Category Archives: Reflections

Marta Aparicio’s Rangel Experience

Marta Aparicio (COL ’14) studied Sociology and Government at Georgetown. Marta is a 2018 recipient of the Rangel Fellowship.

At Georgetown University, I developed an appreciation for cultural diversity, as well as U.S. politics through academic coursework and community service. My curiosity about the role of global politics also motivated me to study abroad for six months in 2013 in Madrid, Spain. I took the opportunity to teach English to my host siblings and engaged in political discussions in Spanish with my host parents and classmates.  As a Guatemalan-American representative in Europe, I gained an understanding of people’s cultures while working and building relationships with them.

Upon completion of my Bachelor’s Degree, I explored avenues in the private and public sectors, specifically in retail, education, and social care. After my second year of working full-time, I thought more in-depth about my “dream career” and I concluded that throughout my personal and professional experiences, I have made public service to others a core component of what I do. Therefore, I wanted to have a proud profession where I could continue serving others beyond the walls of my community. Additionally, I felt it was time to go back to school and pursue a Master’s Degree. After thorough research, speaking with my mentors, and reaching out to a Georgetown friend who is a current Foreign Service Officer, I concluded that the State Department Charles B. Rangel Fellowship was perfect for me. My new goal was to be part of the Rangel Family.

The goal of the Rangel Fellowship is to attract and prepare outstanding young people for careers in the U.S. Foreign Service and to diversify the profession in order to accurately reflect the rich diversity of the American people it represents overseas. The Rangel Fellowship put both of my goals together – my goal of pursuing my Master’s Degree and my goal of becoming a U.S. Diplomat.  

I had the honor to be selected as a 2018 Rangel Fellow on November 2017. My journey started in May 20th, 2018 with a one-week orientation to the Rangel Fellowship and the Foreign Service in Washington, D.C.. The orientation was followed by a 10-week internship on Capitol Hill, where I had the opportunity to intern with ranking member, Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island.

As a Congressional Fellow, I conducted research, wrote memos, and worked closely with the Senior Policy Advisors on issues such as education policy, immigration, and economy. On June 6th, Senator Reed requested floor privileges for me to have access to the Senate Chamber. With this access, I had new opportunities to witness my Senator and other senators speak over critical issues in our country. Overall, the congressional internship helped me learn more about how Congress operates and influences U.S. foreign policy.

During the course of my internship, I participated in professional development workshops, learned about the foreign service through other diplomats and ambassadors, attended an Ambassadorial Swearing-in Ceremony, and even had the opportunity to have lunch with the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central American, Cuban, and Mexican Affairs at the 8th floor Diplomatic Dining Room at the State Department.

With the help of the Rangel Fellowship, I am currently pursuing a Master of International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy, as well as a double specialization in Latin American studies and the United Nations. As a future Foreign Service Officer, I think it is important to study urban cities, so I can prepare myself to think and engage critically about the economic, social, political, and technological forces that are shaping urban areas across the globe.

As part of my Rangel Fellowship, I will also have the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia for 10 weeks during summer 2019. While working at the embassy, I hope to draw upon my professional skills and growing knowledge of the U.S. policies towards Latin America to contribute my unique perspective and complement the work of other embassy staff.  

As a State Department Rangel Fellow, I am gaining considerable knowledge of Foreign Service missions, objectives, and lifestyles – that will further prepare me for the consular track. It will be a privilege to continue being an active citizen as a U.S. Diplomat representing America and promoting its national interests abroad. Since emigrating from Guatemala 15 years ago, the United States has empowered me to make a better life for myself to serve my country!

Marta standing open-armed on a mosaic floor depicting a map of the world.

