Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?
The short answer is that it was flexible to suit my personal and family requirements. I was pursuing my PhD in telecommunications when I had to move to northern Saudi Arabia due to my husband’s job in late 2006. Moving to the Middle East simply changed my worldview. I began writing articles on travel and history for an Urdu language magazine belonging to the Sharq-al-Awsat, the leading newsgroup of the Gulf region. It was the beginning of my freelance writing. Almost instantly, I realized that nothing pleases me more than writing, and reading and research for writing. At the same time, I felt the need to learn and sharpen the skill of writing. My kids were very young at that time, and joining a university was beyond my dreams.
In 2013, we moved to Canada, and I came across a volunteer opportunity to contribute to an online outlet called the Global Panorama, focused on geopolitics and run by students of journalism across the world. Though I was appointed to cover the Middle East, I expressed interest in covering stories from all five continents in the electronic newsroom. Over three months, I wrote about 80 stories.
I admit I knew very little about journalism ethics at that time. I was not sure about the quality of my work and was shy to share my work even on social media. But a friend of mine encouraged me to go back to school. Eventually, I came across the wonderfully flexible and affordable Harvard Extension program through a simple online search. Initially, I was a little bit shaky about whether I would be able to fulfill the Harvard requirements for grad program entry, or even the individual courses. But with my parents’ and friend’s advice, I decided to give it a try by joining two courses on campus. And I never looked back till I achieved the degree.
What was the most challenging aspect of your time at Extension? What was the most rewarding?
My prior education was in engineering and business. And switching to social sciences education at Harvard was a daunting challenge. Furthermore, I had no prior training in writing, and English was my second language. I was supposed to deal with my prior weaknesses myself. I read a lot of books and attended as many free online courses on writing advice, international politics, and human rights to overcome my weaknesses, especially during my early years at Harvard. The journey is still continued.
The most rewarding part was investigating and reporting Uyghur persecution during my capstone project. I went to Turkey, where I lived with and interviewed a large number of Uyghur refugees and collected primary evidence from the victims and their families. The amount of evidence was overwhelming. Organizing and presenting it in a few features for the capstone was challenging. Western media has recently covered this persecution. But the evidence is still emerging, and the world knows very little about the dystopian circumstances Turkic-speaking people are facing in Xinjiang, northwest China.
What types of student resources and special options did you take advantage of as a student at Harvard? How did they help?
English is my second language, so I used the Writing Center a lot, both at the campus and online. Also, the [library staff] was very cooperative in sharing and pointing out resources for research. The registrar’s office was quick to respond to any query, which made the online experience very smooth and hassle-free from the beginning. The computer and printing facility at Church Street was superb.
Do you have any advice for new students?
Besides core journalism courses, try as many [non-core] courses as possible. I found them very enlightening. They gave me the real Harvard experience, I regret not taking more. Regarding course selection, do your homework in advance.
Describe your Extension School experience in one word.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.