Saturday, December 14, 2013

Student Spotlight: Julian Palma

For this post, we’ve interviewed Julian Palma, a first-year SAIS M.A. student from Colombia concentrating in Conflict Management. After graduating from Lynn University in 2007 with a degree in business, Julian spent time working for Merrill Lynch, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Centre for Human Rights in South Africa.

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What made you want to pursue international relations professionally, and what are your post-SAIS professional goals?
Watching Colombia transform from the brink of a failed state to an emerging market, in less than a decade, was powerful. I wanted to be part of the young and motivated group of professionals who were pushing for this change to happen. I started researching how post-conflict societies were shaping policy, implementing aid, and promoting growth. With this in mind, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and my first assignment was in South Africa.

After SAIS, I would like to continue working with development in emerging markets. I’m specifically interested in exploring how entrepreneurship, in a broader sense microfinance, SME’s and social entrepreneurship impact employment creation and economic development.
When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
  1. Academics—I was looking for a holistic education in an international setting that allowed me to find the intersection between economics, conflict management, development and foreign languages.
  2. Location—After working in Africa and Latin America, I wanted to experience international affairs from the center of political power. If you want to have an effect on international relations, Washington D.C. is the place to be.
  3. Faculty and students—At SAIS, having access to professors is having access to real-world practitioners. Similarly, the unique experiences students bring into the classroom are world-class.
  4. Research—Photography is one of my passions in life. I’ve always wanted to connect photography with international affairs, and The Protection Project, at the Foreign Policy Institute provided a space for me to use my photos for human rights awareness.
How has the support of COLFUTRO helped realize your dream of pursuing graduate studies at SAIS?
Before applying to SAIS, I was certain about two things: my determination to attend graduate school and the cost of tuition. Financing of graduate school is just as relevant as the application process. COLFUTURO is a private-public sector initiative aimed at helping Colombian students finance their graduate studies abroad. It was extremely satisfying to know that there were opportunities out there available to ease the financial burden of a U.S. education. COLFUTURO has been perhaps the most important tool in bridging the gap between my ambition and my reality today.
What advice would you give other prospects from your home country seeking to prepare for graduate study in international affairs?
My former boss once told me: the best things in life, take time. During the application process, there will be instances where you would want to give up. It happened to me, but doing your research will help materialize your process: talk to current students and alumni, engage with admissions, and if you can, attend information sessions. Have an open mind; apply to several schools; know that you will be fascinated yet challenged by the diverse student body. While the biggest constraint may be the cost, remember it is an investment you are making in yourself. Look out for opportunities with COLFUTURO, organizations such as OAS and other private fellowships. When telling your story, be creative and passionate, bring up something unexpected. For example, I linked how my photography skills were an empowering tool for international relations. Oh and read The Economist!
What are some of the courses you’re taking and skills you’re learning right now that will help you in your professional career?
My favorite course at SAIS this semester is Conflict in Africa Analysis. I’m also taking two of the requirements for the International Economics program: Macroeconomics and International Trade theory. This proves how SAIS prepares futures leaders with both, the necessary quantitative and analytical skills to succeed in any endeavor, be multilateral, public or private sector. Additionally, there are skills courses offered through career services and online in partnership with the Harvard Business School. This semester, I strengthened my excel skills and I participated in a consulting workshop with Joe Dougherty from Dalberg, which I found exceptionally beneficial.
Thanks for reading!

– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Student Spotlight: Sara O’Rourke

For our spotlight this week, we’ve interviewed Sara O'Rourke, a second-year M.A. student concentrating in Conflict Management.  She received her A.B. in Social Studies and French from Harvard in 2009.  Prior to enrolling in SAIS, Sara worked as a teacher and as a travel researcher/writer.
What made you decide to pursue a career in international relations?
As a junior in college, I became fascinated with international affairs while studying abroad in Paris and researching my thesis on the political representation of Muslims in France. I also had the chance to travel in both Morocco and Egypt, where I became interested in the challenges facing women in Muslim countries. After graduation, I decided to move to the U.A.E., where I taught social studies and history at an international school, and coached the Varsity boys’ and girls’ soccer teams. While I was living in Dubai, Arab Spring erupted, and I saw the impact it had on my students and their families. I became passionate about the role of women in post-conflict societies, as well as within broader economic and political development. While at SAIS, I have been drawn in particular to the power of the private sector to empower women—and societies—economically. 
Can you tell us about your concentration and why you chose it?
Conflict Management focuses on the functions and tools to necessary to address conflict, from successful negotiation techniques to effective approaches to reconstruction. I chose the concentration because I believed it would equip me with the skills and knowledge I needed to contribute to post-conflict economic and political development, particularly in the Middle East. I was lucky enough to be selected as a first-year to participate in the Conflict Management Field Trip to Tunisia, where we spent 10 days on the ground interviewing influential politicians, diplomats, professors, activists, and students about the Tunisian Revolution and its aftermath. I was responsible for reporting on the role of discussions about women’s rights, as well as the role of women, in post-revolution Tunisia. In our capstone course, Professor Zartman’s Negotiation Practicum, we have weekly guest lectures from some of the most talented negotiators in the field, and then participate in negotiation simulations of our own. We will all then produce a term paper exploring the purpose and effectiveness of a particular negotiation tool.
What are some of the courses you’ve taken and specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
I have designed my curriculum mostly around those economics courses that will best prepare me for a career in international business and finance, with a focus on private sector development and post-conflict reconstruction.
The foundational economics and finance courses I have taken—Micro, Macro, Trade, Monetary, and International Financial Markets—have given me a strong base from which to evaluate general macroeconomic trends and with which to analyze evolving financial institutions. The business-focused courses I have taken—Private Equity in Emerging Markets; Corporate Finance; Multinational Corporate Finance; Enterprise, Regulation and Development; and Business and Human Rights—have not only equipped me with the tools (e.g., financial modeling) necessary to quantitatively evaluate new business projects, but also the exposure needed to analyze the social, political and economic impact of private sector initiatives in developing countries. Finally, I believe the negotiation techniques I have learned in the Practicum will serve me well as I embark on a career in consulting.
Can you tell us about SAIS Global Women in Leadership and how it was started?
I started SAIS Global Women in Leadership in the fall of 2012 because I believed that SAIS was uniquely positioned to contribute to the growing conversation on the increasingly important role of women in leadership, both at home and abroad. As an institution, SAIS–as a global thought leader–has been at the forefront of the next big issue, whether it be economic development or food security, and its strategic partnerships with all institutions in sectors–private, public, and social–have allowed SAIS to adapt to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of international relations.  I thought it only natural that SAIS should take the lead on discussions regarding the role of women in leadership in both developing countries as well as developed societies.
To that end, SAIS Global Women in Leadership will host the first annual Global Women in Leadership Conference, titled “A New Economic Landscape: Promoting Women in Emerging Markets,” on Friday, April 12th. The conference will explore the role of women in emerging markets, facilitate a better understanding of the key issues that women face around the world, and expand the personal and professional networks of our next generation of leaders. It will be the first SAIS conference on women and leadership developed and managed by current SAIS students. It is also the first event to welcome over 150 students from schools in the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) network, which includes 30 graduate schools nationwide, as well as business and law programs on the East Coast.
Further, SWGL hosts a bi-monthly Luncheon Series, which are organized around substantive themes such as women and health, women and entrepreneurship, and women in international security, and invite experienced speakers from all sectors to comment on new solutions to challenges facing women globally, as well as new strategies for professional and personal success. Our hope is that by interacting with accomplished and engaging speakers, attendees will not only come away from events more informed, but also more inspired to take action in their careers and their communities.
What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I will be joining McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, as an Associate in their Chicago office. I was a Summer Associate with them this past summer, and absolutely loved my time working on corporate strategy for a major health care player. I will be returning as a generalist, so will get the chance to work on diverse function areas in a variety of industries. I look forward to developing the private sector skills and exposure necessary to one day contribute to private sector development and women’s empowerment in developing countries.
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Congrats to our 2013 grads!

In case you hadn’t heard, this past Thursday was a pretty big day at SAIS: it was Commencement!  SAIS conferred advanced degrees to over 390 students, and our new graduates were addressed by Christine Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent and the 2013 SAIS commencement speaker.

You can view some of the highlights here:

If you would like the full video of the commencement ceremony, including Christina Amanpour’s address, click here.
We also have a slide show of photos from the day here.
The class of 2013 included some amazing students (we profiled some of them in our Student Spotlight series), and we are sad to seem them leave.  Even so, we couldn’t be prouder, because we know they are going on to do great things.
Thanks for reading!
–Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Student Spotlight: Lisa Frumin