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Jose Luna’s Reflection on the Schwarzman

Jose Luna (SFS ’15) studied International Economics with a concentration in International Finance and Commerce at Georgetown. Jose is a 2017 Schwarzman Scholar

As a China person since freshman year of high school, after graduating from Georgetown SFS in 2015, I knew I wanted to eventually find my way back to China. I had heard about the Schwarzman Scholars Program before graduating and I also knew I would apply as soon as the applications for the first cohort were open. As a completely new program, Schwarzman was and continues to be wrapped in an air of mystery and ambiguity. Many people, myself included, thought that Schwarzman was ideal for candidates with previous China experience, a certain level of Mandarin and/or a desire to live and work in China. The program’s leadership refers to it as the Rhodes of China and emphasizes that it is not a “China person” program. At the same time, many others still haven’t even heard of it. Regardless of where you stand, I will take this opportunity to share with you all what, at least from my experience, Schwarzman is really about.

First of all, Schwarzman is truly for all backgrounds, and it gains a lot from its diversity. In terms of language, nationality, field, interests, etc, my cohort at Schwarzman was very diverse (and I understand the second and third cohorts even more so). This program is really not for just one or two archetypes of students, it’s really for anyone with leadership potential and an idea of how China will be important in their careers. So don’t be discouraged if you think you aren’t competitive because you don’t know Chinese or you haven’t been to China before — in many ways, this could even work in your favor!

Secondly, Schwarzman, combined with Tsinghua University, is a platform. Given the diversity of backgrounds and interests as well as the duration of the program, it’s hard to make Schwarzman very academically specialized. You are offered a wide variety of good academic options, of course, but you’re also given the flexibility and time to go do whatever it is that you are in China to do. Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur, a policy expert, a mechanical engineer, a doctor, etc., Schwarzman and Tsinghua combined provide a highly effective platform that can open many otherwise difficult-to-open doors. Even though Schwarzman is still a young program and some may still not know of it, Tsinghua is arguably the best university in China and quickly climbing in global rankings. Being a Tsinghua Student in China is a huge deal…add on top of that the Schwarzman element and this “platform” can become very powerful, it’s up to every Scholar’s own initiative to make the best of it.

Lastly and most importantly, Schwarzman is a life-changing experience. It’s a time to get out of your comfort zone, explore, learn, reassess and make great friendships. The College is a beautiful building with tremendous facilities and a great community of fellow scholars; nonetheless, it’s combining the experiences inside the College with leaving the College that is most impactful: an internship somewhere in Beijing, a trip to remote parts of China with other scholars, sharing your country’s food with the Tsinghua community, a Mexican Christmas party in the college. These are all examples of what I did during my year in China and I can confidently say these were the experiences that I enjoyed immensely and cherish to this day.

Today, Schwarzman provides not only a home every time I go to Beijing, but also a home in every place where Schwarzman Scholars live. Just like the Hoya alumni network allows me to share this reflection with you today, the Schwarzman network is very active and it allows me to keep in touch with members of my class and subsequent classes as well. Just yesterday 30-35 current scholars visited me in Shanghai, where I currently work and live.

I hope you will all consider applying, there are currently only two Hoya Schwarzman Scholars, so we need more! Please reach out with any questions and let me know if you’re ever in Shanghai!

HOYA SAXA!

Jose with other Schwarzman Scholars

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Katherine Schmidt’s Experience as a Critical Language Scholar in Azerbaijan

After graduation, I was not grappling with the uncertainty of “Where will my job be?”; “What will I do with my life?” and “What does it mean not to be in school?” (all of those questions would be asked later). Instead, I was asking myself, “What is Azerbaijan?”; “Was I crazy to apply to the Critical Language Program?” and “How am I going to learn this language in three months?”

The short answer is: yes, I was kind of crazy to apply to study in a foreign country immediately after graduation. It was a wild move that made people question my life plans and made for sometimes awkward conversations about post-grad life. It’s hard to have a conversation about a country that most people don’t know how to locate on a map.

But it was worth it. I highly recommend to everybody – especially seniors – to apply to the Critical Language Scholarship program if you are itching to learn another language, immerse yourself in a culture and a region you find fascinating, and make incredible connections along the way.

The Critical Language Scholarship changed how I perceive myself. After hours and hours in the classroom, talking with my language partners, studying on my own in cafes, communicating with my host family, and navigating the streets of Azerbaijan for no purpose other than my own happiness and personal victory, I realized that I value learning for the sake of learning. This was the only experience in my life where I was learning and studying not for a grade, but for myself.

