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With a semester in their rear-view mirrors, the first-year Student Stories writers are ready to reflect on fall 2016 at Fletcher. Today, Adi wraps up his first months of graduate study and tells us about the rapid evolution of his career objectives.
As the clock in Mugar 200 hit 11:30 and I submitted my final exam for Accounting, a realization hit my mind as well: I did it! My first semester of graduate school was done. I thought it was special that I began the semester in that exact same classroom. I reflected back to that first day of my pre-session course in August, a wide-eyed new graduate student attempting to readjust to student life. I had introduced myself to my classmates as an Indonesian, three years out of undergraduate, looking to identify new ways that the private sector can be involved in development beyond the typical corporate social responsibility programs. Thinking back to that August day, I also saw how my professional dreams have changed and evolved throughout those five months.
Within the first week of my pre-session, I remember attending two discussion talks by two different faculty members at Fletcher, Professor Kim Wilson and Professor Patrick Schena. Professor Wilson talked about financial inclusion through the lens of her research into how underserved communities in Jordan were enabled by money-transfer technologies, allowing them to take part in the market economy cycle. Listening to this talk, I was intrigued by the idea and started thinking about the possibility of bringing the financial inclusion model back to Indonesia after I finish my Fletcher education (or, if the model already exists, to find ways to further develop it). Here, my interest had already evolved beyond my first-day introduction. I thought about how I was not attached to the idea of the private sector being involved in development. I was more interested in looking at a private-sector model being utilized in the development setting. This is where my interest in Professor Wilson’s talk originated. Financial inclusion as an way to provide a platform for the targeted community to obtain capital resources, as opposed to simply giving them development aid, is a much more sustainable model.
A couple of days later I attended Professor Schena’s talk on the sovereign wealth fund (SWF) model. Using the example of the Norwegian SWF, Professor Schena discussed how the Norwegian government’s annual budget for national spending was significantly affected by the return the SWF generated that year. During this discussion, he introduced the idea of impact investing. A relatively new idea, impact investing has been gaining traction within the investment management sphere. More and more investment managers are pressured by their investors to allocate a significant portion of their portfolio to securities that have social impact. Prior to Fletcher, I had no exposure to or understanding of the investment management space, let alone impact investing. Nonetheless, I found the idea to be fascinating. Thus, after this talk, I thought about how to incorporate impact investing into my career aspirations. Understanding that I would first need to be familiar with investment management before jumping into impact investing, I ended up enrolling in Professor Schena’s Global Investment Management class.
Orientation came and went, and the fall semester began. I met my new classmates, both first years and second years, exchanging information on what we did before Fletcher as well as what we wanted to do after graduation. Despite the wide range of interests and backgrounds, I noticed that most Fletcher students wanted to have an impact, be it through non-profits, diplomacy, government, international organizations, entrepreneurship, or the private sector. It was thus fascinating to hear about different ways that impact can be created. Personally, I collected these ideas to continue to clarify my personal goals, as well as to see which ideas I could bring back and implement in Indonesia. Nonetheless, for a while during the semester, my career planning continued to focus on finding ways to implement financial inclusion (through financial technology) and impact investing in the development context. Then I talked to Professor Alnoor Ebrahim.
Professor Ebrahim introduced me to the idea of social impact bonds. As a professor of social change, Professor Ebrahim was very familiar with the idea of a market approach to development, as well as the evolution of public-private partnership models. At that point in the semester, I was pretty deep into my Corporate Finance, Accounting, and Investment Management classes, and I was familiar with bonds. Nonetheless, I had never heard of the social impact bond model. As it turns out, it was a model that brought together non-profits, government, and corporations (in the form of investors). The idea was that non-profits would run a program to answer a particular social need in the society. This program would be attached to a bond with a set of metrics defining what constitutes success. An investor would purchase this bond, and should the program reach its success metric, the investor would be paid interest by the government. Prior to Fletcher, my work was building partnerships between non-profits, governments agencies, and corporations in the health sector in Indonesia. Thus, this social impact bond model was thoroughly fascinating to me. The way I thought about my career developed again. This model was how I would combine my developing interest in financial inclusion with impact investing. This was the model that I was going to research further to see if it could be implemented in Indonesia.