For this Student Spotlight, we’ve interviewed Lisa Frumin, a second-year M.A. student concentrating in Latin America Studies. Lisa received her B.A. in International Relations and Economics from Boston University in 2008, and prior to attending SAIS worked as a legislative assistant for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee.  Lisa is the recipient of the Priscila Mason Fellowship, and more recently received the 2013 William C. Foster Award in recognition of her contributions and distinguished service to the SAIS community.
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Congratulations on winning the Foster award!  Can you tell us about some of the activities you’ve been involved with here at SAIS?
I started SAIS feeling extremely overwhelmed. One great thing about SAIS is that there are so many clubs, activities and events going on, but at the same time, it’s easy to get lost. In my first year, I participated in activities held by SAIS Corps (the volunteer service club), the Latin American Studies Club and the Finance Club to name a few. I quickly found my passion in SAIS Corps and planned service opportunities for SAISers through it. I became the co-leader in my second semester at SAIS and in this position, I got to know the SGA Treasurer, who asked me to consider running to succeed him in the 2012-2013 academic year. As a result, this year, I again was overwhelmed with the opportunities at SAIS but chose to focus my attention on (1) being the SGA Treasurer and helping other club leaders achieve their goals and (2) helping SAIS Corps run its international service trips as well as other SAIS Corps events that are particularly near and dear to my heart.
We understand you’ve planned a few SAIS Corps trips during your time at SAIS.  How have these trips enhanced your student experience, and the experience of other students?
SAIS Corps leads two international service trips, the first to Honduras in January of each year and the second to Panama in March. I went as a team member on the SAIS Corps Panama trip in March 2012. During this trip, I realized the value of seeing international development at its grassroots level while studying about it at a more macro level in SAIS classrooms. I found this experience so rewarding that I knew I wanted to lead the Panama trip the next year. Simultaneously, I was lucky enough that my wonderful friend at SAIS asked me to participate in organizing the SAIS Corps Honduras trip that took place in January 2013. All three have given me an appreciation for what international development is and the controversial questions surrounding it. Moreover, I got to share this experience with fellow classmates who were similarly attempting to answer these questions. I have said this many times while on these trips: SAIS has many amazing educational travel opportunities in which SAISers learn about international affairs, but there are few opportunities at SAIS in which students get to travel abroad and apply ideas from the classroom in the actual environment while getting dirty. SAIS Corps provides two of these and I have been dedicated to providing them.
Graduation is only a few weeks away.  What will you be doing after graduation?
As the Priscilla Mason Fellow for 2013, I am dedicated to a career in public service. I, along with four of my other classmates, will be joining the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a Bank Examiner in mid-July 2013. For me, this job opportunity is just the one I was hoping to get as a result of my SAIS education. I managed to find the nexus between finance and the public sector at a very crucial time in financial reform and I look forward to applying my quantitative and analytical skills that I enhanced at SAIS while at the Bank.
What are some of the key skills you’ve learned at SAIS, that you will be applying directly to your work/career?
I can’t say enough about the economics department at SAIS. Though I took statistics and econometrics in college, I really needed to re-learn (or frankly learn) the material from scratch. These two classes combined with corporate finance, international trade and monetary theory and then some elective coursework really gave me the edge I needed to be competitive in the public sector world dealing with finance. I will never forget how my interviewer at the Fed asked me if I ever worked with large data sets to which I responded that I had written a paper for my Quantitative Global Economics class that required several data sets, sensitivity analysis and ultimately required me to put my quantitative results into written word. The interviewer simply responded: “Wow, that’s exactly what we do at the Fed. I’m so glad I asked that question.” It was that moment that I knew that my SAIS degree and the skills I learned at SAIS had paid off.
Do you have any advice for incoming students or those thinking about IR grad school?
Work experience before attending any graduate program is crucial. I appreciate my graduate degree so much more than I could ever appreciate my bachelors because I came to SAIS with purpose. I knew what I wanted out of the program and I got everything I was looking for in terms of skills, knowledge and colleagues. This leads me to my second piece of advice: come to graduate school not only looking for your professional network (which you will surely develop), but come with the intention of meeting some of the most wonderful friends you will ever have. I knew I was going to make friends, but I did not expect to leave graduate school wishing that I could have another year just to be with the amazing individuals that attend SAIS. They are some of the most talented, enriching people I have ever met and without them, my two years at SAIS would not have nearly been as wonderful.
To learn more about Lisa’s experiences in Honduras and Panama, you can read two guest blog posts she wrote here and here.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Student Spotlight: Abigail Trenhaile