Hiking up to a “qalcha” – a small tower – in a rural mountainous village with my friend, I realized that I value spontaneous adventures and flexible trips that lead to everything from conversations with old women on the side of the road to a drive up a mountain to a tea house. Never in my life had I experienced a culture so welcoming to outsiders (a friend of a friend of a friend hosted me in his house for a weekend), and I learned the value of connecting with others from a place that assumes good intentions and presumes humility.

Now that I’ve completed this scholarship and returned to the U.S., I’ve started to think about all of those classic life questions. Because of this experience, I’m emboldened to pursue research that connects my experience in Azerbaijan with my other academic interests, and I’m emboldened to take a less conventional life path because I’m more certain of what I want. I want to continue learning Azeri. I want to continue learning Chinese. I want to continue research, and I want to, ultimately, do good, meaningful work. I’m excited about all of this “post-grad life” adventure and am grateful for the experience I had with CLS.

So, for all of you seniors thinking about applying to CLS: apply. For all of you thinking about Azerbaijan: I’d be happy to talk about my experiences with you!

 

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Ashley Lane’s Experience as a Critical Language Scholar in Tajikistan

Ashley Lane is pursuing a B.S.F.S. in Science, Technology, and International Affairs and Persian (SFS ’20). Ashley studied in Tajikistan during the summer of 2018 as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship

“You’re going to Tajikistan? Where even is that?”

I became fairly accustomed to these bewildered, eyebrows-raised comments in response to the disclosure of my somewhat unconventional summer plans. I received a lot of spelling requests, a couple responses of “Wait, is that even a country?”, and ultimately found myself resorting to a map and a mini elevator pitch:

“I’m traveling to Tajikistan (a country in Central Asia) to study Persian with the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program through the State Department. I’ll be living with a host family and taking classes there for two months.”

Usually we had reached some level of greater understanding by this point in the conversation, but it was often followed by a much harder question to answer: “Okay, but why?”

This was an incredible opportunity to improve my linguistic skills and further my academic and professional goals. I have been studying Persian for the past two years at Georgetown, which I enrolled in my freshman year frankly based on a whim and an interest in the Middle East and Central Asia. What I found in these courses was beyond what I could have ever expected: I completely fell in love with the language and culture. I decided to pursue Persian for my language proficiency requirement and declared a Persian minor. Studying in Tajikistan would give me the chance to immerse myself in a Persian-speaking country, improve my language skills, and fulfill some of my academic requirements. I also knew that greater linguistic knowledge and abilities along with international experience would benefit me professionally in the future, given my aspiration to work in the government.

Yet even with this perfectly-crafted match and vision, I still found myself questioning several times throughout the program: “Wait, why am I doing this again?” The truth is, CLS Persian came with its fair share of challenges. From Tajik Tummy to struggling to understand my host family in the local dialect to difficult coursework and 107-degree Fahrenheit heat, I certainly wondered from time to time how I had willingly gotten myself into this. There were days where I felt like I was regressing, unable to speak or think with ease in Persian, frustrated by every minor annoyance that presented itself to me. But with these days also came those of small victories and visible progress, of joy found in both the adventures of this experience and the mundane moments of everyday life. It was the combination of these experiences – the non-linear path of cultural adjustment – but particularly the challenges of CLS, that ultimately taught me more about myself and contributed the most to my personal development.

My CLS experience provided me with the tools to achieve my linguistic, academic and professional goals, but it also provided me with something infinitely more valuable: the opportunity to engage with people in an area of the world I may otherwise never have been able to. Tajikistan, in all its complexity and contradictions, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to, filled with some of the kindest and most hospitable people I have ever met. I am beyond grateful for my host family and all of the people – especially the women – that I met who welcomed me into their spaces with open arms, and for those who challenged and supported me. It was really these people who shaped my experience and provided me with greater insight into Tajik culture and life in Tajikistan. This, for me, is where the true value of cultural exchange and the CLS program lies: a piece of my heart, another home, will always find its place in Tajikistan.

Ashley Lane, fourth from the left, pictured with her host family in Tajikistan.

