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Reflections on comfort and words of wisdom

Protest in Alexandria, Egypt. Photo courtesy of Ashley Fisseha.

Reflections on Comfort and Words of Wisdom
By Ashley Fisseha, SPS Graduate Assistant 
December 1, 2015  |  Autumn 2015

Our chartered flight finally landed in Prague at 2:53 a.m. on a Tuesday, after spending 40 hours in a deteriorating airport in Alexandria, Egypt. Having slept to the smell of tear gas and the sounds of gunfire and protests just nights before, I settled into my single, king-sized hotel room with saccharine decor, a warm shower, a complimentary breakfast menu, and clean, brisk winter air flowing through my window.

I found the juxtaposition shocking. And it changed me.

It was Feb. 1, 2011, and I had just left a country that had fallen into revolution and chaos. Amid my sudden luxuries, I could not sleep. I thought about the people who had protected our apartment complex day and night. What were they doing? Were they in danger? Did the tanks on our street stay to patrol the neighborhood raids?

What about the family with young children who had asked if we had extra room on our flight for them? When the family approached us, we didn’t have a flight or even a destination yet, but that hardly mattered to a mother desperate to get her children to safety.

‘With communication systems down (in Egypt), did the
families we left behind connect with their loved ones?’

Police in Cairo. Courtesy of Ashley Fisseha.

With communication systems down, did the families we left behind connect with their loved ones? Though my Arabic program in Egypt ended all too soon, I spent the next 11 months in Morocco during a rather subdued version of the Arab Spring — the February 20 Movement. Through this unpredictable adventure, I identified my passion for conflict studies and development, particularly education. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I worked in the nonprofit world for two years and decided I wasn’t yet fulfilled. I needed to go back to school.

Like the majority of my peers, I entered the School of Public Service without the slightest idea of what my final capstone or thesis project would study. I knew that I was passionate about conflict, development, and women’s issues, but I had just too many areas to investigate in two years’ time.

My interests have certainly informed my research at DePaul, but the relationships I built with faculty propelled me down the path towards my capstone topic. I am lucky to have received two sage pieces of advice.

In my first quarter of the International Public Service program, I met frequently with the program’s chair, Dr. Ramya Ramanath, to discuss my interests and woes. She encouraged me to focus each class project on topics at least tangentially related to my passion. Aside from simply maintaining my enthusiasm during class, this has been extremely helpful in narrowing my interests. I also now have a plethora of research that I can refer to as I continue to develop my capstone.

The second words of wisdom came from SPS’s new faculty member, Dr. Meghan Condon. She asked me, and I mean really asked me, what I wanted to do after school. (Dr. Michael Diamond encourages a similar practice involving spreadsheets and a bit of wine — ask him about it!) She asked me to reflect on my personality and what I’d learned over the past year. She asked me about previous work experience and organizations that interested me. I landed on a few ideas, and she suggested that I model my capstone or thesis after research and programs these organizations produce. I could use my work later in job interviews to demonstrate my capabilities and interests and why I would be a good fit for the position. This is simple, yet genius!

I’ve since spent too much time — outside of my normal job and Netflix responsibilities — reading these organizations’ research and thinking of what I can do to add a similar project to my portfolio. I’ve also attended more networking events, and even recently held an informational interview for the first time. I thereby aim to expand my network, thus potentially expand job opportunities, and build a network of experts that I could call on for topical advice for my capstone.

Man selling flags in Alexandria.

My capstone focuses on the education-conflict nexus using a case study of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. I still have a long way to go, but the wisdom of Dr. Ramanath and Dr. Condon has guided me through my quarter-life crisis. I genuinely thank them for that, and I thank all of the School of Public Service for its advice and guidance.

In the process of developing my capstone, I often think of the families and friends I left behind in Egypt. I think of their smiles, their fear, their children, their struggles, their opportunities. This drives me to continue my work.

To continue the discussion,
contact Ashley Fisseha