For today’s installment of the Student Spotlight series, we’ve interviewed Abigail Trenhaile, first-year M.A. student and Rangel Fellow.  Abigail is concentrating in Korean Studies at SAIS, and she received a B.A. in economics from the University of Hawaii in Manoa in 2011.
Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
I am concentrating in Korea Studies, which requires me to take three Korea-specific classes and three Asia-specific classes. Because I am from Hawaii, I was naturally inclined toward studying the Asia Pacific region, and I studied Japanese in high school and during my undergrad at the University of Hawaii. Despite my previous language background, I ended up participating in student exchange in Seoul, Korea, where I came to appreciate the accomplishments and the dynamism of Korea. When I was choosing a graduate program, I knew I wanted an education where I could continue my study of Korea and the greater Asia Pacific region plus a strong economics program, and SAIS excels in each of these areas.
How has language study at SAIS complimented your study of international relations?
The language program at SAIS was a determining factor in my decision to attend. Other schools I considered offered Korean, but only through classes through their main undergraduate program. SAIS offers a Korean program which is tailored to your level. Classes only have 3-5 students in them, so we are given an opportunity to sharpen our language skills. The professor who runs the Korean program is dedicated as well. In terms of how studying Korean has complimented my study of IR, through SAIS, I have learned Korean vocabulary associated with current events, economics, politics, etc., and so that has enhanced my ability to conduct research and has given me a new perspective when listening to views on Korea-related issues, especially North Korea.
You went on a Korea Studies-sponsored trip over your Thanksgiving break this year.  Where did you go, and what were some of the highlights of the trip?
The trip was in tandem with a research paper students produced for the U.S. Korea Institute’s annual yearbook. I wrote about the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and its relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership. While in Seoul, we were given the opportunity to meet with government officials, researchers, academics, etc., who were able to offer insight on our research projects and U.S.-Korea relations. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when we made kimchi and delivered that kimchi to some of the Korean comfort women, an event organized through Dr. Suh, our professor. Through such a personal, moving experience, I feel like it added another layer of understanding to my understanding of Asian history and of modern Korea, because so much of what drives politics today in East Asia stems from historical memories.
What do you hope to do after graduation, and how has SAIS helped you prepare for your future career?
Because I am part of the State Department’s Charles B. Rangel Program, when I graduate from SAIS, I will join the Foreign Service, in which I hope to become an economic officer. SAIS has increased my understanding of economics, but also international relations and security studies–two added dimensions which I hitherto been unexposed. Of course, these new frameworks have been difficult for me to learn (and very much a work in progress), but the ideas proposed by professors, as well as discussions with other students, have given me new analytical tools, both qualitative and quantitative, which I believe will enhance my ability to serve effectively as an economic officer.
What are your plans for the coming summer?  Will you be doing an internship?
This summer I will be interning at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in the economics section. Because of my interest in trade policy, I am looking forward to learning first hand how the the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is being implemented, as well as witnessing the developing economic policy of new Korean President Park Geun Hye.
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guest Blog Post: SAISers in Brazil

Today, we have a guest photo blog post from SAIS student Kari Hatcher, who we previously interviewed for our Student Spotlight Series, about her recent Spring Break trip to Brazil.


During spring break, March 16-24, 2013, seventeen Energy, Resources and Environment (ERE) students traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to study the challenges of sustainable urban development. The goal of the trip was to explore investments in urban sustainability in light of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The areas of focus will include smart cities and environmental protection and clean up. The students met with local stakeholders including community organizers, elected officials, and non-profit and for-profit organizations. Notable visits included a trip to the Brazilian Development Bank, the Gramacho Landfill biogass collection site and a tour of the Salgueiro Caldeirao favela.

Instituto Baia de Guanabara, which does research on the bay to contribute to clean up and protection efforts.
Students in the meeting at the Instituto Baia de Guanabara.
Lunch in Niteroi, which is located about 30 minutes outside of Rio.
Inside the meeting at the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) offices in the center of Rio.
Outside the BNDES offices following our meeting about the bank’s investments in sustainability and the World Cup.
Some students at lunch in a well known restaurant in downtown Rio.
Students before a meeting at the Brazilian Sustainable Development Foundation.
Students visiting a Cooperative for Women’s seamstresses in Duque de Caxais outside of Rio.
Walking through the mud in the Mata Atlantica rainforest to the Waste picker’s Cooperative.
Brazilian school kids in Duque de Caxias.
Students sitting on the famous Escadaria Selaron in the Santa Teresa neighborhood in Rio.
After a meeting with Congressman Alfredo Sirkis in Ipanema.
A scene from the Escadaria Selaron.
Image of Rio de Janeiro and its well known favelas in the mountains.
The group of students outside the world famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer).
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

Monday, April 15, 2013

Student Spotlight: Cameron Thomas-Shah

For this Student Spotlight, we’ve interviewed Cameron Thomas-Shah.  Cameron is a second-year M.A. student concentrating in American Foreign Policy, and he spent his first year at the SAIS Bologna Center.  Cameron is a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow, and received his B.A. in International Studies from Morehouse College in 2011.
You applied for the Pickering Fellowship during your sophomore year of college, so you decided on a career path early on.  Why did you choose to pursue a career in the Foreign Service?
I learned about the fellowship from my mentor who is both a Morehouse College and SAIS alum. The Foreign Service seemed to embody everything I loved: travel, learning about new cultures, and service. Since then I’ve understood the value of US diplomacy in international affairs.
How has the Pickering Fellowship helped prepare you for your future career?
Included in the fellowship are two internships, one abroad and one domestic. These experiences provided me with a first hand experience of how the Foreign Service really works. The fellowship also used to include an intensive 7-week economics, statistics, and policy analysis summer institute, which occured between junior and senior year of college. With these three experiences I was not only prepared to SAIS’ rigorous curriculum, but also well prepared and informed to begin a career in the Foreign Service.
Can you tell us about your summer internship?  How did your first year of study at SAIS Bologna enhance/contribute to your internship experience?
I interned in the Public Affairs section of Embassy Hanoi. While there I worked closely on public diplomacy projects relating to Fulbright, cultural affairs, press relations, exchange programs, and the American Center. In the American Center, which is a US embassy sponsored cultural center used to educated foreign audiences about the US, I led the departments first soft skills seminar and professional development program in South East Asia and did a fair bit of editing for the mission. The writing I did during my first year in Bologna prepared me for all the writing and editing I did in Vietnam. Also living abroad for a yea prepared me for the decentralization that sometimes occurs when working abroad.
How has the language program at SAIS complemented your study of international relations?
Working toward proficiency certainly helps with cultural competency. Learning French and having a limited background in Chinese makes my understanding of both cultures much easier.
You’re only a few weeks away from graduating – what are you doing for your capstone project?
One of the advantages of the American Foreign Policy program in Bologna is the option to finish your master thesis during your second semester. So last year, I wrote my thesis on US-Pakistan relations. However, this year, I am undertaking a study examining African-American political thought and American Foreign policy.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Student Spotlight: Haitham Jendoubi

