Connecting Worlds: Eric helps Moms in Africa grow veggies

My friends from Fletcher took off in all world directions. Here is an update on Eric. After spending the summer 2014 in Africa, he moved to Kigali after graduation.

Eric landed a typical Fletcher dream job: Development in Africa

My grad school friend Eric works for Gardens for health in Rwanda

A few months after graduating from Fletcher, I moved to Kigali, Rwanda to start a job with an NGO called Gardens for Health International (GHI). GHI works to eradicate childhood malnutrition by helping mothers grow vegetable gardens and learn about nutrition. While this is not my first time living in Africa, it is the most significant in that it’s a real, paying job, and it doesn’t come with an end date and flight home. This is a snapshot of my life six months in.

First things first: Rwanda is a nice, safe, and easy place to live. Perhaps you didn’t expect that? More than 20 years have passed since the genocide of 1994, and it has made impressive gains since then. Not only do I have running water and electricity, but within a 10-minute walk from my house in Kigali, there are two supermarkets, Italian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants, and an art gallery. The roads are mostly paved and in good shape, traffic is minimal, and I can safely walk around alone at night – all things I couldn’t have said about many of the western cities I’ve called home.

To be sure, my life in Rwanda comes with its idiosyncrasies. My office is located on a farm outside of the city, and my daily commute is on the back of a pickup truck. Routine activities such as taking the dog for a walk and grocery shopping involve dozens of children (and sometimes adults) unashamedly staring at me and exclaiming “muzungu!” (white person). My interaction with the children enrolled in GHI’s program usually has a 50/50 chance of leaving them speechless in awe or crying in fear.

weigh in-no fun

My favorite shot: this is how we keep track of the children’s weight

Crying children aside, I love my job. Working for a small, mission-driven organization in Africa has given me professional opportunities I would never have had back home. My title is the Impact and Learning Manager, which means I use data to try and measure our social impact and help the organization to learn from and improve on what we do. I’ve only been here for six months, but in that time I’ve had the opportunity to design and roll-out a system of collecting data through mobile phones (a big change from staff filling out every survey by hand), lead trainings of 60 people, and help our staff gain new insights of our program’s successes and limitations.

My days are not spent out in the field, feeding malnourished babies or handing out seeds, but in my office, staring at spreadsheets. Not very glamorous, I know. But I can see the impact I’m having on the people around me, and through them, on the most vulnerable women and children in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also motivated by many less-than-altruistic things – the country’s beautiful hills, the affordable lifestyle, the year-round access to delicious tropical fruits, and the sense of adventure, just to name a few. But in those moments when I find the absurdities of my life and the comforts of home making me question the path I’ve chosen, I can remind myself that in some small way, I’ve helped improve the lives of people much worse off than myself. And that’s something worth sticking around for.

Eric enjoys nature and live in KigaliLearn more

  • about GHI’s work here
  • about Eric’s work here

Connecting worlds: Face your hidden bias!

Facebook on Friday, 13th, after the dreadful attacks in Paris: Besides posts expressing great solidarity with France, I also came across disturbing posts, blaming refugees or condemning Islam. I was sitting on a train from NY to Boston, a working resident alien in the US, feeling helpless. What is it I can do? I am trying to encounter every person as a human being and a potential friend. Does that even count es “doing something” or should that not be booked as “that goes without saying”?

Suddenly I realized how important it is to be open to difference, and willing to learn from others. At the beginning of this week, my friend Deepti texted me some advice for my first week at my new workplace: “If you meet Indians at work, do not forget to wish them Happy Diwali.” I am so thankful for that text, my Indian friends and coworkers were pleasantly surprised that a white Christian remembered their most important holiday. Moments like these remind me why I introduced my “connecting worlds” articles to this blog, to emphasize the little things, to reveal other perspectives.

Especially after what has happened yesterday, I feel it is time for a post that will most likely be controversial. In one of my Harvard Business School classes, we spend a great amount talking about hidden biases. Every person has a hidden bias. And you cannot do anything against that bias, but to be aware of it. To confront yourself honestly and admit: Yes, I have a subconscious tendency to treat a person with certain features (color, religion, origin) differently than others.

One of my classmates, a brilliant speaker and very passionate scholar, shared a personal story with us in the classroom and I have asked him if he would be willing to share his feelings in my connecting world section. I am sharing this today because I want to remind myself and my readers that, in times like these, when we have been hurt and our deepest values have been attacked, we should not, not for one moment, let our biases get the best of ourselves. Comments welcome!

