Monday, February 29, 2016

SAIS DC Alumni Profile: Malikat Rufai, MA '13

For our first Alumni Profile, we interviewed Malikat Rufai, 2013 Johns Hopkins SAIS graduate who currently works as Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

While at SAIS, Malikat concentrated in Conflict Management. She earned her BA in International/Global Studies and French from Spelman College prior to attending SAIS.

Tell us about your current role. 
As Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, I am responsible for coming up with creative strategies to strengthen the bilateral relationship at the people-to-people level. This requires understanding what Vietnamese people want from a relationship with the U.S., and how to infuse more macro USG policy goals into my programming.

How do you think your experience at SAIS prepared you for this work?
I think that my experience at SAIS was hugely influential in my work. In order to be the most effective diplomat, you have to have an understanding of foreign policy, and the underlying goals beneath every project. That is even truer in public diplomacy, where the policy-relevance or your initiatives is critical, but like many soft power tools, may not be obvious. Further, Public Affairs Sections worldwide manage a great deal of money. I have never felt overwhelmed managing grants or programs, in part, I believe because SAIS gave me more confidence in my quantitative abilities.

Did you leverage the school’s network?
As a Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow, I was fortunate enough to already know that I was entering the Foreign Service after SAIS. However, I still took advantage of Career Services activities, and I’m grateful that I did. Skills ranging from networking to interviewing to leadership are so necessary in my daily work, and as the State Department is full of the “SAIS Mafia,” I entered with an invaluable network within the organization.

What advice would you give someone contemplating attending SAIS?
I would encourage prospective students to think about what they want out of their graduate degree. SAIS gave me the skills to evaluate policy and to think strategically that I felt were necessary to be successful not only in my career as a diplomat, but in any number of wonderful careers. The SAIS brand is a recognizable one, because it is a brand built on a practice of imbuing its students with marketable skills. Aside from what you can get from the institution however, what you get from your fellow students is even better. SAISers are some of the most supportive intellectuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and they were key to my experiences there.

Malikat (SAIS MA '13) managing SCOTUS Justice Ginsburg's visit to HCMC
Malikat leading a discussion with Vietnamese youth at the HCMC American Center on gender equality.
Malikat at the Department of State Headquarters in Washington, DC
Thanks for reading!

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