This week, we’ve chosen to interview Haitham Jendoubi, a second-year M.A. concentrating in Japan Studies.  In 2008, Haitham received his B.A. in Cognitive Science from Yale. Prior to enrolling at SAIS, Haitham taught English in Japan, served as Education Director for a tech startup, and was a researcher and translator for a Japanese newspaper.
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Your academic and professional background isn’t in international relations; why did you choose to pursue a career in international affairs?
Although I studied cognitive science in undergrad, I developed an interest in foreign policy during my time teaching English in rural Japan after graduation. The experience of communicating with other communities at a grassroots level was edifying, and brought into focus my interest in foreign languages and communities. I decided I wanted to contribute to the formulation of U.S. policy as its relationships with traditional allies and trade partners continue to evolve, and made the decision to apply to policy-oriented Master’s programs.
Can you tell about your concentration, and why you chose it?
My concentration, Japan Studies, represented a chance to take a series of in-depth courses about Japan’s diplomatic and economic ties with the United States and its neighbors. At SAIS, I’ve been able to explore contemporary Japanese policies, keep up my Japanese through advanced language courses, and bolster my knowledge of international economics in a range of areas. I am also specializing in International Finance, which has included a range of courses in corporate finance, financial regulation in developed and emerging markets, and development finance, taught not only by professors but also practitioners from the legal and finance professions.
We heard you spent your spring break in Japan - how did your spring break trip compliment your SAIS experience?
I was in Tokyo during spring break conducting research interviews for the capstone paper in my U.S.-Japan Relations course, which I’m writing about the impact of Japan’s new monetary policies on its bilateral relationship with the United States. The opportunity to interview government sources and civil society observers has been invaluable, and brought to life the concepts I’ve studied in both my regional and international economics courses.
What type of work do you hope to do after graduation?
I hope to work in the public policy sphere in an international financial regulation or macroeconomic analysis role. I was fortunate enough to intern at the East Asia Office of the Treasury Department last year; a similar role would be an ideal first step after SAIS.
What are some of the skills you’ve learned at SAIS that will help you in your future career?
I think the hard skills I have acquired through economics courses–time-series econometrics, financial modeling, etc.–will be the most relevant in my chosen field, but I am also grateful for the extensive group work and public speaking that many of my classes have required, which have honed my communication and teamwork skills and should prove quite useful as well. I’ve also had the opportunity to study Chinese and Portuguese at SAIS, which I hope to apply to my career in the future.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Student Spotlight: Yaniv Barzilai