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Andrea Welsh’s Experience as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow

Andrea Welsh, SFS ’17, holds a Master’s of Global Human Development. 

The Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship was launched in 2012 under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to support the development of foreign government ministries and institutions with the day-to-day support of a special assistant. The program places Fellows in a variety of public policy areas including economic development, education, environment, gender equality, justice, and public health. Today, there are currently Fellows serving in Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Samoa, Cote D’Ivoire, Ukraine, Guatemala, Peru, Malawi, and Chile.

As a graduate of Georgetown’s Master of Global Human Development program, I was excited to apply my international development and public policy experience to work in a foreign government. My goal was to identify an opportunity that offered direct experience with the process to develop and create public policy at the country-level and in order to learn how the international community can provide more effective support during this process.

In September 2017, I was fortunate to be selected as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow with the assignment to serve in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education in the Department of Technical and Vocational Education and Training. In my role as a Fellow, I directly advise the senior leadership of the Department on policy reform, build project management capacity of civil service staff, establish and maintain effective working relationships with international development partners, and implement gender-focused mainstreaming and integration initiatives. This work aims to support the Department’s goal of improving the national education system in order to provide future generations of students with improved economic and career opportunities.

As part of my Fellowship, I am also engaged in a research project which focuses on the experience of our female students and teachers by examining the types of technical education they pursue, cultural and/or social barriers that arise while developing a technical skill, and employment opportunities upon graduation.

I live in Nay Pyi Taw which has served as the country’s administrative capital since 2005. Due to the importance of engaging students and teachers in effective policy reform, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the country visiting our schools. These visits have provided invaluable insights and unique perspectives which have guided our reform efforts to diversify course offerings, reform existing curriculum and create new curriculum, and expand linkages with private sector actors to open professional opportunities for our students.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have applied my education from the School of Foreign Service to serve as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow. It has further reinforced my belief in the critical need to build and maintain strong government institutions. As I prepare for my placement to conclude in the coming months, I am confident that the experiences and lessons I have learned as a Fellow will guide my work in public service.

 

Andrea Welsh (SFS GHD 2017) currently serves as a Fulbright Public Policy Fellow in Myanmar’s Ministry of Education. For more information regarding the Fulbright Public Policy Fellow, please visit https://www.cies.org/program/fulbright-public-policy-fellowship.

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Neil Noronha’s Experience as a Luce Scholar

You know you have lived in New Delhi for a year when you are accustomed to Delhi Belly and all of its gastronomical unpleasantries. For me, the last bout of it occurred when, out of dire thirst from walking around in the scorching heat, I decided to drink “pineapple” juice from a local “raswala” (juice man). The color of the drink, which I had seen him make, was red, not yellow as is typical of pineapple juice. But, I did not care; I needed something refreshing. After drinking half the cup, I realized right then that I would pay for that decision. Luckily, however, I had gotten Delhi Belly before, so I was well prepared to handle it. Ultimately, this experience typifies a LUCE year, one in which the scholars learn how to adapt to and immerse themselves into a new cultural environment.

I applied to the Henry Luce Scholars Program as a post-Obama Administration job.  As a political appointee, you always realize that your time in the U.S. government has an end date. For each presidential administration when your party is in power, you usually serve maximum anywhere between 4 and 8 years. Even if Secretary Clinton had won the 2016 Presidential Election, there was no guarantee that I would be asked to stay. I needed a backup plan.

This fellowship appealed to me because I saw it as an unconventional job that allowed me to break out of the D.C. bubble. Throughout college and the first two and half years of my career, I had only known one thing: public service in the U.S. government. Adding the fact that I had grown up in the D.C. area, having gone to Gonzaga College High School and Georgetown University, a temporary separation from my relationship with the Nation’s Capital seemed appropriate. And, with a fellowship whose criteria for eligibility includes having limited or no prior familiarity with Asia, the Henry Luce Scholars Program was perfect for me.