Looking back, my first five months at Fletcher have been amazing. The courses, the student organizations, the activities, and the discussions have provided me with incredible insights into what is possible out there. I came into Fletcher thinking I had a solid grasp of what I wanted to do after graduation. Yet, as I conclude the winter break at the end of my first semester, I have realized how much my goals have been evolving. With every new discussion with a professor, lunch talk with a classmate, or simply another session for a required course such as Corporate Finance, I have learned new specific ways my goals can be adjusted. I am extremely happy that I had this much needed winter break, following the enormous effort it took to complete the first semester. Nonetheless, seeing how much my aspirations have evolved in these first five months, I personally cannot wait to see what the next three semesters at Fletcher will have to offer.
Students have been sharing their stories on the blog for quite a while now, but this is the first year when one of the writers pursued an exchange semester. Ever-intrepid Tatsuo spent the fall at Sciences Po in Paris.
In the third semester of my MALD study, I decided to join an exchange program in Paris. I wanted to study international relations from another viewpoint, though I know that Fletcher and the hills of Medford/Somerville are the best place in the world to study.
I spent my semester at the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po. Sciences Po is one of the best schools for politics and international relations in Europe. It was founded in 1872 just after Franco-Prussian War. French elites were shocked by their country’s defeat and also impressed by the power of Prussia, and they faced the need to change their education system. Sciences Po was the result of the effort to improve French practical education, based on the philosophy of political realism. The symbol of the school, the fox and lion, originated from Machiavelli’s phrase “be smart as a fox and be strong as a lion,” and shows what the founders felt they needed.
At Sciences Po, I took five courses — Grand Strategy in Diplomacy, Past and Present; Building Long-Term Relationships and Sharing Value with Stakeholders; Political Speechwriting; African Key Economic Issues; and Economics and Globalization — to earn four Fletcher credits, and I audited two more courses, Japanese Politics and International Relations; and French A1 (elementary French).
All the courses I took, except French A1, were taught in English; thus, the basic materials and styles were not so different from what I encountered at Fletcher, but there were still some interesting differences between a French (or European) school and an American school.
For diplomatic issues, I took a grand strategy course, mainly focusing on security strategies, taught by the former minister of foreign affairs of Costa Rica. In the course, and in other discussions of diplomatic topics, people mainly followed realism — based on basic political realism theory and great figures like Machiavelli, Clausewitz, and Bismarck who I “met” in the U.S. However, the “realism” I studied in Paris was a little different from what I learned in the United States. In discussions I had at Fletcher and other places in the U.S., people argued the survival of the state must outweigh all other concerns. Thus, there were many options that could be taken, including unlawful or unethical means. Additionally, the strategies for security tend to justify unilateral actions. On the other hand, the discussions in Paris I faced tended to exclude such unlawful, unethical, or unilateral options, intentionally or unintentionally.
On development issues, French development studies consider the historic background of developing areas, while American studies mainly focus on the current situation. Sometimes, French professors’ attitudes looked more emotional than rational. On the other hand, these attitudes or analyses brought me a deeper understanding of the regions and the people to be developed. Additionally, these attitudes were understandable and maybe useful for me, a Japanese development officer, because we also have complex historical backgrounds with the Asian countries we once occupied.
One of the most interesting courses in Paris was Political Speechwriting. In the French school, theoretical studies seemed to be the majority, while American professional schools like case studies. Even in the practical course for speechwriting, the professor took a lot of time to introduce many theories of Greek and Roman rhetoric. When I took the course, it was the very interesting time after Brexit. In that context, the professor analyzed American presidential debates and shared his concerns about the French presidential election coming up next spring. Through the course, I realized the great advantage of theoretical studies. At that time, most American (and global) media criticized Trump’s speeches and judged Clinton to be the winner of the debates. On the other hand, the professor evaluated Trump’s speeches in terms of their technical rhetoric while many people, including me, tended to analyze the speeches based on their content. The result of the election proved the advantage of objective/unbiased analysis based on theoretical studies.
Generally, my semester was a great opportunity to learn a lot regarding the different perspectives of the U.S. and Europe. In Japan, we tend to think of “the West” as a single actor and a single set of values. In the U.S., we tend to think of the American standard as the global standard. The three months in Paris gave me the background knowledge to avoid such misunderstandings.
