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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
It would be much harder and so much less pleasant to do our work if not for the help of our Graduate Assistants (GAs) — Fletcher students who work about ten hours per week in our office. In the old days (about three years ago) our office still dealt with a lot of paper — recommendations, transcripts, test scores all arrived by mail. These days, nearly everything is done through our Slate application and the GAs can offer us much more than simply cutting open envelopes. Today I want to introduce the four GAs working with us this year. You might meet them if you visit, or chat with them if you call. And now you’ll know that there’s a real person with the name signed on your email.
But first, the quickest of digressions. Today is our Early Notification deadline. I will save the GAs some work if I tell you that submitting an application on November 15 means you should zap it through by 11:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5). Any later will no longer be November 15. And now, with no further ado, let’s meet the GAs.
Hello future Fletcherites! I am a second-year MALD student, pursuing the International Business Relations and International Communications Fields of Study. Building on undergraduate degrees in both international affairs and photography, I am particularly interested in the impact of visual communication tools (i.e. photo and video) in the global context — especially in media and publishing. I look forward to pursuing a career in these industries when I graduate, and was fortunate to spend last summer interning with Scholastic Publishing on project management, photo editing, and business analysis.
At Fletcher, I’m regularly involved with The Murrow Center for a Digital World, serve as Managing Web Editor for Fletcher’s oldest student-run foreign policy journal, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, and am also engaged with groups such as Tech@Fletcher and the International Business Club. Prior to arriving in the Boston area, I spent four and a half years in Washington, DC, with a non-profit organization focused on global leadership development and U.S. public diplomacy. I worked primarily with the external affairs team on public programming, fundraising, and communications. I also had the opportunity to help develop strategic initiatives with the European Union, India, China, and Turkey. Then and now, I love travel, film, and tennis. I look forward to connecting with you and answering your questions about Fletcher!
Hi everyone! I am a first-year MIB student focusing on Strategic Management and International Consultancy, as well as Global Political Economy. Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, I moved to Washington, DC to attend American University, where I studied international relations, focusing on U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and Spanish language.
After completing my bachelor’s degree in 2012, I started working at Chemonics International as a project management team member. Six-months into my time there, I moved from the Latin America Regional Business Unit (RBU) to the Asia RBU, where I had the opportunity to learn about the culture and complexities of a region of the world that was new to me. While working in the Asia region, I was involved in projects spanning from Pakistan to the Pacific Islands that covered topics such as governance, climate change adaptation, combating human-trafficking, and economic growth. It was my work with the Vietnam Governance for Inclusive Growth project that sparked my interest in the public sector and led me to Fletcher! In my personal time I love doing Pilates and spin classes, trying new restaurants, and going to the movies. I look forward to hearing from you in the Admissions Office this year!
Hello everyone! I am a first-year MALD student, concentrating my studies in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and International Organizations, and pursuing a certificate in Diplomatic Studies. I grew up in Spring Hill, Florida and later received my BA in political science, anthropology and a minor in Russian at the University of Florida (go Gators!). I was very fortunate to work with a professor in the political science department on a thesis related to ethnic violence against minorities in the Russian Federation. This experience sparked my interest in pursuing a degree related to international affairs.
When I graduated, I was accepted into Teach For America as a fifth-grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher in Halifax, North Carolina. As a teacher I honed my leadership skills, shared my passion for reading and writing with my students, and fostered lifelong relationships with my colleagues. Through learning about Teach For America’s mission, I became devoted to issues of minority rights and providing quality education to children regardless of their background or zip code.
At Fletcher, I want to focus my research on diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States. I am also interested in developing knowledge and skills related to international education and international minority rights. At the moment, I am considering self-designing my own field related to these two areas. I aspire to one day be working with an international organization that is devoted to advocating for human rights, more specifically minorities, or to within the United States government related to Eurasian or Russian affairs.
I have already become very involved on campus, and there seems to be a club for just about anything! I recently joined the Ambassachords, Fletcher’s premier a cappella group, and I have even been able to perform in one of our Culture Nights! In my spare time I love to cook, read, go for walks with my dog Obi, and spend time with my wonderful husband Brian. I am very excited to be working with the Admissions Team, and I hope that I can bring the spirit I have for this school to both current and prospective students!
Namaste! I am a second-year MALD student from Kathmandu, Nepal. I received an International Baccalaureate from the United World College of the American West in New Mexico, and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a major in psychology and double minor in economics and Spanish. As a native of a developing country, I have always been very interested in understanding and tackling the challenges of development. After my undergrad, I spent a few years working for various actors in international development in areas ranging from entrepreneurship, to local governance, social accountability, social protection, and capacity building. Immediately before coming to Fletcher, I worked for AmeriCares, an emergency response and global health international organization, helping them set up in Nepal and supporting their efforts in response to the massive earthquakes that devastated the country in April 2015.