For today’s installment of our Student Spotlight Series, we have interviewed Yaniv Barzilai, a second-year M.A. concentrating in Strategic Studies.  Yaniv is a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow, and he received his B.A. in Peace, War, and Defense from the University of North Carolina in 2011. 
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As a Pickering Fellow, you’ll be joining the Foreign Service after graduation.  What are some of the practical skills you’ve learned at SAIS that will help you in your career?
One of the most important skills that I have learned at SAIS is how to approach complex problems in a systematic and strategic manner. Asking the right questions, scrutinizing historical precedents, considering the second- and third-order consequences, and evaluating alternatives are essential to the process of policy formulation and implementation but do not always occur naturally. SAIS has also helped me improve upon my time management and prioritization skills. Last semester I was taking a full course load, working 20 hours per week at the State Department, and putting the finishing touches on my book on Afghanistan. It was the first time in my life that I could not complete everything on my to-do list. The reality of the Foreign Service and many other professions is that the amount of work to be done far exceeds the time available to complete it. Learning how to survive and thrive in that sort of environment is necessary to succeeding in the fast-paced, complex world of foreign policy and national security.
Doing a summer internship is an important component to the Pickering fellowship.  Can you tell us about your summer internship?
Last summer I was an intern in the Somalia Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked with a small group of diplomats under U.S. Special Representative for Somalia Ambassador Jim Swan during a critical time in Somalia’s history. My job was to track the military events in Somalia and report on the state of the offensive against al-Shabaab. Every day I made calls to military and political leaders in Somalia to report on the latest events. I coordinated and developed plans to expand U.S. Anti-Terrorism Assistance programs to train Somali government officials on critical security capabilities. I even had the opportunity to draft a cable in response to a request by the White House for analysis on a particular subject that was subsequently discussed at National Security Council meetings. My time in the Somali Affairs Unit culminated with a trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Kenya, where I was the site officer for the Secretary’s meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. I traveled often in my free time and finished my summer in East Africa with a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro.
You have a book coming out soon.  Congratulations!  How has your time at SAIS contributed to this particular project?
SAIS has played an important role in the process of writing a book on the first 100 days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. My book relies partially on interviews with U.S. officials at every level of the war effort, and I was fortunate to find a number of professors at SAIS who possessed experience in government during this time period. I had an in-depth interview with Professor John McLaughlin, who was the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 11 and played a pivotal role in the war on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and around the world. Professor Bruce Riedel, who has been a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents, has been a great mentor and generously agreed to write the foreword for my book. Other SAIS professors have provided informal help, such as Ambassador Eric Edelman, who was Vice President Cheney’s National Security Advisor, and Professor Walter Andersen, who was the chief of the South Asia Division at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Being in DC was also a distinct advantage and provided me with access to a number of other policymakers. 
You recently led a student trip to the US Army Special Operations Command.  How did this extracurricular activity complement your studies at SAIS?
Our recent trip to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) was a great opportunity to gain insight into the Army’s special operations capabilities. USASOC is not only home to the Green Berets but maintains extensive capabilities in all aspects of irregular warfare. We received briefings from subordinate organizations responsible for psychological operations, civil affairs, aviation, and the training of all Special Forces. We also met with a SAIS alumnus and a few of his colleagues from the 82nd Airborne. Since the U.S. Special Forces share the same organizational predecessors as the CIA, the trip complemented a broad array of classes focusing on intelligence or the military. From designing a covert operation to producing a national intelligence estimate to studying counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the USASOC trip enhanced my experience in the classroom by providing me with a practical understanding of the unique capabilities of our Special Forces.
What has been your favorite class so far, and why?
My favorite class at SAIS has been America’s Wartime Diplomacy: the Politics of Coalition Maintenance and Alliance Management. Taught by veteran diplomat Ambassador Eric Edelman, the class examined the implications of Churchill’s adage that “the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies is trying to fight one without them.” Ambassador Edelman’s lectures were commensurate to opening an encyclopedia on the day’s topic. The workload was heavy, but I found myself learning more from my peers and our discussions than any other class I have taken. Ambassador Edelman challenged us to reach a new level of understanding and critical analysis, and the class as a whole rose to that challenge. This class not only taught me about wartime diplomacy and coalition warfare but also provided me with a solid foundation of diplomatic history since World War I.
Yaniv’s book, 102 Days of War: How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001, is slated to be published this year by Potomac Books.  For more information about Yaniv’s book, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Student Spotlight: Anne Gilman

For today’s installation of the Student Spotlight series, we’ve interviewed Anne Gilman, a first-year M.A. student concentrating in Southeast Asia Studies. Anne graduated from University of Southern California in 2010 with a BA in political science, and prior to coming to SAIS worked as a communications associate in Hong Kong.

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You’re studying Burmese language at SAIS. What did you find appealing about the SAIS language program?
First of all, that SAIS even offers Burmese. SAIS is one of the few schools in the country where one can study Burmese. The novice class has 8 students and the intermediate 2 students. Our Burmese teacher is fantastic, and also teaches at the Foreign Service Institute. He has invited us to cultural events at the Burmese Buddhist Monastery near Washington D.C. and the class went to a Burmese restaurant together to try the food. It is a very supportive program, and the teacher and school go above and beyond to put the students in a position to succeed with the language - from sending us sound files so we can hear the vocabulary, to helping sponsor a language intensive over the winter break.
Can you tell us about the Burmese language study trip you took during the winter break?
Six students in total went on the trip, 4 novice and 2 intermediate students. The novice students studied with 2 different teachers for 5 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 3 weeks in Yangon, Myanmar. We studied with one teacher named Daw Phyu Phyu Win and also Ko Htoo Htoo who is the tutor for the diplomats at the US Embassy in Yangon. We stayed in apartments of expats who are working in Yangon. We progressed as much as we would in a semester in Washington D.C. in just three weeks and we really took advantage of the opportunity to focus our attention purely on the language. It was a great feeling to utilize the vocabulary and grammar we had been studying all semester - and realized, that hey it worked! We could bargain in the markets, direct taxis, order in the restaurants, and make a few friends while we were at it.

Some students traveled around the country on the weekends, to Bagan, Bago, and Nay Pyi Taw (the capital), and also conducted independent research. I conducted a series of interviews investigating the effects that international business can have on the dual economic and political transition in Myanmar, and to what extent economic diplomacy would be a viable channel to pursue U.S. interests int he country. We were very grateful for a grant from the Southeast Asia Studies which enabled the learning experience. It has really refreshed my motivation and given me a renewed energy to vigorously pursue my Burmese studies this semester.
As a Student Government Association officer, you’re very involved in student life at SAIS. How does the student life aspect compliment the academics and professional preparation at SAIS?
I was fortunate to be elected one of the First Year Representatives for the Student Government Association in the fall and I have really enjoyed being the link between the student body and administration (in fact, I just submitted my video to run for President next year!). It has been amazing to experience how responsive the administration is to student suggestions and ideas, and the ability that we have on the SGA to support student initiatives and implement student ideas.