It was surely true that everything went well in Paris. But I missed the family atmosphere at Fletcher, including its flexible and warm administrative offices and the close connections between students and faculty. I also missed the great academic resources around Boston. And I also love the comfortable hilltop more than the crowded buildings filled by thousands of students in the small campus in the middle of Paris.
In the end, the three-month exchange program was both long enough and short enough for me, even if it was too short to learn French, to explore Paris and other areas of France and Europe, and to enjoy the great food and drink culture.
Student Stories writer McKenzie writes today about an activity with which she’s involved this fall — an activity that you can join in, too!
It seems like just yesterday that we started the fall semester. Yet here we are, with fewer than 10 days until December and 25 days until the end of the fall semester.
As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun,” and fun I’ve been having! While Fletcher has no shortage of hectic weeks, it also offers ample opportunities to pursue activities specifically related to my career focus. With this in mind, I want to take a minute to tell you about a great opportunity to join the Fletcher Social Investment Group (FSIG) team, which competes in the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training (MIINT) competition each year, and ask for your help.
What is MIINT?
The MIINT is an experiential learning program designed to give students at business and graduate schools a hands-on education in impact investing. As a member of FSIG’s team this year, I’m helping to source, screen, diligence, and ultimately pitch an early-stage social venture to an investment committee in April at the Wharton School. The winning team’s company will receive up to $50,000 towards a total funding round of $250,000 to $1,000,000. While preparing for the competition, we also complete a series of eight online learning modules developed by the MIINT’s main sponsors, Bridges Ventures and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. It’s a great opportunity to step into the shoes of an impact investor and get first-hand experience identifying and valuing prospective investments.
What kind of companies is this year’s MIINT team looking for?
The MIINT program experience exposes us to the challenges associated with scaling impact investing — specifically, sourcing financially, socially, and environmentally attractive deals. To do this, our team is leveraging Fletcher’s uniquely international network to identify sustainable business models that efficiently deliver key products or services, and improve quality of life for individuals in emerging markets. For more information, check out our investment thesis here.
Excited? Here’s how you can help before even getting to Fletcher:
We have just three weeks left to source the best deals possible before identifying a shortlist of companies on which to conduct due diligence. If you or those in your network know of any companies that meet the investment criteria described on our website, we’d love to consider them for investment. The website also provides more information about our team.
Tell interested companies to complete our contact form as soon as possible to be considered for funding!
Note: Supporting FSIG’s MIINT team is voluntary and has no bearing on admissions decisions to The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Our final post from a new Student Stories writer comes from Mariya, a recipient of a Pickering Fellowship that helps her fund her education in return for a commitment to join the U.S. Foreign Service.
Greetings from one of my favorite study spaces at The Fletcher School: the ultra-quiet “Hogwarts Room” at Fletcher’s Ginn Library. I am surrounded by neatly stacked books, brightly lit lamps, students hard at work, and former deans looking down at us — either admiring our dedication or secretly laughing. I can never tell.
But what I can tell you is who I am and why I am here. My name is Mariya Ilyas and I am first-year MALD student. I was born in Pakistan, moved to the United States with my family at age eight, and grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, just seven miles south of the nation’s capital. The proximity to Washingtonian politics, exposure to diverse people and cultures, and having a dual identity cemented my interest in international affairs from an early age. I am grateful to the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which will allow me to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. diplomat and serving my country in a meaningful way.
I am here to share with you my experiences at Fletcher over the next two years. I enjoy blogging because writing for an audience allows me to process and reflect on my experiences, while also growing from them. As I navigate my Fletcher journey, my goal is to not just share the immense opportunities that are available at this school, but to also analyze how those opportunities are contributing to my personal growth and preparing me for my career. I hope that my entries will provide prospective students with another point to consider as they explore graduate school options. I also hope to look back on these posts in 2018 and reflect on my personal and professional development.
I came to Fletcher with a diverse set of experiences. I studied mathematics, sociology, and government at Bowdoin College, a small liberal arts college in the town of Brunswick, Maine. My time at Bowdoin prepared me for many “real world” challenges, including the New England winters — which became particularly handy when I took up a job in Boston after graduation. As a product analyst for Liberty Mutual Insurance, a fortune-100 company, I analyzed insurance data and implemented projects to increase growth and probability in the state of Kentucky. After gaining valuable business and financial skills, I switched gears from the corporate world to the public sector. Last year, I taught English in Antalya, Turkey through the U.S. Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program. This nine-month fellowship allowed me to appreciate a different culture, learn a new language, and get a glimpse of what it is like to live abroad. My extensive travels showed me the rich history of Turkey and the country’s breathtaking beauty, as well as the strength and hospitality of its people. Lastly, my internships at The White House and the U.S. Department of State (Pakistan Desk) exposed me to my future workplace: a complex federal bureaucracy with humble public servants.
