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The second of the new Student Stories bloggers is Gary, who started the PhD program in September.  Today he shares the long road that he took to Fletcher.

My path to Fletcher started in 2012.  I was living in the Denver, Colorado area and I’d just completed a two-year stint on the Olmsted Scholar Program, studying for a master’s degree and living in Taiwan with my family.   It was time to pick my next big “stretch” goal.  After doing some research, I discovered that one lucky Marine Corps officer per year was assigned to a fellowship at The Fletcher School.  From the Fletcher website, it looked like a dream come true – immersed in international affairs, surrounded by students from all corners of the globe, making connections and building relationships.  How could I make it happen?  I knew that because of my rank and career timing, it would be a few years before I would be eligible for the fellowship, but in the meantime, I wanted to fill any gaps in my resume to make myself as competitive as possible.  Reflecting back now, this sounds a lot like the advice that Fletcher’s Office of Career Services has provided to all the first-years as we navigate the excellent Professional Development Program, designed to prepare us for post-Fletcher careers just as we begin our studies here.

I reached out to that year’s Fletcher Marine Corps fellow to ask how I could maximize my competitiveness for the fellowship.  He wrote back almost right away — his advice was just to keep on doing what I was doing.  And make sure to rank Fletcher at the top of my list when it came time to complete my “dream sheet” ranking of schools and fellowships available for majors, the next military rank higher than mine at the time.  While I was happy to have received a response so quickly, I was a little disappointed with the answer — was there really nothing I could do to prepare as I waited several years to become eligible?

In the summer of 2016, I had been promoted to the appropriate rank and it was time, at last, to fill out my “dream sheet.”  Of all the excellent options, I ranked Fletcher #1, just as I had earlier been told to do.  In the meantime, I had completed an additional master’s degree and been published in a few outlets to maximize my competitiveness.  I put some thought into a rationale for why I should be chosen over all the other majors in the Marine Corps for this opportunity, wrote it up to accompany my dream sheet, and hit send.  More waiting ensued.

The news came through in December 2016.  I was in Okinawa, Japan, near the end of a three-year assignment.  I logged into my email early one morning, and there they were, the results of the selection board – I was going to Fletcher!  Later, I would be told that because of Fletcher’s foreign language proficiency requirement, the officer selected for the fellowship was the first one picked from the entire cohort of several hundred officers.

After the elation of being selected for Fletcher had subsided a bit, I analyzed the situation.  Of course, I still needed to apply and gain admission.  Typically, the Marine officer at Fletcher pursues the one-year mid-career MA degree program, which is ideal for obtaining a great master’s degree while keeping officers close to their normal military career track.  This was the path taken by the Marine Corps’ most famous Fletcher alum, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and things turned out well for him!  However, coming into the fellowship I already had two master’s degrees and had recently begun looking for a way to get started on a PhD.  I knew that Fletcher had a great PhD program, but by the time I received notice from the Marine Corps, the application deadline had already passed.  I reached out to the Admissions team, and they agreed to allow me to submit a late PhD application.  I turned my focus to producing a quality application and submitted it as soon as I could.  I’d already been waiting years for this opportunity, but I would have to wait a little longer for the results.  No matter what happened, I was bound to have a positive outcome: in either the MA or PhD program, I would be at Fletcher the following fall.

When the admissions result came back in March 2017, my unit was in the midst of a major theater military exercise involving many foreign partners in Japan and Korea.  I had to read the notice a couple times to make sure my eyes were not playing tricks on me.  Every time I looked at the letter, it still said the same thing: I had been admitted to the PhD program!  I excitedly told my boss, who relayed the news to our organization’s commanding general and, during the busy ongoing exercise, I soon had a brief meeting with Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, who congratulated me in person and told me to do great things, study hard, and make the Corps proud.

Now, as what I believe to be the first active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer in Fletcher’s PhD program, I continue to work to define the administrative parameters associated with the opportunity.  As I mentioned earlier, Marines typically get only one year at Fletcher — not enough time to make much headway on a PhD.  But I was pleased by the flexibility and openness I found as I worked with key Marine Corps stakeholders.  To my delight, all parties reached an agreement allowing me to have a second year at Fletcher.  During the two years, I should be able to complete the three semesters of coursework required for external PhD admits and the written and oral comprehensive exams in my two concentration areas (International Security Studies and Pacific Asia), and defend a dissertation proposal — ambitious but not impossible to achieve, if planned and executed properly.

