Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The best possible lift-off

Hayat Essakkati attended SAIS Bologna in 2009-10 and graduated from SAIS in Washington in 2011. She is one of a number of SAIS graduates to go on to work at the World Bank. Below she reflects on her SAIS experience and gives some advice to young people like herself who want to change the world, "step by step".

Since childhood I have longed to break free from groups because with time they tend to become homogenized. From the moment I discovered similar speech, style or habits in a group, I would find some way to get out.

Now I understand why I was so anti-group: they weren’t big enough. SAIS is the only place where I have found like-minded people in great numbers.

Hayat in front of the World Bank in Washington
The connectivity doesn’t end with your own class. It extends to all SAIS classes, especially the Bologna classes, whose students went through the same experience, same requirements, same building, in some cases the same professors and most importantly enjoyed the same ambiance that I can’t explain in words but which every SAISer will understand.

As a Dutch national with Moroccan origins, I had no idea how I could go to an American graduate school and never even thought of it until I read “Think Big” by neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The book was more than inspiring; it showed how someone with almost no future prospects grew to become a world famous surgeon.

After watching the Bologna Center video, I knew I had to apply. I have never regretted that decision as it truly changed my life. I had thought I did not want to pursue graduate studies because I believed I wanted to start a company after graduation. During my studies I learned to be humble as change doesn’t happen overnight; sheer idealism was replaced by realistic idealism where you know you can make a difference in the world step by step.

Since childhood I have looked for inspiration, for something greater than the small village in Holland where I grew up or the even smaller village in Morocco where I spent my summers. From a young age I would interview inspirational people who challenged the status quo so I could learn from them.

While at Johns Hopkins, don’t waste your time framing your profile just to land a job; frame it as your own so you land your job. This is what SAIS stands for -- to enable you to fulfill your aspirations.

On a mission in Morocco
I have always wanted to make a difference for the Arab youth as I see their desperation, fears, hopes and above all undiscovered talents. I was lucky to be born in a wealthy country, but I could well have ended up cleaning houses in a village in Morocco.

After graduation from SAIS, I landed a job with the Youth Team of the MENA region at the World Bank thanks to a referral by a SAIS alumnus. Hired by the World Bank office in Marseilles, I now have the opportunity to travel across the Maghreb and the United States. I could not wish for a better job as my heart and soul are with the development of Arab youth as they need it the most; a little push so their wishes become reality as did mine.

The SAIS network does not lose its effectiveness once you get a job. In my work I still benefit from the many contacts I made while at SAIS. SAIS gives the best possible lift-off in one's career -- like the always supportive distant uncle who watches your back.

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