This semester, my classes include Role of Force, International Organizations, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Arts of Communication, and a yearlong EPIIC Colloquium, hosted by the Tufts Institute of Global Leadership. Although I plan to concentrate in International Security Studies and Global Maritime Studies, my strategy for graduate coursework is to expose myself to as many different disciplines and topics as possible — Foreign Service Officers are generalists, after all.
Outside the classroom, I am involved in activities that push me out of my comfort zone, challenge my assumptions, and help me develop new skills. I am a member of the Arctic Initiative and the improv group, co-leader of Fletcher Students of Color & Allies, and co-leader of the Fletcher Islamic Society (which I helped re-establish this year). I am also conducting research for the U.S. State Department’s Diplomacy Lab under Professor Eileen Babbitt and helping fundraise for the Arctic and Energy conferences coming up in February 2017. In addition to these ongoing activities, I enjoy participating in opportunities that add to my learning. For example, I was one of 40 students who represented Fletcher at the Arctic Circle Assembly Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland; I played the role of Turkey’s interior minister at this year’s SIMULEX, and I gave a TEDx-style speech about blogging as a way to bridge the academic-policy gap at the Fletcher Idea Exchange. I’ve also signed up for impromptu activities such as participating in cultural nights, hosting a Fletcher Feast, or attending Professor Hess’s annual picnic. This might seem like an overwhelming set of commitments — and at times, it can be — but if there’s one thing I have learned at Fletcher, it is that Fletcher students are exceptionally good at juggling their commitments, and that being a part of 15 things simultaneously is the norm rather than the exception.
I have been at Fletcher for almost three months now, and I could not be happier. I remember my uncle, a retired Pakistani bureaucrat, once told me that the Pakistani Government used to send its entire corps of young foreign service officers to Fletcher because of its reputation and approach to the study of international affairs. I now understand what my uncle meant. In the short time that I have been here, I feel proud to be a part of a vigorous, yet modest, community of scholars dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems through interdisciplinary approaches and an international perspective. It was not just the world-class reputation that drew me to Fletcher, however; I was also attracted to the School’s flexible curriculum (including cross-registration at Harvard), diverse student body (each of my four roommates represents a different country), and the quality of its alumni network. But above all, I chose Fletcher for its caring community.
I would like to share an anecdote to illustrate my last point about the caring community. In April 2015, I was faced with a dilemma: to enroll in graduate school or defer my admission to pursue the Fulbright Scholarship. I called the Fletcher Admissions Office to seek advice, and spoke with Dean of Admissions Laurie Hurley. Much to my surprise, she said, “Graduate school will always be here.” She encouraged me to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Turkey because she believed it was the best move for my professional and personal development. In that moment I realized the Fletcher community was genuinely committed to my success. Looking back now, deferring my admission was one of the best decisions I made, because teaching in Turkey prepared me for a richer educational experience and world perspective — and I have the Fletcher community itself to thank for that.
The second post from new Student Stories writers comes from Pulkit, who has taken a multi-step path from an engineering degree to Fletcher.
Hello! My name is Pulkit Aggrwal and I am a first-year MALD student from India. I am excited to share my Fletcher journey with all of you. I am interested in writing for the Admissions Blog because, as I share my story, I will be able to reflect and critically analyze my thoughts during my time at Fletcher. At the same time, I hope these stories will resonate with readers, who themselves are either trying to discover new fields of study or explore uncharted territories, and I hope that it will give them the confidence to try and experiment. I also hope that, at the end of two years of my program, when I read these posts and look back at my journey, I will see how much I have learned, how much I have grown as a person, and how far I have come.