Unlike most other students writing on the Fletcher Admissions Blog, as a career military officer with over 18 years of service, I also come to Fletcher with my family, a wife and two sons.  We’ve greatly enjoyed the few months we’ve had in the Boston area since moving here in July and are looking forward to taking advantage of the diverse range of opportunities and activities in our home community of Arlington and in the surrounding towns, cities, and states.  One simple thing we enjoyed over the summer was easy access to great biking on the Minuteman Bikeway.  Now fall’s brilliant foliage and crisp, cool morning air is a great treat that we haven’t always been able to enjoy as we have moved between Hawaii, California, Taiwan, Colorado, Japan, and now Massachusetts.

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As promised yesterday, four new students are joining the Admissions Blog to share their Fletcher stories.  First up is Kaitlyn, who traveled a path from Massachusetts to New York to three other countries, only to find her international affairs home back in Massachusetts.

Hi all!  My name’s Kaitlyn, I’m a MALD student and I’m really excited to share the next two years of my Fletcher journey with you.

I’m a local: I was born and raised in Sandwich on Cape Cod, and have been all over Massachusetts and New England.  This might shock you, but winter here is my favorite season.  (I’ve even gone winter camping!)  All that home-town savvy has come in handy when my peers want advice about where to visit, and how to survive the winter.  (Pro Tip: cotton is rotten.  Fleece and polyester are your best friends.)

Prior to Fletcher, I earned my bachelor’s degree in Writing from Ithaca College in New York, where it is is even snowier than Massachusetts.  At Ithaca, I came to the conclusion that while I loved writing, I wanted to find something important to do with it.  My search for that purpose led me to a minor in International Communications and an internship with a London politician.  As a result, I fell completely in love with international affairs as a junior in college – too late to change my major.

Fletcher was an easy choice.  My earlier pivot towards international affairs was more difficult.  After graduating from Ithaca, I felt unsatisfied with my job options, but with a bachelor’s degree in a subject that was decidedly not related to international affairs, I wasn’t sure  if I should commit to the career change.  I needed time and space to think it over.  So I spent a year teaching English in the Czech Republic and France, and then completed a year of service with AmeriCorps right here in “Beantown.”  Both were instrumental in my decision to study at Fletcher.

In Europe, I was immersed in cultures and languages with which I was wholly unfamiliar.  It was my first time arranging my own travel and visas.  More importantly though, it was 2015.  I planned my trip to the Czech Republic while listening to the BBC, day-by-day, documenting the Greek economic crisis, and I began teaching there at the height of the migrant crisis (about which my Czech students had a very different opinion than me).  Witnessing Europe’s migrant crisis through that lens affected me greatly and left me considering what I could study that would allow me to help people caught in migrant situations, which I could see the existing system was not equipped to deal with.  It meant that, by the end of that winter, the question I was asking myself was not: “Is international affairs right for me?”  Instead it was: “What program?” And: “What do I need?”

As I was researching master’s programs, I began a year of service with AmeriCorps, which exposed me to the stark realities faced by minorities and migrants in my own country.  The demographics of the Boston charter school where AmeriCorps placed me were half students who hadn’t succeeded in the public school system, and half who didn’t have the English level to matriculate into an American high school.  I once again had students who didn’t share my cultural or, often, language background.  And I had students who were refugees, or ought to have been.  It was a crash-course in cross-cultural relationship building and a sobering learning experience on the hardships faced by people driven out of their homes by poverty, violence, or disaster.  I hadn’t needed to travel to a different continent to learn about the realities of human migration, or how the current international system lets people fall through the cracks.  There was a whole microcosm of people with first-hand experience sitting in my Intro to English class, right at home in Massachusetts.

Human migration wasn’t the only thing closer to home than I thought.  When I found Fletcher, it didn’t take long for it to stand out as my first choice.  I was excited by the flexible curriculum and the Human Security field, and (contrary to most of my peers) even more excited by the prospect of another New England winter.  Fletcher seemed perfect.  And there it was – a 20 minute drive away.

I’ve been a student for a little over two months now, and it more than exceeds my expectations.  I’m in my favorite kind of place — a community of people with a wealth of diverse experiences.  I feel very fortunate that I get to learn with and from them everyday.

At Fletcher, I live in Blakeley Hall, an on-campus housing option specifically for Fletcher students.  It was a blessing coming out of AmeriCorps (a volunteer job) to skip the stress of searching for an affordable apartment.  And everyone here appreciates that Blakeley is a two-minute walk from class.  I love living with this vibrant slice of the whole Fletcher community — even if sharing a kitchen is a daily exercise in negotiation and patience.  Yes, the bedrooms are small, but I’m not in my room enough to notice.  I’m at events, or workshops, or splitting a table in the library’s “Harry Potter room” with my friends, while we study and appreciate our mutual obsession – coffee from the red machine outside the library door.