Student life is the perfect compliment to the academic and professional preparation at SAIS because every time I am doing research for a paper or project, or exploring what industry I want to pursue a career in, there is a great chance that one of my peers is specializing in the area I am researching, or has worked in the profession I am considering. For example, I have a presentation coming up on Thai-Myanmar relations, so I plan on speaking with my classmate who is in the Thai foreign ministry, and a teacher who was a former foreign service officer for Myanmar. Being a part of the Student Government Association has given me the opportunity to meet a wide range of classmates that I might not have gotten to know otherwise.
What has been your favorite class so far, and why?
This is a hard one, because even though it is just my second semester, there have been so many great classes!! I think I’ll have to go with the International Relations of Asia - the Policy Process - by Professor Karl Jackson. Our task as a class was to come up with policy recommendations for President Obama for US Foreign Policy towards Myanmar for the next 5 years. We were each assigned a topic area ( I was civil society and political movements) and encouraged to go out in the DC community and speak with authoritative people on the subject. Individually we came up with an analysis of the current framework and policy recommendations, and then through a few “policy-making” sessions, combined them into one comprehensive document. While the class may seem like it was about Myanmar, it really was about experiencing the policy process and it gave me an appreciation for how difficult it truly is to be a policy maker. Maybe it is from his personal experience in the White House, but there is something special about the atmosphere that Prof. Jackson creates that enabled our class to truly feel like policy makers.
What are you planning on pursuing professionally after graduation? What are some of the specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
After graduation, I plan to pursue a position in business development for a multinational company in the private sector in Southeast Asia. Some day down the line I plan to apply that experience as a professor of International Business. I’ve gained an unbelievable amount of regional knowledge that will prepare me for my career and I am starting to explore the nexus of international business and public policy, which I believe will be an asset in business development in Southeast Asia. I’m further developing relevant skills in the Management Challenges in Emerging Markets Practicum led from Frontier Strategy Group at SAIS that is giving me the framework to identify trends, and potential disruptors across industries and regions.
And this coming summer, I have accepted an offer with the Economic Department of the US Embassy in Bangkok, where I will be working for two SAIS graduates!
Thanks for reading!

— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions

To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Student Spotlight: Shanah Lee

This post is the tenth in an on-going series highlighting SAIS concentrations.
As a region, Africa is extremely diverse, and it faces a number of challenges that are unique to this continent.  The African Studies concentration at SAIS is organized organized along three broad themes: governance, development, and security.  Dr. Peter Lewis, SAIS professor and director of African Studies, discusses what makes African Studies at SAIS different from other programs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmV83HF274Q
You can also hear Dr. Lewis discuss some of the challenges faced by Africa here.
In addition to academic offerings, students in the African Studies concentration have the benefit of a regular seminar series featuring dozens of speakers and covering a wide range of topics, and many students pursue research projects and/or internships in various countries across the continent.
You can learn more about African Studies at SAIS here.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in this series, please click here.

Student Spotlight: Shanah Lee

This week, our Student Spotlight is focused on Shanah Lee, a first-year MA student concentrating in Conflict Management and China Studies.  Shanah received her BA in International Development from University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008.  Prior to studying at SAIS, Shanah worked at the Korean Consulate in Seattle, WA, and researched human rights violations and policies in North and South Korea.