The yearlong Henry Luce Scholars Program is unique within the fellowship world. I see it as a combination of the Fulbright Scholarship and the Princeton in Asia (PIA) Fellowship. On the one hand, its scholars are afforded exciting professional opportunities in the Asia as they are matched with organizations directly tied to their academic field of interest. On the other hand, the Asia Foundation, the in-country support to the Henry Luce Foundation for this program, offers language stipends to ensure scholars are best positioned to fully assimilate into the culture of their placement country. Similar to those of both the Fulbright and PIA, the LUCE cohort comprises of a diverse group of individuals, whose ages ranged from 21 to 29, whose colleges included Emory and Rice as well as Yale, and whose interests varied from environmental science to journalism.

Neil in kurta, celebrating Diwali at a friend’s place.

As I reflect back on my time in New Delhi, I relish how much I grew over the year. Academically, I can now speak intelligibly about Indian domestic politics and foreign policy agenda. When I arrived in the country 14 months ago, I knew nothing about the country from those perspectives. Professionally, I learned how to operate within the think tank space and released three publications, one of which later culminated into a roundtable discussion. Personally, I became resilient, developing the ability to weather challenges that come from living abroad, such as not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving or other momentous occasions with your family and friends back in the U.S.

Most importantly, I connected with my ethnic heritage, developing stronger cultural and linguistic ties with Indian society. Before my LUCE year, I knew only one Bollywood film, the importance of only two actors, and two phrases in Hindi (tum pagal ho and tum bakari ho; “you are mad” and “you are a goat”). Over the course of the year, I watched roughly 6-10 Hindi films, learned about more Bollywood stars, including an actress with whose husband I played basketball consistently, and talked to my parents intermittently in Hindi. While I don’t think this fellowship has lit a fire in my heart to become a South Asian regional expert, it has made gain a greater appreciation for the country from which my parents emigrated in the 1980s.

I really wished that more students at Georgetown University knew about the Henry Luce Scholars Program. It is not just for the SFSers like myself. All majors and professional interests are welcomed. In fact, this year’s LUCE cohort includes a metalsmith. At the same time, I realize that now as an alumnus, I have an obligation to be like a televangelist and convince other students and alumni to apply for this opportunity. The Henry Luce Scholars Program changed my life and I am sure it will do the same from you (See I could be the next Joel Osteen). You certainly won’t regret it—even if your stomach does!

Neil Noronha graduated from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service both with his BSFS in International Economics (’14) and his MA in Security Studies (’16). At Georgetown, he was a member of the Georgetown University Student Association and Carroll Fellows Initiative. He also participated in numerous internships, to include working at the FBI, U.S. Embassy in Panama for the Department of State, Treasury Department, White House, and Goldman Sachs.  Neil spent two and half years in the Obama Administration, both at the Department of Defense and on the National Security Council Staff before spending the 2017-18 academic year in New Delhi, India, working for Carnegie India and studying Hindi as part of the Henry Luce Scholars Program. Currently, he serves as a congressional fellow with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, covering foreign policy and defense issues in the role of a legislative assistant for Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). 

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Alex Villec’s Fulbright ETA Experience

Already abroad in Rwanda at the time of application [for a Princeton in Africa Fellowship], I was drawn to better understand the social and political climate from a different region of the world and to immerse myself in the mechanics of language acquisition, teaching English on one side and learning Chinese on the other.

Over a year in Kenya and two in Rwanda, I had nurtured a growing interest in China’s role on the African continent. From Nairobi’s side-streets and Kigali’s casino to large-scale infrastructure projects anywhere from Burundi to Botswana, I could observe firsthand how China continues to shape Africa’s future through investment, economic development, and more recently through political and military influence as well. As I stepped back, I began to see Africa as a massive region where the overlap and divergence of American and Chinese interests can be uniquely understood. Zooming in, I imagined the school as an institution offering glimpses into how stories are told, how important social questions are understood, and how values are communicated. Against the backdrop of an affinity for language, this is why I applied to be an ETA. As for location, Taiwan was well-suited to my interests: one hundred miles from Mainland China and with its international legitimacy in legal limbo, Taiwan represents one unique vantage point from which to understand Beijing’s growing influence both regionally and beyond.