So here I am: done with mid-terms, and midway through the first course in the Human Security field.  I’m familiarizing myself with Turabian style citations and working a few hours a week with the Tufts Literacy Corps.  I also spent two weekends last month in a mediation certification program.  There are some challenges: I am still trying to improve my time management so I can fit in more clubs and events, and winter is coming a lot slower than I want.  One thing’s clear though – with my B.A. in writing, I feel right at home here.

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It’s always a pleasure for me to get to know students through their writing for the Admissions Blog, and in that spirit, I’m delighted to introduce four new bloggers for this year.  Joining Adi, Mariya, and Pulkit are Akshobh, Gary, Kaitlyn, and Prianka.  Like many of our past bloggers, Akshobh and Kaitlyn are students in the MALD program.  They’ll be writing throughout their two-year experience at Fletcher.  Prianka is the blog’s first LLM writer!  She’ll be at Fletcher for only one year, but she’ll provide a welcome glimpse into LLM life.  And Gary is a new student in the PhD program, and the first who will write consistently about his experience.  Students can enter the PhD program after completing the MALD or MIB, or they can apply after completing a master’s degree at another university.  Gary took the latter route.  We know he’ll be on campus for two years, and I hope he’ll be able to make time for the Admissions Blog throughout both years, but we’ll figure it out as we go.

All of the blog’s writers are volunteers who applied for the opportunity.  Many of our interactions consist of me reminding them over and over to submit a post, followed by them reminding me to publish what they’ve given me.  (They have the better excuse, but I do struggle sometimes to be systematic in my posting.)  They’ve been given assignments and deadlines, but within that structure, I want them to tell the story that best reflects their experience.  Flexibility to build around a core structure is a key aspect of many dimensions of the Fletcher experience.

The first of the posts from our new bloggers will appear tomorrow.  While you’re waiting, feel free to peruse past writing.  The Table of Contents I provided earlier this semester will help you figure out who’s who.

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As promised, today’s post comes from second-year MIB student, Adi, who provides the final summer update from our continuing Student Stories bloggers.  Adi’s internship gave him a chance to test a new field, as he continues the career shift process he started in his first Fletcher semester.

At one point during my first year at Fletcher, someone told me that, in the end, everything was going to be o.k.  Everyone will do something during the summer break, be it an internship, research, writing, or catching up with old friends and family for two or three months.  As much as I wanted to believe that, I couldn’t help but get a little nervous when it was a couple of weeks after the last final of the spring semester, summer had officially started, and there was still no official offer letter for a summer internship.  I even flew back home to Indonesia, not knowing whether I was going to intern at all during the next few months, or just plain relax (or maybe start writing my capstone).

Adi (in the red shirt) and the CCB team at Citi Indonesia

Then the moment I had been waiting for finally arrived.  I was offered a spot in the Global Consumer Summer Associate batch at Citigroup’s Jakarta office.  While extremely relieved, I also came to realize that now the hard work would start.  This would be my first exposure to working at a global corporation, first time at a financial institution, in an industry far away from my previous professional background.  I was put on the Commercial Lending team.  My role was to support the business analysis and marketing staff in the division.  My main deliverable was an official guide for new employees of Citi Commercial Bank (CCB).  This meant that I had to learn how CCB operates, understand the complete business process down to the individual roles of each person on the team, and package all this information into a guidebook that would be easily digestible to a newcomer.

Throughout my time at Citi, there were many new learnings for me.  What was very noticeable from the onset was the fast pace of the work.  Prior to Fletcher, my experience was in the non-profit and public sectors.  Life at a private corporation like Citi was definitely different, in that on any day you could suddenly receive a million (figuratively) new tasks to be completed within the next couple of days (if not by the end of that business day).  Second, people were not lying when they said that working at a bank means you have to get good at Excel fast.  I learned more spreadsheet shortcuts and functions in the first week at Citi than I did in one year at Fletcher (or even my three years of work prior to grad school, for that matter).  Finally, I realized how vast the finance world is.  The Commercial Lending work that I had been doing during the summer was just a minuscule percentage of the whole operation that Citi does as an organization.  I really enjoyed learning about other functions within the bank, including corporate development, investment banking, and risk management.

In the end, it was a fruitful summer.  The skills and knowledge I learned from all three of Professor Jacque’s classes that I took in my first year, Professor Schena’s investment class, and Professor Trachtman’s fiscal and financial law class all came in very handy at different points of my internship.  To anyone pivoting to finance, or simply needing a refresher on the topic, I found the Wall Street Prep workshop both in the fall and spring semesters to be very useful during my time at Citi, and I highly recommend it.  Now that I have entered my second year at Fletcher, I have more context on how things click in the financial services industry.  I still am very much interested in exploring career opportunities in other parts of the industry, specifically asset management.  Hopefully, I will be able to build on my experience this past summer, and successfully navigate this exciting industry.