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Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
Graduate school has allowed me to study what I’m most interested in and passionate about: Conflict Management and China.  Having only lived in Korea and United States all my life, I also thought this would be a great opportunity to challenge myself and study a field/area that I am not too familiar with.  I was enticed by the mediation and negotiation aspect of Conflict Management: encouraging students to travel and conduct research in a region of conflict, learning from actual practitioners as well as scholars in the field, and inviting students to real-world mediation and negotiation practices.  In addition, the China Studies program offers diverse classes on China, so students can cater the classes to their interest. My Contemporary Chinese Politics, US-China Relations, Grassroots China classes have been amazing; not only are they taught by renowned scholars, but they also bring together a group of talented and experienced students who offer new perspectives to the discussions.
What language(s) are you studying? How does the language component complement your study of international relations?
I am bilingual in English and Korean, and proficient in Chinese and Spanish.  I’m currently taking Intermediate Mid Chinese and Superior Korean, which is a post-proficiency Korean language course.  I spend five hours a week studying Chinese and two hours Korean.  My fellow classmates are just as enthusiastic and interested in learning new language and culture.  I was first surprised by how small and close-knit these classes are, compared to the large class sized I experienced in undergrad.  Each one of us receives enough attention from the language instructor and we all feel comfortable speaking around each other.  I believe it is your proficiency in a foreign language that will get you the internship and job of your dreams!  I think SAIS does a good job of integrating language to the overall curriculum.
You just began a new internship. Where are you interning, and what type of work will you be doing?
This semester I am interning at an organization called American Academy of Diplomacy, a non-profit organization that promotes and educates American diplomacy to the general public, provides crucial support and assistance to the American diplomatic community.  I found this position through SAISworks, a career-related database offered by SAIS.  During the interview, I learned that the Program Coordinator is a SAIS alum, which made me feel more comfortable speaking about my experience, strengths, and contributions to the Academy.  She also gave me advice regarding my classes and career, and is very supportive of everything, and is flexible with my schedule.  Interns assist with the organization’s outreach effort, by utilizing social media to foster public awareness.  We also manage Academy’s membership, which is composed of former US ambassadors and senior-level government officials.  I had a chance to meet a former ambassador who served in Russia and Eastern Europe; we had an interesting discussion about US and Soviet Union relations, and how this affects US-China relations.  Having learned about the Boxer Rebellion and Truman Doctrine just a week before, I was able to actively engage and apply what I learned with someone who lived through the history!
We’ve already discussed language skills. What are some of the other specific skills you’ve been developing since you’ve enrolled at SAIS?
Coming to SAIS with no extensive background in Economics, I found the classes challenging but rewarding at the same time.  Understanding numerous micro and macro concepts has helped me to understand the world economy with critical and keen eye.  Before SAIS, I read the world news to gain information and learn the ‘what’; I now read them asking myself the ‘how’ and ‘why’, as well as the impact these events have in the region and the global community.  Taking small, discussion-based courses teaches me to organize my views concisely and present in front of peers, something I hadn’t acquired before.  In addition, various skills course and Career Center-sponsored events connect students and alums to ask questions, seek advice, and gain critical skills that we can directly apply in the field.  Building lasting relationships and networking are also important; I think SAIS provides me ample opportunities to attend various events to acquaint myself with fellow students, faculty members and alumni.
What are your post-graduation plans?
Before coming to SAIS, I was pretty set on pursuing a career in US Foreign Service.  Before I graduate, I hope to gain as much experience and skills as possible, so when I finally join the Foreign Service in the future, I will be more prepared and ready to face the challenges there.
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Student Spotlight: Larissa Muir

Today we’ve interviewed Larissa Muir for our Student Spotlight.  Larissa is concentrating in Energy, Resources & Environment; she spent her first year in SAIS Bologna and is completing her second year in Washington, DC.  Larissa received her BA in International Relations from Simon Fraser University in 2009, and she completed a graduate certificate in International Relations at Tufts University in 2010.  Prior to attending SAIS, Larissa worked as the Director of Marketing and Development at Kendal Lighting Inc.
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What made you want to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs?
I chose to pursue a graduate degree in international affairs due to my experiences of living and traveling abroad. This inspired me to build on my time spent outside of Canada by engaging more actively with the various regions I had visited. I could think of no better way to achieve this than by starting a career in the international field, but first I wanted to learn more about the places I had been to and I needed a more nuanced understanding of the key issues that affect these regions. I felt studying I.R. would be the best path to achieve these professional goals.
What are some of the differences between the two campuses, and what do you see as beneficial about the opportunity to study in both Bologna, Italy and Washington, DC?
I think the best thing about studying at both the Bologna and D.C. campuses is getting the benefit of not one, but two perspectives. Although it’s all under the SAIS umbrella, you’re still dealing with two different campuses with different faculty and courses in two very different countries. A large part of international affairs has been shaped by transatlantic relations and the opportunity to study American and European perspectives in both continents was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Bologna, I was challenged by a non-American perspective I hadn’t received before, whereas I think in D.C. you’re getting more of the status quo.
Do you have a favorite course so far?  Can you tell us about it?
One of my favourite courses was with Prof. Hafner in Bologna, “The Politics and Economics of Energy.” He’s an expert in the subject matter who also works in the field, which made the classroom discussion more interesting due to the variety of perspectives he offered.
Can you tell us about the professional development opportunities at SAIS?
SAIS provides a multitude of opportunities to pursue skills development courses, both online and on campus, as well as having its own student-focused Career Services department. There are also career trips across the various concentrations (either regional or functional) to develop the skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in that particular field.
What are you planning on pursuing professionally after graduation?  Are there specific skills you’ve learned that will help you in your career?
I don’t know if many SAIS students know exactly what they’re going to do after graduation! Personally I would love to work in the energy sector, either as a consultant or for an international energy company. I’ve completed several ERE courses here of course and SAIS’s strong emphasis on economics in particular has given me access to sections of the job market that I couldn’t have considered before my graduate studies.   
Thanks for reading!
— Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions
To read previous entries in our Student Spotlight series, please click here.