Sartre_Freedom

 

I am an Egyptian Muslim with both Egyptian and American citizenships. I was born in the U.S., about 3 weeks before my father was scheduled to graduate from the master’s program he was attending. After graduation, my parents flew me back to Egypt and began a working life in the Middle East. Consequently, I lived most of my life in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Save for a 2-month study abroad program in California during undergrad, I had not spent extended periods of time in the U.S. When anybody asks me where I am from or which country I identify with, I reply “Egypt” without hesitation. One more thing, my last name happens to be a prevalent Muslim name in the Middle East and Asia.

 

About 2 years ago, I was accepted to Harvard Business School’s MBA program, and started studying there in August of 2013. And it is here where the challenge begins. Whenever I fly into Boston via an international flight -since I came to Boston for the very first time to interview with HBS and until now- I am stopped and questioned by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This has happened to me all but one time, out of about 20 (MBA students travel a lot).

 

Every time this happens, I am told to step aside by the customs officer while another escorts me to a quiet area. There, I am told to wait till they call my name. The waiting room usually has a couple of other people in it. They are always male, brown, and Muslim – by both name and homeland majority religion. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the people I meet there attend top programs at either Harvard or MIT. When my name is finally called (usually 20 minutes later), my bags are searched thoroughly, and I am questioned extensively. There is no limit to how intrusive or personal the questions are: I am asked about my immediate family, their marital situations, their careers, my political affiliations, what I am doing in the United States, why I am flying in now, whether or not I am “hiding” illicit materials, when I plan to fly out again, and how frequently I generally fly.

 

Aware that the TSA is answerable to practically no one, and that there is absolutely no way to escalate this situation or correct their behavior, I answer their questions in a half-dead, robotic kind of way. All the while, inside, I boil with anger every single time. The injustice of it all kills me. The fact that it delays my plans, the fact that I watch people who were standing way behind me in the customs line now leaving happily while I sit waiting for the nosy, imposing questions, the fact that I did nothing to deserve this other than having a last name that bodes suspicion to none but the most extreme and uneducated of rednecks; all of this drives me crazy. And I start thinking, how did this all come to be?

 

My thoughts have led me to conclude that the way the TSA flags possible dangerous suspects derives from data and intelligence, part of which must come from mainstream perception of Muslims in America. Therefore, far from the 40 uncomfortable minutes that I spend justifying myself in the airport, the worst feeling I have is when I leave the airport with the knowledge that I am now about to set foot inside a country where I am not at all sure that I am viewed in a positive or even neutral light – just because of my name. And even though I know that most people around me are educated and nuanced in their views, this does not stop me from being extremely angry with the way I am treated.

 

Far from accepting that this is the way things are, I find myself –every time- unable to suppress the desire to throw TSA employees the dirtiest look I could possibly muster whenever I am back in the airport. I make it clear that I do not want to have the slightest verbal or physical interaction with them, and I don’t answer them when they scream out instructions about what to put in the grey trays. I just want to distance myself from any TSA-controlled area as soon as possible, and I actually derive this sort of vindictive pleasure whenever they notice that I (nonverbally) make it crystal clear what I think of them.

 

I am –believe it or not- not an aggressive person. I’m well-educated, reasonable, and would love to do something nice for the world when I graduate. And yet the sheer injustice of the way I am treated simply takes over my every instinct when I am in the airport. At that moment, I forget all about how I want to do something beneficial with my life, and I find myself -despite myself- fixated on how to legitimately get back at the shallow, judgmental, people who for some reason think I may be a terrorist. Try as I might, I can’t shake off the ridiculousness of it all. There are 1.6 Billion Muslims on the planet, and yet for some reason the U.S. government gives merit to the possibility that any of them might be dangerous. Maybe if I were brought in to the flagging process I would see the logic behind it – although I doubt that.

 

As it stands, I am disgusted and revolted by the way I am treated. Till now, the U.S. has made it clear that I am not very welcome on its land – whether for business or pleasure.

 

Ostern und Reflektion über interkulturelle Missverständnisse

Ich wünsche Euch allen ein wunderschönes, sonniges Osterfest!

