Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: Faris Alikhan & Afghanistan

The Virtual Student Foreign Service is full of internationally focused students such as myself. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my colleagues, Faris Alikhan, through the program. His work with the US Mission to NATO is very interesting, as it deals with Afghanistan. I invited Faris to guest blog about his project:

My friend, fellow intern, and crosstown college rival (Go Bruins!) Kate probably has been telling you about her internship with the U.S. Mission to NATO. Since September, both Katharine and I have been working with the State Department and the U.S. Mission to NATO on Public Diplomacy programs. Kate's focus is mainly on Europe, but mine is on another part of the world, one you might not immediately think of when you hear about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--Afghanistan.

2001 was the first time NATO's Article 5 was invoked, and since then, NATO member nations including the U.S. and partners like Australia and Uzbekhistan have provided invaluable support to Afghan efforts to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, beyond history lessons on the Cold War, quite a few people on both sides of the Atlantic are unaware of the vital role NATO plays in Afghanistan.

As part of my internship, I will be producing (along with directing, filming, editing, and being that "key grip" guy you always see in the credits) a video interviewing ordinary students here at UCLA (sorry USC). I hope that, by getting ordinary college students like myself interested in NATO's role in Afghanistan, I can show audiences on both sides of the Atlantic--and in Afghanistan--that ordinary college students care about the world around them. Hopefully, I'll be able to share the opinions of my fellow college students with their college counterparts at universities in other NATO member countries and in Afghanistan. I'd like Afghan audiences to see that American college students are committed to and care about, well, a world not their own.

I'll be finishing up my History degree at UCLA and graduating in June, but in the meantime I'll be filming and key-gripping my way through this video, and hopefully you'll all get to see it soon!

Thanks, Faris!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

America's New Past Time

So as I officially finish my Master's in Public Diplomacy, I leave with a true sense of accomplishment and, well, mastery. Time and time again, for the last two years, I have been assured that my hard work, diligence (and expensive tuition for a BA and an MA) will pay off and I will have no problem finding a rewarding and lucrative career. So far, it seems like someone lied to me. The hours I have spent on cover letters and resume tweaking have resulted in maybe one call back. Hiring practices are getting more stringent and complicated; employers want a cover letter, resume, references, salary requirements (what if I've been a student and shamelessly been working for free or next to free hitherto?) Then the interview process involves at least 3 rounds, with projects that are assigned. And if you are lucky enough to get the job, much less actually have a human being look at your resume, out of the 700 other applicants, you get a measly wage.. because they can- your so grateful for actual employment. As my friend Paul Rockower observed, only in America is looking for a job, a job in itself. So true. Sending out hundreds of resume packets, calling every professor, former employer, internship for leads. Attending every job fair, emailing every friend of a friend, only to receive the infamous "Dear Candidate, Thank you for your application. We regret.." email. This while Sallie Mae sends me daily reminders that my loan deferment is about to run out. Tick, Tock. And all my friends, family, advice columns, professors offer me their advice, all of which I have heard a thousand times and has yet to help me get a job. Fortunately, my classmates, professors and alumni have been really accessible to me.  Trying oh so hard to be supportive and helpful, some suggest I go to law school instead. This is usually when I lose my patience. I thought going to college mean security. I thought grad school would pay off. Society told me if I work hard and get an education I would be okay!

I get some sick comfort in a recent NPR report that top law school graduates are having the same trouble finding jobs as I am. I am not alone. I know that I enjoyed my program much more than I would have enjoyed law school. The contacts I made, my wonderful classmates and professors, and a industry a truly believe in were all worth it. But it seems my friend Denise was right when she observed that our society tells young people that they have no choice but to be in debt for the rest of their lives. One can barely survive without at least a Master's degree today, and you'll never be able to pay for it.  I'm trying to remember that it's only been two weeks since I have graduated and it takes the average person six months to find a job in a good economy.  Welcome to America's new past time: job searching.

In case you are reading this and know of a job opportunity, here's my resume. ;)

Friday, May 7, 2010

World Travelers as Public Diplomats

As many of us public diplomats know, travel is exciting and educational, it is also the best public diplomacy. Travel allows us to see other worlds, other cultures, other walks of life. I have often found, when traveling to another country, there was so much that could be learned from travel that cannot be understood from a book. Have you ever been to a country that was completely different from how you imagined it? In Israel and Palestine, I was surprised by people's attitudes about the conflict there. Lebanon, was not the desert of anti-American extremists some might expect, it was full of lush green forests and American friendly people. I know that travel has been a key part of my education. In the interest of promoting understanding and education through travel, Foreign Policy has added a new World Traveler section:

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."— St. Augustine
World Traveler
The value of international travel can vastly exceed its short-term costs; the benefits of exposure to a wide range of cultures and history are often profound and enduring. The past two years have brought financial challenges, and travel is often one of the first expenses to be cut from corporate and household budgets. But for many, trips to extraordinary destinations become some of the most memorable occasions of their lives.
This World Traveler sponsored section introduces readers to some examples of the experiences that are available—travel opportunities that not only change the scenery but also broaden perspectives and deepen understanding. This kind of travel is intellectually adventurous—it opens up cosmopolitan Shanghai and culturally rich Beijing. It encourages travelers to connect with historic events, like so many did in 2008 for Israel’s 60th anniversary and in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It places travelers in unforgettable experiences, taking them from Peru’s metropolitan Lima to its ancient sites like Machu Picchu on the luxurious Hiram Bingham Train, from Costa Rica’s active volcanoes to its rainforest’s vast biodiversity, and from South Africa’s renowned Cape Town winelands to its wild landscapes on elephant-back safaris. Other opportunities combine education with exploration—for example, an immersion trip to the Middle East with the experts and world leaders who help shape policy. The variety of new travel experiences available today makes travel opportunities more accessible than ever before.
Click here for a PDF download of the section, or follow these links to explore the unique experiences featured in the first Foreign Affairs World Traveler: