P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Q&A: Asmaa Elsayed Looks Back At The Fellowship

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Asmaa Elsayed, a 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to her.

By the time she became a United States citizen, Asmaa had attended over eleven schools in four countries, including Libya, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The disruption in her education was not an oddity to her inspiring grandmother, who is illiterate, and Asmaa’s widowed mother, who did not have the chance to finish primary school. Family instability and financial struggles transformed Asmaa from an academically-gifted child on track to graduate college at age nineteen to a non-traditional student who was at points homeless. Determined to succeed, Asmaa eventually graduated magna cum laude from George Mason University. She received her master’s degree from American University, and the Fellowship supported her master's degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

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You’re now finishing up the second year of the program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

No. The fellowship exceeded my expectations.  It is one of the most empowering scholarships I’ve ever received. It is one with a heart.

For example, it was through this fellowship that I was invited to the White House and met former President Barak Obama.

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I self-financed my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree. I’m grateful for the quality education I was blessed to receive. I’m equally grateful for having access to life-transforming educational experiences that scaffold my personal and professional growth.

That said, being a new immigrant to the US and not knowing much about scholarships and how the financial aid system works, I was left with many student loans that weighed heavily on me. I was determined to continue my graduate studies and earn my doctoral degree without having to take any more student loans. So, I researched funding opportunities to help me achieve this goal.

I was led to the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans only three years after becoming an American citizen. The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program combines two amazing components: being part of a highly successful, hardworking, and compassionate ‘family’ of immigrants who are giving back, in different capacities, to the advancement of humanity and their communities. In addition, the Fellowship provides generous financial support to help relieve some of the students’educational expenses.

I used the Fellowship to pursue graduate studies in international education at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Do you have any favorite memories from your Fellowship experience?

The interview process. It seems strange at the beginning but I took the interview process seriously and saw it as a learning opportunity: to stop, to be still for a couple of days, and to reflect and learn more about myself and my journey thus far. For every time I prepared for a potential question, I felt empowered to choose how I want to carry myself, to intentionally examine, and reexamine, my core values, to tell my truth and rewrite my own narrative, and to have my voice heard.

Another favorite memory was the ‘what is not on your resume?” session during our first annual Fall Conference in New York City. It was one of the very first times when I truly felt I was not alone. While Fellows started sharing the unimaginable challenges they faced as new immigrants, I was overwhelmed with an immense feeling of humility. My appreciation for them skyrocketed. It was not because of their impressive resumes or achievements, instead it was because of everything else they had to overcome and the discipline they had to persist. It was true resilience interwoven with fearless vulnerability. I remember going to my hotel room that night and writing these few words for my book,For who I was, for who I am, for it no longer  matters… for who I choose to be, for it is my rebirth … for I no longer shield my pain of becoming, but experience the collateral beauty of my pursuit.”

It was during this session when I learned to honor the journey not just the destination and what another Fellow, Abdul El-Sayed, said: to never have your resume be the most impressive thing about you.

Also, seeing Hamilton, the Broadway musical. Need I say more? : )

Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s next?

I finished my master’s in Education in international education policy at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. While at Harvard, I was able to write more. I published three reflection articles on education policies and reforms. I was also able to do consultancy work with the Swedish Ministry of Education and Research through one of my classes.

I’m taking some time off to focus on writing my first book ‘The Pursuit”. I will be resuming my doctoral studies in the summer of 2018. I plan on writing more and doing consultancy work to help spread the word about the vital role of global education in educating global citizens and advancing human rights.

How do you plan to stay active with the Fellowship community in the years to come?

My cohort created a platform to stay connected and build a wonderful support system. It is where we share our journeys, lessons learned, resources, etc. I also read the weekly newsletter which allows me to stay up to date with what other Fellows are doing and potential opportunities for collaboration. It is also where staff shares other funding and scholarship opportunities. I plan on attending any Fellows’ reunions and the Fellowship-sponsored events in my city or nearby cities.

I would love to mentor other students and would be honored to volunteer on the admissions committee to help select future PD Soros Fellows.


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