Ostern ist hier nicht. Zumindest nicht so wie zuhause. Karfreitag ist kein Feiertag, es gibt keine bunt bemalten Ostereier und der Lindt Goldhase trägt kein Glöckchen. Für mich ist das interessant, weil ich daran festmache, wie sehr Deutschland christliche Feiertage lebt, wohingegen in den Vereinigten Staaten keine religiösen Feiertage eine solche Dominanz haben. Man kann hier alle Feiertage leben und auch Gemeinschaften finden, die das tun. Aber man muss nicht.

Karfreitag war trotzdem dieses Jahr besonders für mich. Mein Professor für “International Investment Law” unterrichtet gemeinsam mit Professoren von der Harvard Law School und Brandeis University ein Seminar für internationale Verhandlungen (Program on Negotiations). Das Programm wird bald auch digitale Elemente enthalten und eine Gruppe internationaler Studenten ist Teil eines Unterrichtsvideos und ich durfte die Deutsche Perspektive vertreten.

Eine der größten Hürden in internationalen Verhandlungen sind internationale und interkulturelle Missverständnisse und in Vorbereitung auf das Video ist mir aufgefallen, wie viel ich hier lerne über meinen blinden Fleck und wie oft ich missverstanden werde. Ich werde in den nächsten Wochen ein paar Anekdoten und Lehrstunden mit Euch teilen.

Die Beziehung zählt, nicht das Ergebnis

In Indien und vielen südostasiatischen Regionen läuft ein einstündiges Meeting so ab: 30-45 Minuten erzählen sich alle gegenseitig über ihre Familien, ihr Befinden und dann erst gehts ans Eingemachte. In Deutschland beginnt ein Meeting um 08.00, um 08.01 haben alle Kaffee, ab 08.02 geht es um den Inhalt des Meetings (außer vielleicht montags, wenn kurz die Bundesliga-Ergebnisse besprochen werden müssen oder der Tatort durch den Dreck gezogen). Was für mich als zeiteffiziente Herangehensweise gilt, wird in internationalen Gruppen so verstanden, als wäre ich nicht an den Menschen am Verhandlungstisch interessiert, sondern nur an einem schnellen Ergebnis.

Die Deutsche Direktheit, vor allem im Probleme ansprechen, wird international oft als Arroganz verstanden. In meiner Zeit an der Uni habe ich mit Studenten aus der Türkei, USA, Indien, Holland, Syrien, Kamerun, Brasilien, Chile, Nepal, Pakistan, Korea, Griechenland, China, Japan enger zusammengearbeitet und für mich kultiviert, zu Anfang anzumerken, dass meine Art oft als sehr direkt empfunden wird. Viele haben mir positives Feedback gegeben. Und das Interessante ist: Ich ändere mein Verhalten nicht, aber es wird anders wahrgenommen, weil ich signalisiert habe, dass ich mir Gedanken darüber mache, wie andere Nationen und Kulturen funktionieren.

Ich verabschiede mich mit einem Sonnenaufgang und einem Sonnenuntergang aus meinem geliebten Boston.

Boston_Sunrise Boston_Sunset

 

What do you want to do?

Admidst thesis, classes, pushing away and yet embracing the six-week homestretch until this last semester comes to an end, there was a very special moment last friday at Professor Bill Martel’s memorial.

His friends, family, students and colleagues shared light hearted stories about him and we heard that he was carrying a poem in this pocket every day. And I want to share this poem with you. To me, it describes moral, inner strength. It touched me. It touched me because nowadays I get the question “What do you want to do?” daily. Of course, the questions aims at what I want to do careerwise after Fletcher.

Career considerations were not the only ones that strove me to attend Fletcher. I wanted to have a space where I can improve, become a better version of myself – in every aspect of life. So, if you ask me what I really want to do in my life, I would say: I want to listen more than I talk. I want to be able to not take myself too seriously. I want to be independent, so that I can argue with the same moral no matter who I am talking to.

IF (Rudyard Kipling)

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

Snowerflow – Boston Winter kills the love

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Winter in Berlin was cold, with snow that nobody bothered removing. Winter in Stuttgart was snowy. Current winter in Boston is unbelievably cold, temperatures are changing on a daily basis within a range of 20 degrees celsius, there is a … Continue reading

By the Sea

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.  (Rilke)

 

The Neptunes, our maritime club at The Fletcher School, which I along with two friends lead, organized a boat trip along the coast of Salem, followed by a huge Lobster cooking. It was a beautiful day, 21 degrees (Celsius, of course :-)). And, once again, it is the ocean that calms and humbles me and makes me appreciate everything that I have.