I was brought up in Chandigarh, a city north of New Delhi, a capital of two Indian states, and a city designed by the French architect Le Corbusier. I studied engineering as an undergraduate. Specifically, I studied electronics and electrical communication engineering. After graduating, I worked with McKinsey and Company as an analyst in the high tech and telecommunications industry vertical. I worked for clients across the consumer electronics, telecommunication, software, and IT services value chain.
After McKinsey, I joined a hospital in an administrative capacity, working on business development and strategy. During this time, I tried to enter into the Indian Civil Services as a foreign service officer. In order to make a contribution to my community, I volunteered as a teacher with a children’s not-for-profit organization called Make A Difference. As a teacher, for about four years, I was associated with Ashiana, a shelter home for underprivileged children, where I worked, mentored, and taught children aged six to 18 years. Later, I was selected as a Global Shaper Under 30 — an initiative of the World Economic Forum — where I worked on community issues related to urban mobility, gender empowerment, and community leadership. These experiences shaped my interest in international affairs and development. It is then that I decided to pursue graduate studies, to build an understanding of key international issues and develop a complementary skill set in law and economics.
At Fletcher, I am currently pursuing courses in International Security Studies, International Organizations, Human Security, and Development Economics. These fields are intricately tied to each other. I hope to concentrate on two out of the four Fields of Study and bring in key elements from the other two so as to have a complete perspective. Coming from a physical sciences background, it is huge step for me as I make a transition and pursue studies in social sciences. It is also a steep learning process as I get introduced to new subjects, terminology and their inter-linkages.
To add an international language to my skill set, I am auditing elementary French at the Olin Language Center here at Tufts. Outside of class, I am involved in a few activities and societies at Fletcher. I am a print staff editor for The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs and I volunteer with the Admissions Office. I am also working on a land rights project with the Harvard Law and International Development Society.
It has been three months since I moved to Boston and started school, and Fletcher has exceeded all my expectations. More than the curriculum, it is the people I have met and the constructive challenges that I have faced that have made my graduate student life so interesting and enjoyable. I have just embarked on this journey. There is so much happening all the time that I feel like I live a lifetime every day. No day is the same. I enjoy facing these challenges and tackling them one at a time. As I gear up for the final month of my first semester at Fletcher, I look forward to sharing more from my learning and experiences.
Today, let’s meet Adi, a first-year student in the MIB program who will be writing for the Student Stories feature during his two years at Fletcher. Adi has roots in both the U.S. and Indonesia and has spent long stretches of time in each.
To be honest, I had never considered Fletcher as my destination for graduate school. I had barely heard of Fletcher in the social circles I normally operate around. And yet, here I am, three months into my academic journey as a Master of International Business (MIB) candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and it could not have been any better.
I left my previous job in Indonesia looking for new ways I could bridge the private sector’s involvement in development efforts, beyond the usual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) donations. Thus, in choosing my graduate school program, I looked into either a Master of Public Policy, where I could design the regulatory environment for business involvement, or a Master of Business Administration, diving right into the innovation system within corporate organizations. I was even considering a joint MBA-MPP degree. In the MIB at Fletcher, I found the ability to do both, and so much more. My daily classes are filled with learning as much about corporate financing and risk of investments as about the political risk of being in a foreign environment. I haven’t even gotten to the full range of courses that Fletcher has to offer.
I have attempted to immerse myself in the Fletcher spirit by joining the Fletcher Social Impact Group, advising a start-up team with their market entry strategy into Boston. I am organizing two separate conferences scheduled for the beginning of 2017, with themes from innovations in international affairs to populism as a political risk. And, by attending lectures and events, I have interacted with senior managers from Boeing, Deloitte, GAP, and BCG, as well start-up founders. Sometimes, there are so many events happening that I simply cannot decide which I wish to attend. The relatively small but tight-knit community, the flexibility of the curriculum, and the wealth of event options have made the past three months very exciting, stressful, and colorful, all at the same time.
All of this excitement has made me wonder, as I reflect back to how I managed to get here: how had I never heard about Fletcher before I actually started applying? At first, I thought it was a lack of outreach from the School in Indonesia. Then, I looked at the profile of Indonesian alumni, and I saw former ministers of foreign affairs, heads of national planning, and directors from multi-national banks. I realized, there must be a Fletcher presence in Indonesia, and a pretty strong one at that. The alumni network in Indonesia, though small, actually holds key positions and are very influential. And the best part is that they, too, are proudly part of the Fletcher community.
