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Varsha Koduvayur: An (Accidental!) Roadmap to Success

March 25, 2015

Varsha Koduvayur is a MSU Honors College senior majoring in international relations and comparative cultures and politics in James Madison College and Arabic in the College of Arts and Letters. She was recently awarded a nationally competitive research assistant fellowship through the Carnegie Junior Fellows Program  within the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. 

In 2008 when Mumbai was under siege and burning at the hands of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani militant Islamist group, I knew I wanted to go into foreign policy, focusing on counterterrorism.

Little did I know though that, seven years later, I would be in Morocco with nearly a year of living abroad in an Arab country under my belt, and on the verge of beginning my dream job with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a Junior Fellow!

A product of the post-9/11 generation, I had grown up hearing about terrorism and the War on Terror throughout my childhood, and the acts in Mumbai were my last straw. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the collaborative and international efforts aimed at curbing terrorism.

To that extent, I joined James Madison College in 2010 and pursued a triple major in international relations, Arabic and comparative cultures and politics.

The training, support and advice I received from James Madison, the Arabic Flagship program, the Honors College and the NIFS Office is what helped me get to this stage in my college career. The education and training I received at Madison expanded my scholarly, analytic and career horizons — the combination of both international relations and comparative cultures and politics showed me just how complex international issues are, and how solutions need to be built on a variety of levels.

The Arabic Flagship program equipped me with the linguistic and cultural knowledge I needed to understand the problems facing the Middle East and North Africa region, and I have been lucky enough to go to Morocco twice under their auspices, once in the summer of 2013 for the Summer Arabic Overseas Flagship and again in mid-June of 2014 until June 2015 (from where I’m writing this post!), as part of the Arabic Overseas Capstone experience.

Language and culture are two sides of the same coin, and to me, without understanding both of those sides, one can’t truly understand the lifestyles, perspectives and problems facing a particular region.

My time in Morocco, with an amazing host family, is one to remember, and I am very bittersweet about it soon drawing to a close. I have seen many gorgeous places, met some amazingly kind people and gained a second family that I will maintain ties with forever, all the while developing my language skills.

But all that above came about by happenstance — hence the “accidental” roadmap bit! Getting to this point was not an “accident,” per se. I knew what I wanted to study and I had long-term goals of government service after graduate school set.

But the myriad amazing experiences I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy during my time at MSU happened because I had great mentors and a large network of friends and colleagues. I have attended and won awards at Model United nations conferences at many universities in the United States with MSUIRO, MSU’s award-winning Model United Nations team.

I attended the National Flagship Student Meeting in March 2014 as one of MSU’s Flagship representatives to network with government agencies and to learn ways of marketing my language skills. I attended the G20 Youth Forum and Summit in May 2014 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, as a delegate in a ten-member U.S. delegation from many universities.

At the summit, my colleagues and I drafted a communiqué to the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and other international government organizations and civil society actors, detailing problems and solutions for weak sectors we youth saw in industry and society today.

At the forum and summit I met some of the most talented and hard-working young change agents and future global leaders, with whom I’ve formed friendships spanning continents and 14-hour time differences. That was truly an experience to remember, and a major highlight of my undergraduate career.

None of that was planned — in that way, the experiences, internships and activities I have enjoyed so much at MSU were accidental, but every bit was instrumental to my education and career as my degree was. If there is one thing I learned from my time at MSU, it is that mentors, networking and keeping an open mind are of the utmost importance. Forging close bonds with my professors, listening to their recommendations and keeping an eye always open for new opportunities led to whatever I have achieved.

As I wrap up my amazing year in Morocco, and look forward to starting as a Junior Fellow with the Carnegie Endowment soon, I know that all this was only possible because of my wonderful professors, advisors and family. Accidental and a little unplanned, my four years may be — but I’ve learned lessons I’ll take with me to any place I go!

Read more about about Koduvayur’s award >>

Courtesy photo of Koduvayur overlooking Chefchouen, Morocco