Corporate finance, you cannot beat this!

Kidnapped!

Für Lesefaule: Dies ist eine feindliche Übernahme von Toois Blog. Mein Name ist Corporate Finance und ich habe Franziska Schwarzmann unter meiner Kontrolle!

Ihr denkt, das ist ein Scherz, ist es aber nicht. Mein Netzwerk ist stark:

  • Professor Philipp Uhlmann, lange Investmentbanker, jetzt Professor. Er kämpft für eine Welt, in der Banker wieder als Menschen mit Verstand gesehen werden. Deswegen bringt er armen, mathematisch völlig unbegabten Menschen wie Tooi bei, was es heißt, eine Firma zu richtig zu finanzieren.
    • Sein Anliegen: “Setzt doch einfach mal den Common-Sense-Hut auf und fangt an nachzudenken.”
    • Seine Glaubensrichtung: “Everything will be fine.”
    • Sein Motivationsspruch: “Irgendwann im Dezember, wenn alles vorbei ist, werdet Ihr verstehen, warum wir Euch so quälen. Bis dahin hilft vor allem beten.”
    • Seine Taktik: “Ich erkläre Euch erst dann die Dinge, wenn Ihr völlig verzweifelt seid und kurz vorm Durchdrehen.”
  • “Edward”, Professor Uhlmanns Hund: Er bringt jeden Sonntag zu seiner Sprechstunde seinen Therapiehund “Edward” mit, ein Westhighland-Terrier-Monster. Edward sitzt auf “Phil´s” Schoß und schaut die Stundenten stets vorwurfsvoll an. Wenn ihm die fragenden Gesichter zu viel werden, macht er Nickerchen. Gegen solche Dummheit hilft nur Ignoranz.

Was hat das Ganze zu bedeuten?

Gestern Nacht hat Tooi ein Case-Write-Up fertiggestellt (für alle, die nicht wissen, was das ist: Harvard Business School schreibt sogenannte Cases über Firmen, die ein Problem haben. Zu den Cases gehören Excel-Tabellen. Studenten dürfen dann das Problem analysieren, Excel-Akrobatik üben und am Ende sagen, was sie machen würden, wenn sie der Firma etwas raten dürften), jede Woche Freitag muss sie ein Problem-Set einreichen (das ist seit fünf Wochen derselbe Ablauf: ein Tag, um die Aufgaben zu verstehen, ein Wochentag pro Aufgabe und am Ende stellt sich heraus, dass die Hälfte falsch war), und am 22.Oktober ist Klausurtag. Bis dahin werde ich Euch kein Lebenszeichen mehr senden.

Macht den Finanzern!

Das kleine Biest ist mir die letzten zwei Wochenenden entkommen, hier einige Bilder aus Boston, New York und Washington:

Connecting worlds – who am I studying with in Boston?

Summary for the busy people: When you go to a grad school like Fletcher, you need to stop comparing yourself to others. It is easier to accept that you´re in a team and you have the privilege of knowing such a different bunch of people.

Here is the question I get asked a lot this summer: “So, who are you studying with?” That is not that easy to answer! My fellow companions are so unique and I want to give you some impressions of who they are and what they are doing during their summers. This is just a small selection of my class at Fletcher and I hope I can continue with “connecting worlds”-posts.

Maybe, my dear German friends,  if you like what they are doing, you might want to get in touch with them. Let´s face it: This world is all about networking and if I can be of any help, you know how to reach me.

 

 

  • UzairUzair, from Karachi. My favorite experience with Uzair: Delicious Pakistani homemade dinner with American soldiers and German Hefeweizen

I do not know why that smart man has ever worked at Deloitte, because for me he is the born politician. He currently interns at the Hudson Institute in D.C. , researching on national power parity between India and Pakistan. Uzair is patiently answering all my, sometimes stupid, white Western questions about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Personally, I think, somebody should offer him a tour through German schools. So he could tear down some stereotype walls!

This is not exactly where Uzair works right now, but close by ;-)

This is not exactly where Uzair works right now, but close by 😉

 

  • Deepti Deepti, from Keralla. My favorite experience with Deepti: “Just one” drink in a karaoke bar in New Jersey.

She never stops working! And it is no wonder that she received a grant to intern in a developing country – Deepti went to educate Lanka in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We skyped once with the worst connection, but I have not found out yet, whether she encountered an elephant. She has now returned to New York from where she will head on a backpacking trip to Costa Rica and Panama.