The strength of the alumni network amazes me. I have heard about how most universities take pride in the diversity and success of their alumni, but I had never before heard, let alone experienced, how strong this alumni connection can be. Email any Fletcher graduate whose background you might be interested in, and you will very likely get a quick reply asking how they can help. In the three months I have been here, I probably have reached out to more than 50 alumni, and they all have responded, even if we needed to work around their schedules. And the more I am embedded in this community, the more I realize that this culture is not exclusive to alumni, but also current students, staff, and the faculty.
Quite simply, I feel that coming to Fletcher is one of the best decisions I have made. I cannot wait to see how the rest of my Fletcher journey will turn out. I can’t claim that I have gotten the full insight into what Fletcher has to offer, but I am definitely excited to see what else is out there.
I know that many Indonesians back home would be interested in joining this community, and will have a lot to add. And I know that many will benefit from the Fletcher experience, with the flexibility, the events, and the resources, to graduate ready to contribute back to the country. So here I am, hoping to ensure that people hear more about Fletcher. Here I am, to ensure that more Indonesians will make Fletcher their next stop.
Earlier in the fall we caught up with Adnan, McKenzie, and Tatsuo, our three returning writers in the Student Stories feature. Today I’m excited to introduce you to three new writers, Adi, Mariya, and Pulkit. Adi joined the MIB program this fall, while Mariya and Pulkit are both first-year MALD students. Mariya is a Pickering Fellow and Pulkit has a technical background — categories that represent a small but significant portion of each year’s incoming students. My hope is that applicants will see a little of themselves in the writers and that the writers will open a window for readers to view Fletcher student life.
We’ll kick off the new writers’ contributions tomorrow with Adi’s story of his path from working in Indonesia to joining the MIB program. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about these three new students.
Tagged with: Student Stories
Yes, you’ve heard that the interests and experiences of Fletcher’s student body are diverse. (We love that about us, and even within the Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy program, often call ourselves Peace MALDs, War MALDs, Business/Money MALDs, or Skills MALDs to highlight our various specialties.) But you won’t truly appreciate our eclecticism until you hear about the places we go during the summer. From volunteering for refugees in Greece and doing development work in Ghana to interning at NATO’s office in Italy and the State Department in DC, my classmates were scattered across the globe between mid-May and end-August. Though my own internship took me only 200 miles from Boston, it gave me an around-the-world, Fletcher-like experience.
UNICEF’s Headquarters in New York is where I interned for two months this summer. I worked in the New Talent Unit of the Division of Human Resources where I assisted the New and Emerging Talent Initiative team as they prepared to launch their recruitment campaign in August. Now in its ninth year, NETI is UNICEF’s professional development program that offers opportunities in various functional areas at duty stations around the world. I helped the NETI team with outreach and with developing a communication strategy. This included drafting and monitoring targeted ad campaigns for NETI job openings on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Ads, which I particularly enjoyed. My job also included writing content for and managing NETI’s internal website and social media pages, and preparing documents for performance reviews of current NETI candidates.
A lot of what I did was linked to my prior work experience in journalism and to my International Information and Communication Field of Study at Fletcher, so my internship allowed me to further develop my skills and add a new perspective. I also benefited tremendously from working closely with a small team as it gave me greater responsibility and the opportunity to be fully engaged while I gained insight on human resources, UNICEF, and the UN at large. Being at Headquarters provides interns considerable access to networking opportunities with UN staff, and to a fairly diverse set of events. I was lucky to be able to attend the first-ever townhall meeting with the candidates running for Secretary General of the UN; the World Humanitarian Day event which included moving speeches by a Syrian refugee family and by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie; and a concert by the Oscar winning composer A.R. Rahman on India’s Independence Day, a pass that I got minutes before the show.
When my friends asked me about my internship, I’d tell them it was like being back at Fletcher. My colleagues were all from different countries and the work environment was very congenial. Furthermore, I was surrounded by equally diverse fellow interns who were wonderful to hang out with. Sounds familiar, no? And Fletcher is indeed everywhere. I connected with a number of alumni working at the UN who were very generous with their time and advice. Additionally, about a dozen of my classmates were interning in New York, too — at UN agencies and elsewhere — and a bunch of 2016 grads had also moved to the city to start or look for jobs. We met up often to explore everything that New York has to offer, and it was always great fun! Overall, my summer was a rewarding experience, both professionally and personally, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way
Back to the Student Stories feature! In this year’s second post from a returning writer, Tatsuo reports on a summer when he barely stayed still. Tatsuo is currently pursuing an exchange semester at Sciences Po in Paris.