The Fulbright experience has been meaningful on multiple levels. First, it has provided an opportunity to directly appreciate my privilege as a native English-speaker; it is a privilege to occupy this position in large part by virtue of the circumstances in which I was raised. I am not a professional teacher, and while I may have grown in this area over the last year, I am consistently humbled by the chance first and foremost to share my cultural background in my native language in the classroom each day.

Second, this year has enabled me to grow personally in realms trained by the classroom environment in particular. Every day we have the opportunity – and just as often, the need – to hone qualities like patience, compassion, empathy, creativity, spontaneity, composure, and positivity across boundaries of age, culture, and ability. This year has also brought greater attention to the subtle art of cross-cultural communication. The relationship between Fulbright ETAs and our local co-teaching partners is professional in nature, and yet develops in a environment not accompanied by some of the normal fixtures of an office environment such as performance reviews and clearly defined management structures. As a result, the onus falls on ETAs and our co-teachers to establish norms of communication and effective collaboration. In this vein, creating systems in the midst of significant autonomy has been a valuable professional growth opportunity.

Come July, I will leave Taiwan even more committed to understanding how divergent interests, opinions, and visions for the future can be reconciled in ways that make the world a safer, more open-minded, and more prosperous place. Informed by countless interactions at the personal level as a Fulbright ETA, this year has in turn reaffirmed my drive to explore these differences at the policy level, and to this end, I will be pursuing graduate studies in international affairs upon my return.

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Yasmin Faruki’s Boren Experience

People tend to say that college is the “best time of your life,” but I would have to disagree. When I stopped to reflect and write about my experience in Amman, Jordan, as a Boren Fellow, I realize that I am actually living my best life. I have never been placed in an environment where I am constantly stimulated. Everyday I find myself challenged, curious, and conscientious of my surroundings in ways I never could as a resident of DC.

I applied for the Boren Fellowship with two goals in mind: improve my Arabic language skills to a level of professional proficiency and gain hands-on experience working in the development field. In the first half of my fellowship, I interned with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on a project focused on improving social cohesion between Syrian refugees and Jordanians in host refugee communities. Of the approximate 640,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, over 80% of the population resides outside of camps. As a graduate student focused on national security policy in the Middle East, I felt it was important for me to gain exposure to the development field and population displacement in particular, as these issues are closely tied to national security. Interning with the office was not only a great opportunity to gain expertise on a topic at the nexus of national security and development, but also test my Arabic skills in a professional context and learn the day-to-day dynamics of a large international bureaucracy. After seven months serving with the organization, here are my key takeaways:

●      The UN faces the same problems as any other large bureaucracy.

●      You need people on the ground in order to inform policy.

●      International staff and national staff do not always get along.

●      Private sector organizations have much more influence on the public sector than before.

●      The development field can be disheartening, but the work ultimately matters.

In addition to my internship with UNDP, I study Arabic at the Sijaal Institute, a language and cultural center housed in Jabal Amman, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. I enjoy the method of instruction at Sijaal because it combines formal Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) with the Jordanian dialect, or ammiya. Unlike at Georgetown, where I was learning how to debate BBC’s headlines from the comfort of a classroom, my greatest language gains here have been made outside the classroom: watching Jordanian comedy shows, haggling for groceries in the souks downtown, and learning the best comebacks in Jordanian street slang. I have gained a new appreciation for studying dialects because it enables you to build closer relationships with people and integrate into communities outside the typical expat bubble. Still, after three years of intensive Arabic study and almost a year living abroad in Jordan, I admit that studying the Arabic language is as rewarding as it is mentally numbing and frustrating at times.

