Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Applying for Visa

With just over a month left for my departure, I have one very important thing to take care of: obtain my work visa to Turkey. I had hoped to check this off my to-do list before leaving Boston, but unfortunately, due to both timing and the poor experience I had with the Turkish Consulate in Boston, I decided to wait until I arrived home to D.C. Besides, I felt more comfortable driving to the official Turkish Embassy in Washington than having a small  consulate office in Boston mail me my passport--I'm a risk-averse person and I feared losing my blue key to traveling the world.

Turkish Embassy was easy to spot with its bright red flag.
On Monday, Baba drove me to to the Turkish Embassy located on Massachusetts Avenue. Without looking at the address, I could tell which building was the Turkish Embassy: a bright red flag with a white crescent and star waved outside the brown square-ish towers. I rang the bell to enter the heavily gated embassy, passed through security, and left my phone in a locker before being instructed to go downstairs, where the offices were. It was eerily quiet and a bit dark when I got downstairs, and wondered if the office was closed. After a few minutes of roaming around, behind one of the glass windows, I spotted two ladies sitting behind a desk so I approached them. When I told them I needed a work visa as part of the Fulbright teaching program, they verified my name against a master list they had obtained from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I submitted all the required paperwork, a $330 fee (so expensive!), and my passport. The lady advised that the visa would be ready next Monday. I was so relieved to hear this. Baba is right; these things should always be handled in person.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Last Week at Work

This morning, I snoozed my alarm three times. I was avoiding waking up not because it was Monday, but because this is my last week at Liberty Mutual, and I must admit, I feel sad. I have six days left in Boston, and my routine as I know it (wake up at 6:30am, get ready and out of the house by 7:45am, skip breakfast, catch the 8am T for a 45-minute commute to Arlington, get into work around 9am) will soon cease to exist. There is comfort in routines that become a part of our daily lives, and I am sad that this routine will soon become scribbles in my journal.

When I took this job in December 2012, I wasn't quite sure how insurance fit in with my goals of a career in public service or international affairs. However, I knew I wanted to try something new and different, something that would push me out of my comfort zones and develop me as a young professional. Liberty has done all of that, and more. It's given me a new skill set, a unique experience to draw from, a network of incredible people (some of whom I can see myself keeping in touch with for years to me), and most importantly, a new perspective for problem-solving. 

What I will miss the most about Liberty Mutual is the people I work with. They are a talented and dedicated group, and I feel very fortunate to have managers and colleagues who have challenged me, made me laugh, and allowed me to be myself around them. I'll also miss the free Hazelnut coffee every morning, and the Microsoft Lync emojis that always made the day go by faster when chatting with colleagues. I honestly could not have asked for a better first job out of college. #blessed

I will miss the Lync chat emojis -- and of course, the people at Liberty Mutual.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Placement News: Antalya!

Antalya is located on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey.

In late May, I found out about my placement in Turkey. Typically, Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) are placed in remote areas of a country where the need for good teachers is more dire than big cities. I've been told that I got very lucky; instead of a village, I got what many people call the paradise of Turkey: Antalya.

Antalya is located on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey and is known for its beaches that attract tourists from around the world (see map above). For those who love history, Antalya is one of the oldest settlements of Anatolia and the region was ruled by many different civilizations including the Hittite Empire, Byzantine Empire, as well as the Ottomans. Because Antalya is the 8th most populous city of Turkey (Istanbul being the first and the capital of Ankara being the second), it is not as conservative as other parts of the country. All my life, I have navigated both conservative and liberal environments, and I look forward to the challenge that Antalya will bring. 

Images you get when you google "Antalya".

Friday, July 3, 2015

No Turning Back

There's a famous quote by Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, "Think 100 times before you take a decision, but once that decision is taken, stand by it as one man." To say that I thought about accepting the Fulbright Fellowship a 100 times would be an understatement.
The decision to accept the Fulbright Fellowship was a tough one. My parents had concerns regarding security in Turkey (the country does share a border with Syria after all), I wasn't sure this is what I wanted to do with my life, and 9 months seemed like a really long time to be abroad. To make sure I was not making an irrational decision by rejecting the offer, throughout April, I consulted friends, mentors (even at work - shout-out to Steve!), teachers, relatives, my college host parents in Maine, former Fulbrighters, and even grad school admissions officers. The following comments echoed: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," "no one turns down a Fulbright!," "you're 24 without familial commitments, when else would get this chance again?"

At this point, I found myself leaning towards accepting the fellowship.