Last summer, I visited two different types of developing nations: four former Soviet countries in Central Asia and a newly independent country in Southeast Asia. My experiences in these countries moved me in a lot of ways.
After completing last spring semester, I first traveled to Alaska to visit the Arctic Circle and enjoy the beautiful summer. Alaska’s natural scenery completely refreshed me. Then, at the end of May, I joined the Central Asian Leadership Trek organized by the Center for Asia Leadership. The trekkers were mainly from Harvard schools, but also from other prominent schools including Stanford, Columbia, Sciences Po, and, of course, Fletcher.
During the nearly three-week trek, we traveled through four countries — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Compared with the Israel Trek I joined last spring, this trip had fewer participants, and participants also had to do some workshops or TED-style talks based on their backgrounds and expertise. Therefore, the participation was more active and we connected with the politicians, entrepreneurs, and students in this region more deeply.
Before traveling to Central Asia, I had some knowledge about the counties I would visit. All four of the countries became independent from the former Soviet Union 25 years ago. They also inherited many Soviet remains, including infrastructure and bureaucratic schemes. Most of them rely on natural resources for economic development, and their economies and societies are under the strong control of and regulation by the public sector.
I was surprised, though, to find a lot of diversity among the societies and economies, and their problems and possibilities.
In Tajikistan, I felt the Soviet atmosphere most, but also felt the economic struggle of the country since its independence. Kyrgyzstan was the most democratic country in the region. We enjoyed a lot of free discussions with central and local politicians, entrepreneurs, and young students; however, we also saw and heard about the problems related to the unstable, sometimes chaotic political and economic situation. We found that democracy and freedom of speech might not contribute to economic growth well. On the other hand, in Kazakhstan, we were surprised by the great infrastructure, well-maintained public services, and developed and modern cities under the authoritarian but stable regime, while we were also afraid that the further growth of the country — which the regime plans and promotes based on an opportunistic estimate a decade ago — might be uncertain in the current global market situation. Finally, in Uzbekistan, we were impressed by the beautiful historical remains, although we found an ironic contrast between such great tourist places and poor economic conditions, based on primitive agriculture and the chaotic national currency caused by the closed regime.
Talking with people — ranging from the higher levels of the public sector to the local youth — was very meaningful for learning about the realities of these countries that I, like most Japanese, was not so familiar with. Additionally, as I work on infrastructure and transport policy, learning about the regional infrastructure was greatly useful. For example, these countries largely rely on the old infrastructure that the former Soviet Union built and maintained. These plans and networks were not appropriate for the current economic strategies of each country, and some infrastructure, in particular road infrastructure that needs frequent maintenance, was severely deteriorated. Such a finding will contribute to my future research and policymaking regarding how Japan and the international community can support the region.
As a public sector official, I also felt that the career tracks of public elites in the region were very unclear, unpredictable, and vulnerable. I thought the people’s distrust for the public sector might derive from the weak and undeveloped recruiting system for public officers.
Last, but not least, the trekkers traveling with me came from a lot of different backgrounds and with different expertise. Sharing diverse perspectives on the region and discussing with each other made the trek much more special than just a sightseeing trip.
After the thought-provoking trip, I flew from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Timor-Leste and started an internship with a global NGO, the Asia Foundation, Timor-Leste.
I had two reasons to pursue the internship. First, I wanted to have an experience in a least-developed environment, and Timor-Leste is one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as recognized by the United Nations. The other reason was that I could contribute, based on my expertise as a policy-officer, because the Asia Foundation is a policy-oriented NGO.
In Timor-Leste, I mainly researched the public transport sector, particularly the aviation sector, which was receiving little attention. I struggled to research without basic statistics, institutional information — including the fundamental laws and regulations — or implementing capacity. No local officers understood their tasks clearly. No regulations actually worked. No one knew who could tell me about something I wanted to know. However, this chaotic and underdeveloped situation taught me about practical issues and challenges of today’s development studies.