Outside of my program, I have found that one of the biggest challenges in living abroad has been confronting my own identity. As a brown-skinned, female daughter of a Bangladeshi immigrant, with an Arabic name, I am constantly thinking about what it means to be part of a community and have a sense of belonging. In both Amman and DC, I am constantly asked, “Where are you really from?” In the US, my fellow Americans tell me that I look “exotic” or have a strange name and must have origins outside the country. In Jordan, people assume that I am Arab due to my appearance, Arabic name, passable Arabic accent, or some combination thereof. When I tell Jordanians that I was born and raised in America, people say, “But your name is Arabic. Your face is not American. Where are your mother and father from?” In the perspective of my Jordanian friends, maybe I would appear more American if I had a lighter complexion or Anglo-Saxon name who talked about American football and loved hot dogs. I am often assured that I am not the “stereotypical” American expat, as though that should be some sort of compliment. Why shouldn’t I represent the stereotypical American? As a US citizen, I feel just as “American” as any other American, but I recognize that my country does not always live up its reputation as a proud nation of immigrants. At the same time, I am learning not to presume that all Jordanians are religious or socially conservative, as often portrayed in the media. Overall, living abroad has reinforced the importance of thinking about how the aspects of our identity that we cannot control — heritage, ethnicity, race — shape perceptions of belonging and nationality in a given community.

I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to live abroad in Amman, Jordan, as a Boren Fellow. I know I will look back on this time as one of the most formative in my life, both personally and professionally.

Yasmin’s personal blog about her experience in Jordan can be found here: https://alkhatun.wordpress.com/

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Madison Fisher’s Fulbright Experience in Amman, Jordan

“So why are you here?” It’s a question I get all the time living in Amman and I can recognize why. I run around the city with a mess of blond curly hair, a cross around my neck, and functional but far from fluent Arabic. Understandably, people get curious. I am grateful that Fulbright placed me at my school, the Islamic Educational College for Girls in Jabal Amman, one of the oldest and most well-respected secondary schools in Jordan. Several members of the Jordanian royal family even studied there at one time or another. The school had their first Fulbrighter the previous year, an Iraqi-Muslim-American woman, who they adored. I was a little nervous to come to my school as the only Westerner and non-Muslim faculty member; would they accept me? Fortunately, the community welcomed me with open arms as a part of the family before they got to know me, but eventually my curious colleagues also asked, “Maddie, why are you here?” While my reasons for applying for Fulbright in Jordan are not immediately obvious, to me it makes perfect sense. I am interested in interfaith studies, particularly Christian-Muslim relations, and my school is a great opportunity for me to engage in informal interfaith dialogue and learn more about Islam in a non-academic setting. I am proud to wear a replica of the cross of my church in Maryland, where the church community sponsors a Syrian refugee family to live on church property. It reminds me that my faith calls on me to love everyone, always, with no agenda or exception. I appreciate when people ask me why I chose Jordan because it gives me an opportunity to explain that I happen to share a lot of the same values that are prevalent in Jordan’s Muslim-majority culture and that studying Islam and my conversations with Muslim friends help me to grow in my faith as a Christian.

I love living this life where my existence confuses people. I’ve learned cultural exchange takes many forms. I once played tug-of-war twice in one week as a twenty-two year old (at my Arabic institute and at a charity bazaar at my school). At the end of lessons, where I volunteer-teach refugee girls, I reward good behavior by teaching  them dances I learned doing Rangila at Georgetown. In turn, they teach me debkeh dance steps, which I later practice as I dance around the teacher’s room at my school. Sometimes my best Arabic lessons happen when I throw on a fluorescent yellow construction vest to join hundreds of people, mostly Jordanians, to speed walk around Amman with friends.

Being a Fulbright ETA is wonderful because my teaching responsibilities are part-time,  enabling me to engage with other activities outside of my formal assignment. I also intern at Jordan’s Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, helping research and write reports on different religious groups in Jordan as well as assisting with events the institute hosts. Participating in social justice and interfaith programs at Georgetown was something I loved and now I get to continue to utilize my dialogue skills through both my work at my school and my internship. It has been a great experience to do research with the goal of disseminating a crucial truth about religion: there is no single story of how people living in Jordan worship. This is so important to me because the goal of Fulbright is to increase mutual understanding between the people of United States and people from other countries through international exchange. Often, my least favorite question to answer is where I am from because, even though I am grateful for my country, I frequently do not agree with the government. With many historical and recent US policy decisions that cause hurt and displacement in the Middle East, I can mourn with my friends in Jordan as we cry out for justice and peace. When there are hateful campaigns in the West like “Punish a Muslim Day,” I denounce these events and promise to share my experience in Jordan back home to aid in the  fight to end Islamophobia. Being a Fulbrighter in a region where US policies are often unpopular, I have the opportunity to be an unofficial representative of the US government and show that there is also no single story of what it means to be an American–the American people are not our administration nor its policies.