Family picture in Bukittinggi, Indonesia

 

 

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I’ve recently published posts by Student Stories writers Pulkit and Mariya.  Coming up next week is a summer update from Adi.  For those readers who are new to the blog, I should take a step back and point you toward the stories of all our past writers.  Each of these folks volunteered to write several posts during their two years at Fletcher.  I try to leave it to the student writers to choose their topics so that they reflect their own experience, but a little structure has developed over time, this year even including deadlines.

To make it easy to access each writer’s posts, here’s your Blogger Table of Contents.

This year’s returning writers are:

Adi, second-year MIB student

Mariya, second-year MALD student

Pulkit, second-year MALD student

Previous year’s writers were:

Adnan: F17, MALD

McKenzie, F17, MIB

Tatsuo: F17, MALD

Aditi: F16, MALD

Alex: F16, MIB

Ali: F16, MIB, who originally applied through Fletcher’s Map Your Future pathway to admission

Diane, F15, MALD

Liam, F15, MALD

Mark, F15, MIB

Mirza, F14, MALD

Roxanne, F14, MALD, who has also written occasionally as a PhD student

Scott, F14, MIB

Maliheh, F13, MALD

Plus, when I first launched Student Stories, I also included a first-year graduate, Manjula, F12, whose experience inspired me to ask students to write about their time at Fletcher, and which then led to the posts from First-Year Alumni.  I hope you’ll enjoy scrolling through and reading about all the writers’ Fletcher stories.

I’ll be introducing four (!) new bloggers in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned!

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Continuing to welcome back our second-year bloggers, today I’m sharing the first report for 2017-18 from Pulkit, who brings us up-to-date on both his summer activities and the start of his fall semester.  When you read about everything he’s engaged in, you won’t be surprised that he is also offering time-management support to other students.

Last time I wrote for the Admissions Blog, summer had just started and I was in the middle of my teaching assistant responsibilities with Professor Ian Johnstone.  After the course ended, I decided to stay in the Boston area for a long, warm, and wonderful summer.  I enjoyed it especially because it was quiet in Medford, and on campus.  I did not have to worry about rushing to classes or scheduled meetings in Cabot basement.  I took time for leisurely walks around campus, and went swimming and cycling.  I also spent time with my housemates, all Fletcher folks, cooking, watching movies, and traveling around Boston.

Later in August, I had the opportunity to visit Vienna, Austria and Geneva and Zürich, Switzerland.  The purpose of my visit was to gain exposure, for professional networking and academic activities.  I attended the ten-day International Summer Academy at the Institute for Peace and Dialogue in Baar, Switzerland, where I learned about the history of the Middle East, arms control, non-violent civil resistance movements, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution.  I also did a lot of sightseeing, and ended up walking 70 miles (112 kilometers) in a span of two weeks.  It was my first visit to mainland Europe and it was a great learning experience.  One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Fletcher alumni in Geneva.

As school started gearing up for another academic year, and in the lead-up to new-student Orientation Week, I decided to volunteer with the Office of Student Affairs.  This gave me a nice opportunity to interact with the incoming class.  I volunteered to facilitate the Navigating a Diverse World session and, along with Zoltan (a current Ph.D. candidate and former diplomat), led one of the sessions on Social Media Skills and Strategies.

As I jump into my second year of school, there are many things lined up for me.  I am taking four courses, and auditing one.  I will also be the teaching assistant to Professor Johnstone for ILO 220: International Organizations.  Even though it may seem a lot, this is essentially the story of every Fletcher student.

In my first year, I was elected to the Committee for Diversity and Inclusiveness, and I thoroughly enjoyed working as a student representative.  In spring 2017, I was nominated and elected to the Fletcher Student Council, and being an active student representative will be one prime responsibility and commitment this academic year.  For me, taking up these roles was about giving back to the School, as much as the School has done for me.  I also wanted to work with the school administration.

In addition to my committee activities, I am also the Managing Director for Digital and External Affairs, 2017-2018, for the student-led journal The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, where along with my co-editors, I will be responsible for the timely publication of articles for the print journal and web.  For The Forum, I will be managing a team of 12 senior and staff editors.  Further, I am the co-President of the Science Diplomacy Club.  Science Diplomacy is a rather new self-designed Field of Study at Fletcher.  With increasing conversations around nuclear security, environment, health and infectious diseases, Arctic issues, and cybersecurity, this specialization has become all the more important.  The club’s mission is to bridge the gap between science and policy, to ensure informed decision making.  Underscoring the club’s vision, we hope to bring science diplomacy practitioners and experts to the School for them to share their knowledge and experiences.