Sunset in Colombo

Sunset in Colombo

 

  • Robert Robert, from Erfurt. My favorite experience with Robert: walking 50minutes through New York City rain, because the location we were looking for was “just a few blogs from here”

He.does.not.sleep! Robert and I lived in one tower on campus and I especially loved that occasional stopping by, that usually ended in foreign relations discussions lasting 2-3 hours. Robert spent June in Brazil, where I predict he will retire later in life and just started the 6-month prestigious Carlo-Schmid-internship program at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

 

  • AbhishekAbhishek, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. My favorite experience with “Abhi”: Building a snowman in the middle of the night.

Whenever I was falling in panic mode because of work load or existential life questions I couldn´t answer, there he was: calming Abhi. Rarely have I met a person who is as calm as he is. Abhi graduated this May and just moved to California to work for a technology start-up.

Abhi´s first sunset in Los Angeles.

Abhi´s first sunset in Los Angeles.

 

  • GeoffreyGeoffrey, Hartford. My favorite experience with “Geoff”: Spontaneous TV-show nights, mostly The Walking Dead.

Geoff is a Januarian, a Fletcher student who starts the master program in the Spring semester. Supposedly, Januarians have a harder time integrating – well, that cannot be proven with Geoff. He is very funny, spontaneous and he has the ability to critically reflect himself. Geoff interns for an energy company in Boston. He wants to focus on natural ressources security; I guess, we´ll need a lot of Geoffs in the future.

Geoff´s view was the complete opposite of his normal Blakeley Hall dorm view

Geoff´s view was the complete opposite of his normal Blakeley Hall dorm view

 

  • MarkMark, from Boston. My favorite experience with Mark: Watching the first game of the Red Wings – Bruins Stanley Cup Playoff games (it was my team, the Detroit Red Wings vs. his team, the Boston Bruins)

The all American hockey fan and I found out in our first conversation how much we love sports, good food and security studies. There is not really that much more you need to start a friendship ;-). I conclude after one year, that Mark and I basically agree to disagree on pretty much everything. I am moving in with Mark next year, so it will stay interesting. Mark focusses on security studies, especially American foreign affairs. It was his dearest wish that I mention how much he is in love with his state Massachusettes ;-).

This is Mark celebrating a Red Sox win at their biggest competitor´s stadium, the Yankee Stadium in New York.

This is Mark celebrating a Red Sox win at their biggest competitor´s stadium, the Yankee Stadium in New York.

 

  • EricEric, from Montreal. My favorite experience with Eric: Watching him in the kitchen – he is a food designer, his dishes look like art.

It is very unfortunate that Eric and I have no contact in classes, because I am the technology/security-person, and he is the international development person. People like him refer to students like us as war malds, whereas people like me refer to students like him as the humanity malds. Yes, the real world dysfunctions are displayed in the small Fletcher microcosm as well. Eric is so passionate about development, that I am really sure he will make a difference. He is currently in Liberia, working for a NGO. He is doing research for a social enterprise that will provide services for young people trying to find jobs or start their own businesses.

That is Eric :-)

That is Eric 🙂

  • 1461871_10151743495486227_695587322_nNora, from Budapest. My favorite experience with Nora: Buying cheap Red Sox tickets, ending up in first class seats with Popcorn and Pumpkin beer.

 

 

Nora in the morning: Asking me in German, how I am. Chatting with our cleaning lady in fluent Spanish, turning around to greet somebody else in fluent French. If there is somebody predisposed to work for the United Nations, it is her. She has spent several years in Haiti, and is currently looked for an “in” into development consulting.

Nora at graduation

This is Nora with her boyfriend Janos at graduation.

  • Thomas, from Amsterdam. My favorite experience with Thomas: Singing “I will survive”

Thomas currently works with “Doctors without borders” in South Sudan. All I know from what´s app-conversations is: They are dealing with Cholera. Thomas has a super-long distance relationship to Australia.

This is where Thomas works right now.

This is where Thomas works right now.

 

2013

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In Zahlen: 1200 Statuspunkte bei der Deutschen Bahn, damit BahnBonus-Status erfahren. Was ich davon laut Bahn-Mitteilung hatte: Zugang zu den pompösen Bahn-Lounges mit Kaffee und Leckereien, stets einen freien Sitzplatz und immer nur Freude mit der Bahn. Was ich tatsächlich … Continue reading