Carol Tan is a Master in Public Policy student focusing on conflict management and humanitarian affairs strategy. At HKS, she supervises pro-bono projects for non-profits, international organizations and government clients with the Harvard Law and International Development Society (LIDS). In keeping with her roots, she is also the co-President of the Southeast Asia Caucus. Born in sunny Singapore, Carol was previously a management consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and worked primarily with Southeast Asian public sector clients on economic development, infrastructure, transport, planning etc. She is also devoted to SEA community development and anti-human trafficking issues. Carol graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with honors in Economics and Political Science.
HKS can be an overwhelming world to step into. Hundreds of students mill around chatting vivaciously about current affairs, star-studded faculty members eat lunch next to you and speeches, seminars, conferences, panels, study groups, projects seem to go on all at once. For me, FOMO (fear of missing out) rears its head everyday, but we all have to choose what to spend time on and how; once the Harvard engine rumbles to life, the year hurtles ahead at full speed.
Therefore, know with crystal clarity what you came to HKS for, then go for it.
I started at HKS thinking I would be deepening my experience giving policy advise through studying complexity economics, infrastructure development, social entrepreneurship etc. So imagine my surprise when most of the classes I wanted to do were on global governance, human rights, humanitarian policy etc. and the most appealing events were on anti-trafficking, human security and refugee issues. If this happens to you, it’s ok! Apparently, graduate school provides fertile ground for deep-seated passions from the past to emerge. Allow those to percolate up, then make a choice. And pursue your chosen path with laser-like focus because the first year flies by in the blink of an eye.
Don’t allow fear (of anything) to prevent you from trying.
The highlight of my first year, by far, was the field study course in Jordan to assess the Syrian Refugee Crisis that Claude Bruderlein and Anaide Nahikian led. Refer to our posts at the Middle East Initiative for a summary of our experiences in Jordan, but here’s a picture!
Yet, I almost gave that experience of a lifetime a miss because it was so expensive to spend a whole month in Jordan. Thankfully, with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to accept the field study position and kept my fingers and toes crossed for funding to come through. It did. Thanks to the generous grant of the Middle East Initiative, I found myself in Amman in January. With my fingers and toes still crossed, I spoke with refugees and Ministers, figured out how to put a field mission together, learnt to conduct incisive interviews in delicate situations, soaked in the warmth of the Jordanians, listened to the heartbreak in their music, rode camels, chilled out in the Dead Sea and found my dream summer internship. And let’s not forget the impressive, intimidating team I went there with that ultimately became family.
So put in that application for the role you feel under-qualified for, invest in the experience that seems unaffordable, speak to the professor about the opportunity that seems ridiculously out of reach. Then brace yourself for a jaw-dropping ride.
The people you meet along the way are indeed awe-inspiring.
Not just for academic and professional credentials, but also for the genuine desire to make the world a better place. At HKS, a community that hears the cries of the voiceless and makes every effort to change the status quo lives and breathes. My classmates care profoundly about righting injustice. While we may not always agree about what justice entails, the fact is we have a community of fellow change-makers to bounce ideas off and commiserate with. This is a priceless gift.
The people I have been most touched by, however, are the indomitable spirits who do not move within Harvard’s ivy-covered walls. During a ‘trek’ organized by students to the West Bank to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during spring break, we met Israelis who use their bodies to shield Palestinians, mothers who weekly protect their children valiantly from harassment, courageous individuals who seek to document evidence of human rights violations at all cost. The beauty of human kindness is also found nearer home, where many volunteer at odd hours to keep homeless shelters and food kitchens running, coach underprivileged students etc. People come in all shapes, sizes and packages but they never fail to inspire.
Finally, leading smart people can be immensely frustrating, though exhilarating.
In autumn, I led a consulting project on spoiler management strategies during constitutional drafting for a post-conflict African nation. I had the privilege and nightmare of coordinating 8 HKS, HLS, GSAS and Fletcher students. Our clients were ultimately blown away, but that experience forced me to face hard truths about my leadership style and seek change. It also opened my eyes to both the successes and pitfalls of the student pro-bono consulting model. Therefore, my co-VP of Projects and I are dedicated to professionalizing the delivery of LIDS advice these few months in order to create even higher impact projects.
Over summer, I am working in the Office of the President at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. I will share about this experience in a few weeks! For now, it has been a real privilege spending the last year at HKS and I am eager to see what’s round the bend in Fall.
2014 Summer Series Links