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.


  1. Hi Mariya, I'm applying for the Pickering Fellowship this year and am wondering what the criteria are for deferring? They have nothing on the topic online. If I were to be awarded the fellowship for Master's study, can I defer like you did? Thanks! - Colin

    1. Hi Colin, the Pickering Fellowship allows you to defer your master's study for only two reasons: family emergency or a Fulbright.

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