Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fulbright: Academic Performance and Personal Growth

My interest in politics and government institutions started at a young age. In Arab countries, political events are a hot topic in most family discussions. In Yemen, challenging - sometimes catastrophic - daily political conflicts are the norm. When I graduated from college, I was one of the fortunate Yemenis who joined a relatively less tumultuous government. This short, yet rewarding, professional experience has deepened my aspirations to work through government institutions and civil society organizations to implement sustainable, although mostly modest, development projects.

As I was acquiring some critical on-the-job skills in the government, I realized that I would like to invest more in my education and challenge myself with an overseas graduate experience. I firmly believe that new, out-of-the-box life experiences and risks have a tendency of promoting career objectives the most, even if the tangible benefits are not always immediate. I have a deep interest in advancing Yemen’s growing economic and social difficulties and will be better armed to do so if I surround myself in a new context, with access to more learning opportunities: an objective that was possible through the Fulbright Program.

Attending Georgetown’s McCourt Public Policy School has been rewarding. The complex set of ideas discussed in class with individuals from different personal and professional backgrounds has been enriching. I recall a course taught by my post-conflict reconstruction professor where I had the opportunity to discuss Middle Eastern politics and reconstruction efforts led by the government of Yemen in association with its development partners, namely regional Gulf countries, along with U.S. and EU development agencies. It was fascinating because it allowed me to discuss challenges the region faces, and limitations to externally led initiatives.

Since my arrival, my Fulbright friends have also become my family. The program brings us together through our shared values and commitment to immersing ourselves in different education systems. Attending graduate school in the United States is a privilege as the American classroom experience is interdisciplinary, with a focus on group work, research skills, and creativity.

My stay in Washington, D.C. has also been eye-opening. Even a visit to the National Mall is noteworthy in this wonderful city. There is one particular experience that I would like to highlight. During the summer I joined the International Finance Corporation (the World Bank Group) as a resident researcher to undertake a market scoping of water pumping in Yemen. Over 70% of the Yemeni population lives in rural areas, and more than half of these residents depend on agriculture as their main source of income. As many other Arab countries, the political situation has impacted the livelihoods of citizens, particularly the livelihoods of the poorest citizens. Working on a Yemen-related program was personally rewarding, and I was glad to be able to utilize my newly acquired quantitative and research skills fulfill the requirements of the assignment. I feel particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such a highly qualified team within the IFC – three of whom are Fulbright alumni - and learn new analytical skills I will carry with me in onward assignments.

Montaha Hassan is Yemeni Fulbright student pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Policy at Georgetown University.

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