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?’
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’
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
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.
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.