At Fletcher, I am pursuing the Certificate on International Development, with Public & NGO Management and Human Security as my Fields of Study. This year I also have the pleasure and honor of co-leading the Asia Club and FletcherCares, which have given me more ways to engage with the Fletcher community. I am excited to be a part of this team at the Office of Admissions again this year and look forward to answering any questions you may have, in order to help you navigate through the graduate school research and application process.
Tagged with: GAs
This is an exciting week for a team of Fletcher students and faculty members who are attending the COP22 international climate negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco, along with others from Tufts. The Provost’s Office and Fletcher’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy has provided funding to support the students’ travel to the talks, which will run from November 7 to 18, and where delegates will prepare for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Some of the travelers will be adding posts from Marrakech to a blog maintained by the Tufts Institute of the Environment, and I will also pick up the Fletcher students’ posts here. Meanwhile, you can follow the delegation at #TuftsCOP22. A highlight so far: Second-year MALD student from Indonesia, Angga, speaking to an Indonesian contingent.
Tagged with: CIERP
Gathering information about the graduate schools to which you apply is an important part of the application process. And, though I hope you’ll stay tuned to the blog, I also recommend you take a look at what our friends in the Fletcher communications office are offering. First, they consolidate materials, such as op-eds written by Fletcher faculty and students or longer publications including books and articles. They also highlight print/radio/TV comments or interviews. And my favorite offerings are Fletcher Features, stories written about the community and events at Fletcher.
Today, I’ll direct your attention to one of the features — an interview with Rizwan Ladha, PhD candidate and Admissions pal. I love his reference to “a global circle of people who have been through this tiny school at the top of a hill in Medford.” Rizwan has been a star throughout his MALD and PhD studies, and it’s great to see the spotlight shined on him.
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
At noon today, Kristen and I will be offering an information session for Tufts undergraduates studying international relations. We enjoy connecting this way with our friends in the School of Arts and Sciences, one of the two main undergraduate programs, along with the School of Engineering. We’ll be joined by two Double Jumbos, who will describe their path from when they graduated from Tufts to when they enrolled at Fletcher. Though Kristen and I have been offering these sessions each fall for several years now, today’s blog post is about a new cooperative initiative, launched by two second-year MALD students, Rafael Loss and Suzanne Webb.
Before you read Rafael’s report, I want to take a second to point out that students develop many new activities each year. With a good plan and a little hustle, you can make any number of things happen. And one brief explanatory note: Packard Avenue is the street running in front of Fletcher. You’ll see the reference in Rafael’s story below.
Over the past months, Suzanne Webb and I have worked hard to create the inaugural Building Bridges Research Symposium, an undergraduate research symposium, which will take place at The Fletcher School this Friday, November 4th.
In conversations with students, staff, and faculty, both at Fletcher and at the various undergraduate programs at Tufts University, we heard time and again people lament the perceived “Packard Avenue gap”: the sense that there is little exchange between graduate and undergraduate students. We know that Fletcher is sometimes perceived as its own little galaxy in the Tufts universe. Likewise, Fletcher students usually encounter Tufts undergraduates only in Ginn Library during finals, when everyone is fighting for study space.
Given the vast experience of Fletcher students in all areas of international affairs and beyond, and Tufts students’ equally diverse research interests, we thought that a research symposium would be a great forum for exchange to bridge the gap. We approached Fletcher administrators and established contacts with Tufts undergraduate degree programs and Tufts institutions including the Jonathan M. Tisch College for Civic Life and Tufts’ Institute for Global Leadership. Everyone we spoke to enthusiastically supported our idea and made valuable suggestions for the event.
In addition to the great advice, we were also extremely fortunate to receive funding from the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement. Thanks to their generous support, our presenters and audience members will be well caffeinated and fed at the event.
On September 16th, we sent out the call for applications for the inaugural Building Bridges Research Symposium and only a few days later we received the first submission. By the end of the deadline, roughly a dozen Tufts undergraduates had submitted proposals. On November 4th, ten of them will present their research in front of their peers and Fletcher students in three panels chaired by Fletcher PhD candidates Megan Rounseville and Rebecca Tapscott, and MALD candidate Rachel Porter. Fletcher’s Professor of International Humanitarian Studies Kimberly Theidon will deliver the welcoming remarks.
After months of planning, coordinating, and advertising, we are thrilled that our event is around the corner. We hope that this first research symposium will spark continued exchange between Fletcher and Tufts students on academic research, that it will be further institutionalized, and that the conference will become an annual highlight on the Tufts and Fletcher calendars.
You can see the full Symposium schedule here.
Tagged with: Tisch College
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.
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