However, it wasn't until early May that my parents changed their mind, and with their support, I made up mine. The change in mindset was driven by the fact that I was awarded the Pickering Fellowship, which helped solidify my future plans -- for graduate school and career. Having concrete plans reassured my parents that I hadn't gone astray. The Pickering Fellowship allowed me to defer for one year, which meant I could attend policy school in fall 2016. It was a win-win situation, and it felt like a dream come true. I'm passionate about international relations, current events, and policy-making, and a career in the U.S. Foreign Service seemed like the perfect fit. At once, I felt overwhelmed and incredibly blessed for these opportunities.

I am grateful to Dr. Caryl McFarlane of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which administers the Pickering Fellowship. She played an important role in nudging my parents by putting my dad in touch with Dr. Daniel Kramer, director of U.S. Student Programs at the Institute of International Education (the organization that administers the Fulbright program). A phone conversation convinced, and further reassured, my parents that accepting the Fulbright was a wise decision for me. If anything, Dr. Kramer said, it was a step towards my career in foreign policy. My parents agreed. And I was relieved. Sometimes it takes an outside person to help your cause.

With my family on board, and support from friends and mentors, I finally made my decision -- and I fully stand by it as one woman. There's no turning back now.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

An Unusual Dilemma

This might sound silly to some, but believe it or not, I actually contemplated accepting the Fulbright Fellowship. Who would turn down such a prestigious honor, you ask? The opportunity to get paid to spend a year abroad sounds like the perfect adventure on a twenty-something's bucket list. Especially a twenty-something who regrets not studying abroad in college. So, why, after spending hours and hours on the application, and going through nearly 10 drafts to refine my essays, did I hesitate to jump in the air with excitement when I got the congratulatory email?

For some reason, neither the glamor of the fellowship nor the many draws of Turkey (the famous Istanbul, cheap flights to Europe, beautiful mosques, rich history, exotic vacation spots) were enough to convince me that I should leave my stable job at Liberty Mutual. Because I was not expecting to be selected, I now found myself in an unusual dilemma. At one point, I wanted this experience, and for some unexplained reason, I had a change of heart.

I'm still not sure what it was, but I think my anxiety stemmed from both personal indecisiveness and familial pressures. The thoughts of packing, moving, and leaving my lovely, spacious apartment in Boston scared me. I also did not know what I wanted for my next life adventure -- grad school? law or policy? another job? move to DC? this fellowship? -- or maybe I didn't want anything. Maybe I wanted to stay at the Fortune 100 company and continue to up my baking skills with my roommates. But, what would Kate Myall and Cindy Stocks (ladies instrumental in helping me with my application from the Bowdoin fellowship office) think of me if I turned down the Fulbright? Would their and my hard work go in vain?

At the same time, I wanted to be respectful of my parents' wishes. I want their blessings in everything I do in life, therefore getting their buy-in was important to me. While they were very proud of my receiving the fellowship, when it came to deciding between starting policy graduate school this fall or spending 9 months in Turkey, the 'desi' in them opted for the first choice. Understandably so; as immigrants to the United States, they've made many sacrifices to see their children achieve the American Dream. Going to a top graduate school and starting my dream job (sooner rather than later) would be achieving the American Dream; blowing off a year in a foreign country is what a rebellious, liberal, 24-year-old would do after reading the Buzzfeed article, "27 Surreal Places to Visit Before You Die" (see #9). I don't think I'm rebellious, but you get the point. And then of course there's the unspoken pressure of getting married (saving that topic for another time).

By late April, I still had not made up my mind. Fulbright aside, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, period.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why Turkey?

Those familiar with the Fulbright application process know that we have to make a very strong case for why we want to study or teach in the country to which we are applying. Often, this means applicants can speak the host country's language, have done academic research in that country or region, or have a very compelling reason to immerse oneself in the desired country's culture. I fell in the third category.

My reason for applying to teach in Turkey was a very personal decision. In my continual search for understanding my identity, I wanted to be in a country that would give me a new perspective. 

I remember disliking school as a little girl in Pakistan. There were limited educational opportunities in the village where I grew up, and I lacked the motivation to do well because I knew I would end up as a housewife. However, my perspective changed drastically when, at age eight, my parents made sacrifices so their four daughters could have better opportunities and my family immigrated to the United States. My life story can be summed up as “East meets West,” much in the same way Turkey is currently positioned: at the crossroads of the Middle East and Western Europe. I constantly carry two identities, the traditional Eastern and the modern Western, and they are a part of my life narrative.  For much of life--16 years--I grew up as a Muslim in a Western country, the USA. If awarded the Fulbright, I wanted to experience what it's like to be an American in a Muslim-majority country.

I constantly carry two identities, the traditional Eastern and the modern Western.