Besides my TA responsibilities, I am also working part-time at the Office of Development of Alumni Relations (ODAR), and as a Time Management and Study Strategy (TMSS) consultant at Tufts University’s Academic Resource Center.  ODAR is primarily responsible for Fletcher alumni relations, fundraising, and stewardship.  My responsibilities as a Graduate Student Assistant, among many tasks, involve project management and assisting with stewardship projects and annual fund initiatives.  As a TMSS consultant I work with undergraduate and graduate students at Tufts, to help them overcome academic challenges, and by providing them effective strategies to manage their work and time.

As I mentioned earlier, while it may seem like too much, Fletcher students are always known to juggle between multiples tasks, roles, and responsibilities.  For me personally, remaining involved in extracurricular activities is as important as academics and I wanted to prioritize out-of-class learning as much as in-class learning.  These experiences have helped in my personal and professional development, and are what I will eventually take with me as I move on to my post-Fletcher career.

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It’s great to have the Student Stories bloggers back on campus.  I’m in the process of selecting new writers even as continuing writers are sending me their first posts of the academic year.  Kicking off the summer reports is Mariya.  As it happens, she first wrote about her summer for the Fletcher News & Media page.  Check that out for the details on her work.  Today, she’ll tell us about some of her out-of-office activities.

While my internship at U.S. Embassy Bangkok was phenomenal, I want to share with you adventures that occurred outside the office.  Here is an assorted list of 14 unexpected things I did this summer — mostly in Bangkok, but also a few in South Korea and Singapore — that are not mentioned in the interview linked above.

1. Kissed, fed, and bathed with elephants at an elephant sanctuary in the northern city of Chiang Mai.  I learned that elephants are not camera-shy — one of them even flapped his ears in a video with me!  Too bad the elephants were a bit heavy to zip line with me afterward.

2. Became addicted to “boba” (bubble tea), especially green tea flavor.  I also loved coconut water, which I ordered at my every meal; and yes, I carved out the coconut with a spoon afterward.

3. Ate a range of exotic fruits I had never heard of or seen before, including mangosteen, pomelo, rambutan, water chestnuts, dragon fruit, papaya, and durian (known as the “King of Fruits”).  Fresh fruit from the street vendors was only $1.20 — I felt like the queen of fruits.

With Fletcher friends.

4. Toured various temples in Bangkok with Fletcher classmates Jittipat and Takuya.  In Thai, “wat” means temple, and it was interesting to learn about and compare the architecture and intricate designs of Wat Pho, Wat Saket (Golden Mount), Loha Prasad, Wat Benja, and the Grand Palace.  “Wat” fun!

5. Interviewed a Fletcher alumni couple, Deputy Chief of Mission Peter Haymond and his wife Dusadee Haymond, over lunch at their home.  Keep an eye out for the exclusive interview coming soon in my next blog post!

6. Visited pork, cattle, poultry, and dairy farms to learn about the efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  My internship supervisor was keen on my learning about the interagency process at an embassy and I definitely learned a lot about the “farm to table” supply chain process.

7. Shopped until I dropped — literally — at the Chattuchuk Weekend Market.  After a few hours in the heat and maddening crowds at the market, which sold everything you could ever imagine at bargain prices, I would come home and collapse on my bed.

8. Snorkeled for the first time during a speedboat daytrip to Phi Phi Islands with my college friend Dashawn, who was traveling for the first time outside of the United States.  Our weekend in Krabi also included riding ATV’s through a muddy obstacle course, riding an elephant through the jungle, shopping for gifts at the night market, and attempting to hike the monkey-ridden Tiger Cave Trail before sunset.  I am honored that Dashawn spent his first international trip with me.

9. Rode motorbikes that weaved through traffic.  While not the safest choice, they were definitely faster than the local “tuk tuk,” Thailand’s version of a rickshaw.

10. Invested in a custom-made suit in Phuket after feeling major FOMO (fear of missing out) when another visiting friend purchased multiple suits for his business school endeavors.  Tuk tuk drivers have a habit of dropping you off at suit stores to lure you in, and it’s quite tempting (case in point), so be careful if you visit Bangkok!

11. Relaxed at the spa at least once a week.  Thai massage is famous for combining acupressure techniques and yoga postures; in other words, compressing, pulling, stretching and rocking your body in every which direction.

12. Was captivated by the beauty of Super Trees and multimedia shows on the waterfront in Singapore.  Shortly after Ramadan, on Eid al-Fitr holiday, I was lucky to tour the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore, because it is open to the public only a few times during the year.  Singapore is known for its “racial harmony” and it was beautiful to see a mosque, Hindu temple, and a Buddhist temple lined up on the same street downtown.