I first heard about the Fulbright Program the fall of my first year at Georgetown when Jordan Denari-Duffner, who I look up to for her work at the Bridge Initiative and the Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding, walked into my Arabic class to say hello to my professor after returning from her tenure as a Fulbrighter to Jordan. I scribbled into my Arabic notebook, “Figure out what Fulbright is and then apply for it after graduation.” Five years later I am still studying Arabic while in Amman, thanks to having the Critical Language Enhancement Award. This part of my grant allows me to take Arabic classes and receive tutoring in order to strengthen my colloquial, spoken Arabic. I would highly encourage anyone who is passionate about education or researching in a specific country to apply for Fulbright. While my experience with Fulbright has been pretty ideal, it is also important to note that this is due to a lot of things that are out of my control. There are so many more challenges that my friends face because they are people of color, are at schools where they have to fight to be respected and given meaningful work, identify as queer, practice a religion that is not officially recognized, or live in an area with less Fulbrighters in close proximity. I have learned so much throughout my time in Jordan and it is an honor to be a part of a network of American Fulbrighters in the MENA region and MENA region Fulbrighters in the US.

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Matthew Hinson’s Rangel Fellowship Experience

Matt Hinson is a member of the SFS Class of 2017 and a 2017 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow. As an International History major at Georgetown, Matt also worked at the Library of Congress, the Clinton Foundation, and served as an editorial fellow with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. As a Rangel Fellow, Matthew worked in the office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge on foreign affairs issues before beginning his graduate studies at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Matt is currently a first year MPA candidate concentrating in International Security Policy and European Studies and will be working at the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) section at the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria, this summer. Here are Matt’s reflections as Rangel Fellow so far:

As one of the few fellowships that offers employment in the federal government after completing graduate school, the Rangel Fellowship differs from other programs in that it is difficult to separate from politics. Reflecting on my first year in the program, most of my thoughts surround what the Foreign Service will look like when I join in two years.

These reflections are not based on disdain for the President or my political party affiliation but rather about the fact that I’m now forced to watch policy changes because they could affect my career trajectory, which becomes increasingly precarious every day.

Every week or so, one can open the New York Times, Washington Post, or Foreign Policy (the SFS student’s favorite trio of news publications) to find an article lamenting the new administration’s radical changes to the Department of State. These stories detail the exodus of career ambassadors, the reorganization of the Department’s bureaus and offices, and downsizing of the Foreign Service, and the reduced role of the United States in multilateral agreements. As someone planning to join the State Department in less than two years, I find these stories alarming.

News about the Foreign Service’s culling does not trouble me because I’m worried I’ll be out of a job. The decisions are disturbing because they seem to contradict every piece of conventional wisdom regarding American foreign policy that I studied at Georgetown (and now at Columbia). 9 million American citizens live in foreign countries—not counting those who reside in the United States but are currently traveling abroad—all of whom require consular assistance. On top of that, the demand for visas to the U.S. increases every year. Factoring in diplomats who work to manage international crises and strengthen bilateral relations, the numbers would suggest that a bigger Foreign Service is necessary to manage the workload, not a shrunken one.

I don’t expect to personally have a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy. As entry-level officers, my colleagues and I in the Rangel & Pickering programs will start out as lowly bureaucrats posted in remote locations. But one doesn’t have to be an ambassador to care about the changes being made to the State Department. Before graduating Georgetown, I wrote an article in The Hoya about why philosophy is important for foreign policy. The goal of the article was to demonstrate how multidimensional global issues can be, a view I’m not sure the administration grasps.

Just as it was interesting to be a member of the Class of 2017 – the first class to enter Georgetown in Obama’s America and exit into Trump’s America, entering the Foreign Service in this particular era will be interesting too.

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