professor opens up his house to students for a lazy Saturday afternoon picnic.  Or the creativity of students at Fletcher to come up with an open-mic night for the melodic voices, the amateur guitarists, and even for intimate poems and stories.

One of my best memories pertaining to Fletcher reflects the community, and came before I enrolled.  I met with Dr. Shashi Tharoor, F76, in Singapore, an Indian parliamentarian, former UN Diplomat and author — one of Fletcher’s best-known alumni.  As busy as he is, he simply said that when a Fletcher connection reaches out, he makes time for them.  That’s the meaning of community!

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