#IncomingElliott: Tahreem Alam

Tahreem Alam, MA Middle East Studies, Class of 2023, #IncomingElliott Student

Tahreem Alam is a first-year graduate student pursuing an M.A. in Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs. She is a recent honors graduate of Virginia Tech, where she earned B.A.’s in Multimedia Journalism, International Relations, and Arabic, with minors in Women’s and Gender Studies and Middle East Studies. Tahreem earned the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2019 to study abroad in Oman and the UAE for Arabic, where she had her first experiential language and culture learning abroad. She also studied abroad in India for her Women’s and Gender Studies minor, held part-time jobs at her university student center and the Asian Cultural Engagement Center, and interned as a staff reporter for a security magazine, in D.C. Beyond her academic and professional life, Tahreem regularly engaged in volunteering at the local mosque in the New River Valley, where she redesigned the current website and helped with the mosque’s fundraising affairs.

Is your grad program related to your undergrad degree?

I graduated from Virginia Tech this past May with bachelor’s degrees in Multimedia Journalism, International Relations, and Arabic, and so my graduate program is partially related to my undergraduate degree. Throughout my robust education in various world affairs in my undergrad classes, I decided that I wanted to specialize more in specific areas, especially the South West Asian and North African (SWANA) region, and I picked up a minor in Middle East Studies under my B.A. in International Relations. This minor influenced my decision to attend graduate school and specialize in the Middle East altogether at the George Washington University. The Elliot School of International Affairs’ M.A. in Middle East Studies interested me because I can pursue my regional interests while also furthering my knowledge and fluency of the Arabic language. I hope I can combine my previous knowledge of journalism and international relations with my knowledge from this master’s program to pursue a career in travel reporting, foreign correspondence, or governmental affairs, and eventually move to the SWANA region to further my career there.t

What are you most looking forward to about starting your program?

I am from a small, rural town in Southwest Virginia where our main traffic comes from the public university, Virginia Tech. I also commuted to my undergrad all four years since my home was five minutes away from the school. Studying and living in Washington, D.C. by myself, a bustling and vibrant city environment excites me because of all the diverse spaces, people, shops, and opportunities that will be available around me. I know that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and learning to navigate the spaces around me will allow me to grow into my new skin, broaden my ways of thinking and the perspectives I have, and in turn benefit the work I produce for my future profession.

I am also looking forward to meeting my faculty, staff, and cohort at the Elliott School, all of whom may have diverse backgrounds and experiences from their previous education, jobs, home life, and families. One of my goals following my graduate program is to further help close the gap between the academic work in my field now and real, lived situations of those we research and write about in our work. The opportunity to engage in new conversations, discussions, and lectures with people different than myself allows me to grow my inter- and intrapersonal communication skills in both my work and my everyday life. 

What would you like to have accomplished by the time you finish your program?

Personally, I hope that I stand out as a leader with unwavering insight, empathy, and creativity in my work following the completion of my degree at Elliott. I also hope that I can make close friendships and connections with the people in my program to share advice, support, and encouragement beyond our graduate education.

Professionally and academically, I hope I can grow my published work in research and reporting within the Middle East Studies field, specifically in the Arab region. During my time at Virginia Tech, I published numerous articles with our student newspaper, secured a security journalism position in D.C. as my first internship, and produced preliminary research findings under faculty in the Department of Political Science, History, and the Arabic Language program. For example, I created an honors thesis centered around the history of capitalist modes of trade between the Islamic Mediterranean and Europe, recognizing that this history influences the region’s development today. Moreover, I researched and developed a digital report on the Lebanese environmental crisis, focusing on the role the government plays in fueling the garbage, water, and the August 4, 2020, blast crisis. I continued to pursue the latter project to develop an analysis of Lebanon’s public healthcare system. All of these educational experiences gave me a deeper understanding of several issues facing countries in the SWANA region. I intend to take what I learned at the time to produce insightful, meticulous, and thought-provoking work at the Elliott School and also abroad.

Why did you choose to commit to the Elliott School for your graduate program?

I chose to commit to the Elliott School for several reasons. First, the location in the heart of Washington, D.C. is unbeatable for an international affairs degree. The actions, politics, and movements that affect our domestic and foreign policies practically happen right at the doorstep of Elliott!

Besides the location, the Elliott School also awarded me with the Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, which allows me to continue my Arabic language and literature journey throughout the Middle East Studies program for one year. Thus, this financial help gives me the opportunity to further perfect my professional language abilities without adding a more difficult load to my graduate program, such as if I chose to pursue Arabic with another language institute while simultaneously earning my specialized degree. I hope to maximize the opportunities this fellowship gave me and deepen my understanding of the language’s nuances, becoming closer to the cultures I learn about, and elevate my Arabic to beyond the professional level.

What’s a fun hobby/side job you’ve picked up since #COVIDQuarantine?

While I didn’t end up downloading TikTok during the pandemic, I am certain that the roller-skating trend that began on it influenced my exposure to roller-skaters and the hobby itself! Before learning to roller-skate, I didn’t exercise often at home or find myself going outside much after Virginia lifted the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Moreover, I couldn’t start right away because skates were selling out all over the nation. But while they were going fast, I managed to get my hands on a pair of teal and pink quads by February 2021, as well as a helmet and all the safety gear with it. I began teaching myself how to skate with the help of my friends, but I think my skating skills are still a work-in-progress. Not only did this hobby help me get out of my house following lockdown, but I was also forcing myself to exercise more to myself in becoming a stronger skater!


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The #IncomingElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights newly enrolling students to answer common questions posed by prospective and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.