13. Walked through the Third Infiltration Tunnel, one of four known tunnels under the border between North Korea and South Korea, as part of a tour of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  During the DMZ tour, we also visited Imjingak Park, Freedom Bridge, and the Dora Observatory, where I looked across the border into North Korea.  I felt like I was at the juncture of history and present.

14. Had serendipitous encounters with Fletcher friend Angga and a high school friend in Seoul. The Fletcher family, and apparently the West Potomac High community, is in every corner of the world.

A wise man once said, “we have nothing to lose but a world to see.”  With that mindset, I said yes to every adventure that knocked on my door, and blogged, as much as I could, about all of them.

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Student blogger Mariya, who will soon start her second year in the MALD program, has filed an early report on her summer, starting with the first phase of her multi-country experience in Asia.

After a short visit home, my summer started with a stint on the other side of the world.  In late March, I was accepted to the Mosaic Taiwan Fellowship, an all-expense paid two-week cultural exchange program sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China that “provides young U.S. and Canadian students and professionals an opportunity to explore Taiwan through workshops, lectures, home stays, historic site visits and extensive cultural immersion activities.”

I found out about this opportunity through a former Fletcher participant who advertised it on the Social List over winter break.  Although I had a summer internship lined up at the U.S. Embassy Bangkok via the Pickering Fellowship, I decided to try my luck and squeeze in the Mosaic Fellowship before departing to Thailand.  Thanks to Professor Ian Johnstone who wrote my letter of recommendation, I was able to secure this fellowship.

Mariya, Alexis, and Meredith at the Mosaic Taiwan gala.

I was very excited to learn that two of my Fletcher friends – Alexis and Meredith – were also selected to participate.  A Boston-based Taiwan diplomat told us over a pre-departure lunch in Davis Square that three students from one school was quite rare because the ministry tries to optimize its outreach by selecting one student per school.  I guess Fletcher kids just blew them away with strong applications!

It was my first time traveling to East Asia, and Taiwan was a wonderful introduction.  The Mosaic Taiwan program was well-organized, engaging, and eye-opening.  Our agenda was jam-packed with activities, starting at 8:00 a.m. every day and ending around 8:00 p.m.  The experience was enriched by the other participants — 25 Americans from across the United States and five Canadians — all of whom brought a unique perspective to the program.  And of course, it wouldn’t be an international trip without a Fletcher connection: a recent Fletcher graduate connected us to his parents who kindly treated us to dinner.

Here is a snapshot of what we were up to for two weeks:

  • Tours: We got a feel for Taipei through a city tour that shed light on the history and culture, Japanese-style buildings, and early churches.  We also toured street markets where we tried the famed delicacy “stinky tofu,” miscellaneous chicken parts, exotic fried seafood such as octopus and squid balls, and for those who could indulge, pork blood popsicles.
  • Site Visits: We visited landmarks such as the Taipei 101 Financial Tower, National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Chimei Museum, and National Palace Museum.  We also visited the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) as well as the Foreign Ministry.
  • Lectures: There was an emphasis on the educational component of this trip.  We attended lectures on topics including Taiwan-U.S. relations, cross-strait relations, defense policy, economic and energy polices, and healthcare.  These lectures enhanced my understanding of how regional history has shaped present-day Taiwan.  They also broadened my perspective on East Asian geopolitics.
  • Workshops: The program had an equal balance of hands-on activities.  We learned Chinese calligraphy with brushes (my favorite workshop); carved bamboo sticks to design harmonicas; hand made zongzi (rice and beans stuffed in large flat bamboo leaves) in a small village; kickboxed each other during martial arts; and wrote tea-making songs with the traditional sio-po-kua rhythm.
  • Overnight Trip: We took a high-speed railway to the southern city of Tainan, where we learned about Taiwan’s efforts to protect its natural resources.  We took a boat tour of Taijiang National Park and visited Fort Zeelandia and AnPing Tree House.
  • Local Organizations: Whereas the lectures gave us an overview of the island’s history and current affairs, and the workshops immersed us in Taiwanese culture, it was the visits to local organizations and companies that gave us insight into Taiwan as a functioning modern society.  By meeting with leaders of Kaiser Pharmaceutical, Design School, XYZPrinting Company, and Garden of Hope Foundation (humanitarian), we learned about Taiwan’s diverse industries and social efforts.  Exchanging views with students from the National Taiwan University was inspiring — the young people are very passionate about social and democratic progress in their country.  In fact, during our trip, Taiwan became the first in the region to legalize gay marriage.
  • Food: This was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the trip for me.  I am not a picky eater, but my dietary restrictions as a Muslim made it difficult for me to enjoy the meals, almost all of which included pork or were cooked in pork oil.  Still, I managed to indulge in seafood, fried rice, noodles, and vegetable soups and salads.
  • Group work: What made the Mosaic Taiwan fellowship so special was the collaborative component.  On day one, we all formed groups that became our official teams for the program.  At the fancy Opening Ceremony, the teams performed group chants for Taiwan representatives and Canadian and American government officials — we even made headlines in Taiwan Today.  Each group had a unique personality; my team, Love Taiwan, was voted “Most Enthusiastic.”  The Closing Gala Ceremony was our final celebration, where we were recognized for our participation with an official award and we performed salsa dancing and sang an acapella song.

