2013 New Student Post #2: MC/MPA Mason Fellows

Today we continue our new student series by featuring introductions by two new MC/MPA Mason students.

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My name is Mai Mislang and I am a 32-year-old presidential speechwriter from the Philippines. I am so thrilled and grateful to be here at Harvard University to fulfill a lifelong dream, and to learn from so many different people from all corners of the globe.

Day one in Cambridge wasn’t too kind to me – I emerged from the Harvard Square T station using the stairs, not the escalator, lugging a heavy suitcase. But I survived through the kindness of random people: one helped carry my suitcase and another offered to share a cab. I loved the city instantly.

Choosing to live in 10 Akron Street was a great decision. On my first day, I already had the impression that every single need of the student had already been considered while the apartment was being designed. And my colleagues know by now how challenging it is to find a decent roof over our heads near the school. So I’m happy that I’m staying in a place where my needs are being met, because that really helped ease my way through a new life in a country far from my own, in so many respects.

Cambridge is a wonderful city. It’s clean, compact and commuter-friendly, and everything you need, at least where I live, is just a stone’s throw away. That really helps me focus on what I came here to do, which is to learn. 

Another remarkable feature of my Harvard experience thus far was the Mason summer session, where I have met extremely talented individuals whose experiences and wisdom I am genuinely humbled by. I think how the summer session was structured – the speakers, the case study method and the presentations – gave a useful and necessary preview of what to expect when the regular mid-career program is finally underway. It also afforded us with time and opportunities to socialize and get to know our new friends outside of the classroom. That really helped in making each one of us feel more comfortable and gain some confidence, which one needs especially when speaking in front of the classroom or voicing an opinion during class. Perhaps some would agree with me when I say confidence does not really come by so easily when you’re surrounded by brilliant people doing extraordinary things. At the same time, they might agree too that we do eventually get over the anxiety once we realize that we are all on the same boat, and that we just have to do our best to help each other out.

Former HKS dean Graham Allison left a resonating mark on me with what he had said: “Harvard destroys the illusion of brilliance.” I think what touched me about it is the sense of humility it wants the students to imbibe, and the firm sense of purpose that the Kennedy school hopes will guide us during our short time there. So many people sacrificed so that I can be here to learn, to grow and to have the time of my life. I plan to reciprocate that kindness by taking stock of every opportunity the best university in the world has to offer, and to work hard so that many others less fortunate than I am may reap the benefits of my hard work. 

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I am Sonam Tobgay from the small Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan where I have been working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the past 19 years. The last four years I was posted at the Permanent Mission of Bhutan to the United Nations in New York as Consul General and Minister Counselor.

I am a MC/MPA Mason Fellow. We have just completed the 2-week Mason Fellows Summer Seminar that commenced on July 1st. When we began, several colleagues and I were anxious about getting back to university after many years of having a working life. However, the Summer Seminar was a perfect way for us to transition and get back into the rhythm of university and student life.

The classes provided a good introduction and understanding to case teaching and participatory learning used at HKS through the examination of a few case studies. The regular Information, Data and Decision sessions helped us get reoriented with statistics and quantitative analysis, which many of us had last done as undergraduate students. Through interaction with faculty and former students, we also have a good understanding of what to expect in the year ahead in terms of courses and events at HKS, and living in Cambridge and the Boston area.

While moving from New York to Cambridge was relatively easy for me, the advice and guidance from the University administration and exchange of information with former and fellow students were invaluable and made it even easier for me to get settled well in Cambridge.

What I have enjoyed the most so far has been the lively and interesting conversations with my 89 fellow students who come from 50 different countries and from a wide cross-section of professions that include government, non-profit, media, academia, multilateral organizations and the private sector. We have begun working in groups for our case studies and getting together after classes has helped to strengthen the bonds of friendship between us. I am sure the conversations will become even more interesting as we welcome the other Mid-Career students this week and are later joined by the new as well as second year students at HKS when the Fall semester begins. From my experience of the past two weeks, I sense that the year ahead will be highly challenging, yet an exciting and a fulfilling one.

While undergoing the Summer Seminar, it was also encouraging for me to hear from home that the country had elected a Mason Fellow, who graduated in 2004, as our new Prime Minister. This is a matter of pride for Bhutan that we have been able to add someone to the long list of distinguished Alumni from HKS.

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Tags: MCMPA Mason