In thinking about what we could do for the economic development and economic diversification of the country under such difficult conditions, I considered very basic questions for a public officer, an elite bureaucrat, and a person from a developed country: What is infrastructure? What is public transport? What is bureaucracy? And, What is a country?
During the two months, the deputy country representative and Fletcher alumnus, Todd Wassel, F06, and other helpful staff allowed me to research my field of interest freely in the very supportive environment of the office. I also used the resources of the NGO, including government contacts and visits to local districts. With that support, I was very satisfied with my internship, although two months was still too short to learn about the small but very diverse country.
It was also meaningful that I could compare this “least developed country” with other developing nations after visiting Central Asia. I know that there are many problems in such a struggling country, such as corruption and the lack of capacity in the public sector, the lack of economic and financial policies including a currency, dependence on importing goods, noncompetitive local industries, and even confusion over establishing an official language under great linguistic diversity. These problems cannot be solved in the short term. On the other hand, my experience of interviewing and making visits to the field showed me that public sector experts — those who take care of basic bureaucratic work in their developed home countries — must be playing a necessary role. People who work to regulate an industry, operate an agency, or manage a government should join the field of international development, because how the public sector works and develops can benefit from the advice of experts who actually have experience doing it. It was very thought-provoking for me, coming from one of the biggest and strongest public sectors in the world and studying international development.
Before the summer, I felt that a three-month break would be very long. (When I worked in Japan, my summer break was less than a week…) But last summer, I visited a lot of towns, regions, and countries, met many and varied people, faced a lot of troubles and fun, and learned a lot of things. Now, the summer has flown, and my fall semester in Paris has begun. I actually feel this summer was very short.
In the first of the Student Stories posts for 2016-2017, McKenzie reports on her internship in Johannesburg, South Africa this past summer.
Howzit future Fletchies! It was great to return to town after three months in South Africa this summer (or winter, as it happened to be in the southern hemisphere).
Living in Johannesburg, I worked at Edge Growth to expand the 10X-entrepreneur (10X-e) program for scale-up or growth-stage startups across South Africa. Through my job, I helped develop materials for 10X-e bootcamps and facilitated one-on-one growth strategy and execution workshops for portfolio companies of Edge’s flagship impact fund, the Vumela Fund. I also got to support the Vumela Fund directly, helping strategize pipeline development and deal sourcing efforts and contributing to the due diligence of a prospective investment.
Fletcher students use their internship to accomplish a number of different goals. Some use it to “test out” a new career field or to gain practical skills in a specific area, others to explore a new region of the world, and still others to conduct research for capstones. Through my internship, I reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a career in impact investing and gained experience working alongside a fund investing in growth-stage companies in an emerging market setting.
But summer internships aren’t only for professional growth — I took the opportunity to travel and see as much as possible of South Africa over weekends and public holidays. I attended braais (like barbeques), where I feasted with friends on grilled meats and braaibroodjes (pretty much a grilled cheese sandwich with onions and tomato), while discussing local politics and the municipal elections that were to take place in August. I attended my first-ever rugby match to watch South Africa’s beloved Springboks take on the Irish (and win!). I explored food markets in the reviving central business district of Jo’burg. I visited the sobering apartheid museum to steep myself in the rich yet horrifying past, and did yoga on Constitution Hill (a former prison and now the site of South Africa’s Constitutional Court), in honor of Mandela Day.
I was also able to travel to both Cape Town and Durban in the course of my work, and spent time hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head or dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean after facilitating workshops for some of Vumela Fund’s portfolio companies. Finally, while in Tanzania for a separate project with an Omidyar Network portfolio company, I met up with a classmate working in Arusha to take a short safari in Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed my summer and was able to find the perfect mix of professional experience and personal growth. While I was sad to leave a country I was only just beginning to know, I’m excited to be back at Fletcher and kicking off my second year. At the same time, I know that each semester goes by in the blink of an eye and I am trying to savor every day. For those of you looking to begin grad school this time next year, remember to enjoy the next eight-to-ten months, in between drafting your personal statements and updating your résumé. The time will be gone before you know it!
The photo is from my favorite hike in South Africa (so far — I hope I’ll get back for more one day…). It shows me halfway up the India Venster trail on Table Mountain, with a view of Lion’s Head and the Atlantic Ocean in the background among the mist and clouds.
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