After this trip, I can truly understand why the Portuguese sailors called Taiwan “Ilha Formosa” (beautiful island) when they arrived at its shores in 1542.

Mariya with the “Love Taiwan” group.

 

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I’m going to close out this blog week with the post that wraps up Tatsuo’s Fletcher experience.  It’s hard to believe that I met Tatsuo almost exactly two years ago, and he’s already back in his job with the ministry in Japan that sponsored his studies.  As much as any student I’ve known, Tatsuo made the most of his two years away from the workplace.  He traveled widely in the U.S. and beyond, pursued an exchange semester in Paris, had an internship last summer (relatively uncommon among students who will return to their pre-Fletcher workplace), and while on campus, built community with fellow students interested in Japanese culture and food.  In today’s post, he describes his return to work at the ministry.

Two months ago, I graduated from Fletcher and came back to Japan.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I am readjusting quickly to Japanese life and work.  I miss my days in the school on the hill, but I already feel like they passed years ago.

I’ve settled in Kasumigaseki, the district that is home to almost all Japanese central government agencies, and I am serving as the Deputy Director of the Transport Planning Division in the Public Transport Department of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).

In Japan, maybe like some other countries, the name of the government district — “Kasumigaseki” — is sometimes used as a word to symbolize “conservative,” “sectionalism,” or “stubbornness.”  However, we, the people in Kasumigaseki, are now facing the tide of many and great social and economic trends.

My new position is one of the difficult but interesting positions through which the government is facing change and challenges.  Due to Japan’s aging population and the end of high economic growth, Japanese cities and towns, especially in rural regions, are struggling with economic and social stagnation.  In these areas, public transportation faces decreasing demand.  Many local bus companies will be bankrupted.  Japanese Railway and other railway companies abolished many “unprofitable” routes that are still critical for the local society and economy.  A decade ago, some free-market-oriented policies that eased or abolished governmental regulations to control transport companies accelerated the trend.

My task is to revitalize regional economies and societies such as these to reconstruct the transport networks.  Many bus routes and railways were built in the age of high economic growth.  Most of these networks are inefficient for current demand, while the companies have heavily subsidized them and lost the capability to adjust to social/economic change.  Moreover, there are many innovations on the horizon to bring a new future to public transport, such as automated driving.

This work needs very broad cross-sector approaches and communication.  I am working with many colleagues beyond a single department, ministry, or regional government.  I work with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, and many businesses to tackle regional transport projects.  This complex approach is needed because we have to connect multiple transport modes, many industries, various technologies, and diverse thoughts.

The position has another unique dimension.  It is very close to “ground-level.”  MLIT is generally field-site oriented: there are tens of thousands of engineers and technocrats, in many branches all over the country, with a big influence on politicians and local governments through the huge infrastructure budget.  However, even in MLIT, such detailed field work that I am tackling is really rare.  For example, I have to check local governments’ transport network plans.  I am sometimes thinking about the location of a bus stop or route because of these very detailed transport network plans.

Although I am enjoying my new responsibilities (while struggling with terrible Japanese working conditions…) some colleagues or friends have said it’s unfortunate that this position is too domestically-focused for a person who just returned from studying in a foreign country.  They said that such a “global” person as me should be appointed to some kind of international work, for example international treaty negotiation, promoting infrastructure exports, or diplomatic postings to foreign countries.

However, in Timor-Leste, Kazakhstan, and many other places I visited throughout the world, I realized a truth.  To be a “global” person, we need to have “local” expertise.

I enjoyed working in Timor-Leste, not because my English was fluent or I had completed a year of studies, but because my transport/infrastructure expertise was very rare and important for the country.

Imagine if I had no expertise in Japanese industries, infrastructure technologies, or at least the culture and the society.  If I had one of those “international” positions, what should I negotiate for?  What should I promote to export?  How could I represent Japan?

Before Fletcher, I was a man who simply adored the image provoked by the words “global” or “international.”  But Fletcher taught me many dimensions of global politics, international business, and the lives of people in the world that I didn’t know.  I didn’t learn only on the Fletcher campus, but everywhere in the world that Fletcher opened up for me, such as Timor-Leste, Paris, Israel, and Central Asia.

My new position will give me very deep and special experiences and knowledge about regional public transport.  Many places in the world have interest in the questions: How can we build a transport network in areas without good economic/social conditions?  How can the public sector and private sector cooperate to manage transport infrastructure while maintaining market competition and people’s welfare?  Therefore I think that while this new position seems to be very “local” at first glance, it can strengthen my “global” career.

So now I am working in Kasumigaseki with big Fletcher pride.  If you visit Japan, please let me know, so we can talk about the hill in Medford.  🙂

And, if you do visit, I also strongly recommend that you stay not only in Tokyo/Kyoto/Osaka.  Please go to our beautiful regions — using public transportation!

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With today’s post from Pulkit, we’ll have heard about the summer activities for all three of our student bloggers who will be continuing on at Fletcher (and in the blog) in September.

Hello!  I hope all the readers of the Fletcher Admissions Blog are enjoying their summer; and if you are an admitted student, I look forward to meeting you soon.  It feels nice to be writing and sharing again.  The end of the spring semester was very busy — from winding up school with tests and assignments, to moving out of Blakeley Hall into a new apartment and traveling.  There is much to share, and I hope my story and experiences at Fletcher will resonate with you one way or another.

Pulkit (front right) with Fletcher’s other students from India.

Let me begin my telling you about my favorite class this past semester.  In comparison, it felt like spring semester went by faster than the fall semester.  I took three classes at Fletcher; the fourth was offered jointly by Fletcher, the Tufts Friedman School, and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.  International Humanitarian Response was taught by Dr. Stephanie Kayden of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Dr. Daniel Maxwell of Tufts Feinstein International Center.  The classes met every Wednesday at Harvard, centrally located in Cambridge.  It was one of my favorite classes for many reasons.

First, I had the opportunity to step off the Tufts Medford campus every week, taking the #96 bus from Tufts down to Cambridge.  Second, my classmates came from different schools — from Fletcher, Friedman, Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Medical School — making it a real collaborative environment to engage and to study.  Third, I took the opportunity to lead my project and assignment group.  Managing and collaborating with peers at different locations and liaising with other project groups was a good challenge to have this semester.  Fourth, the class had a simulation exercise towards the end of April.  The entire class, along with over a hundred volunteers, camped at the Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover to put into practice much of what we learned about humanitarian response during our classes.  The simulation had everything — UN Cluster System coordination meetings, minefields, fake militia, armed attacks on the camp, and rationed food and water supply.  I made so many mistakes through the three days of the exercise, but overall the experiential component made it a great learning experience.  (Here’s a story about a previous year’s exercise.)

Beyond the spring’s exciting classes, I also kept myself busy with extra-curricular activities.  Every Saturday, I volunteered with Teach-in CORES, a volunteer collective of Tufts University students, working with the Committee On Refugees from El Salvador, in Somerville, to teach literacy and English as a second language, and prepare the participants for the U.S. citizenship exam.  On Thursdays, I would make it a point to go to the open-to-the-public seminars on nuclear policy and nuclear non-proliferation at the Project on Managing the Atom, at Harvard Kennedy School.  I also took the opportunity to recite a couple of poems at the student-led Fletcher Open Mic Nights, a wonderful forum to express and share.

After finishing my exams and submissions, I decided to visit my family back in India.  Before that, however, moving out of Blakeley Hall was challenging.  I had to drag all my belongings into the basement of a house I was going to move into for the next academic year.  After bidding good-bye to graduating friends and winding up some important chores, I was excited to fly back to India for a short visit.  It was really special to go back home, as I was visiting after ten months.  It was surprising to me that I got absorbed into the Indian way of life as soon as I arrived back home.  I was eating street food, navigating through the thick Indian traffic, and meeting cousins and friends on the go.  It was like I had never left India.

During my time in India, along came an opportunity for the summer, and I grabbed it with both hands.  Professor Ian Johnstone offered me a teaching assistant (TA) position for a summer exchange program.  Since I had never assisted a professor, there was a steep learning curve for me.  For example, as a TA, I led review sessions —  which meant I needed to review what I had learned myself during the last semester.

As I write, I am glad to share that I have settled in my new house, and I am enjoying my summer with some time for reading, cooking, swimming, and cycling, meeting friends, and traveling in and around Boston.  I hope to share again towards the end of the summer!

At the end-of-year Diplomat’s Ball.

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