#ElliottProud: Rachel Shafer

#ElliottProud: Rachel Shafer

Rachel Shafer graduated from the Elliot School of International Affairs in May 2022 with an M.A. in Middle East Studies. Rachel earned her B.A. in International Studies with a minor in Arabic from the University of North Texas. During her undergraduate studies, Rachel studied in Meknes, Morocco with the support of the Department of State Critical Language Scholarship and, following the completion of her Bachelor’s, Rachel was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Seminar HaKibbutzim in Tel Aviv, Israel. Alongside full-time studies, Rachel worked as a graduate research assistant for Amb. Edward “Skip” Gnehm (ret.) at the Institute for Middle East Studies and as the program assistant for the Middle East Policy Forum. At the Elliott School, Rachel continued her Arabic studies, with support from the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, and completed a capstone interrogating aid and policy responses to the subjective well-being of Syrian refugees in Jordan. 

What was your favorite experience at the Elliott School and why?

My favorite experience at the Elliott School was working as a research assistant for Ambassador Skip Gnehm. I edited over 600 pages of Amb. Gnehm’s oral history transcripts, which was both a fantastic opportunity to develop research skills and gave me a first-hand look at the ins and outs of American diplomacy. The transcripts are a window into the U.S.’s affairs overseas and the art of conducting diplomacy in complex environments. I not only read and edited the transcripts but had the opportunity to ask questions about the events described and have them answered by someone who was there. Digging into the minutiae of decision-making and strategy has been one of the most educational experiences I have had at the Elliott School. This work has further inspired me to pursue a career in diplomacy. Moreover, Amb. Gnehm is a mentor, role model, and friend. Having a working relationship with a professor who is experienced, knowledgeable, and supportive has been, and will continue to be, a highlight of my experience at GW.

Describe your dream job and how the Elliott School fits into your path to get there

In the future, I hope to implement U.S. foreign policy abroad through the Foreign Service. The Elliott School has prepared me to do so through courses that have not only taught relevant material, but have challenged my thinking, helped me develop written and oral skills, and exposed me to practitioners that have shared their experience working in the field. Courses like my anthropology class have engaged me in material and approaches outside of my comfort zone. Professional skills courses saw me writing policy memos and giving presentations. My favorite class at the Elliott School featured experts, many from think tanks who came to class each week to teach about foreign policy and share their stories and wisdom. All of these opportunities were intellectually stimulating and have prepared me for a career as challenging and diverse as those in foreign policy

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time student at the Elliott School.

I worked part-time and took a full-time course load, which means I was able to finish my studies faster and more fully immerse myself in my studies, but does also limit one’s opportunities to work and intern. Elliott’s evening class schedule means that students that work can balance school and work. Regardless of whether one works, having students from all walks of life and diverse professional backgrounds in classes is a great resource and enriches the learning environment. 

What resources proved to be the most valuable in helping you reach success at the Elliott School? 

For me, the most important resources at the Elliott School are the faculty. So many of the professors are not only brilliant and accomplished but care deeply about students’ success. Starting my degree during the pandemic and taking my first year of classes remotely made this so, so important to me. The guidance, support, and encouragement of faculty has been an important aspect of my experience and I would encourage other students to nurture professional relationships with their professors.

In terms of resources, being a Title VI National Resource Center, the Elliott School was able to offer me a Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship for language study for Arabic courses and tutoring that has helped me reach my language goals. The library services at GW are also an important resource. Despite being unable to travel for research because of the pandemic, I was able to utilize the library to complete original research with the help of a dedicated Middle East studies librarian and the data services team.

What advice do you have for prospective students who are comparing a graduate program at the Elliott School with other DC grad schools?

Consider your options holistically. There are lots of schools and programs, but your experience as a student will be largely shaped by the time you spend outside of the classroom. The Elliott School offers access to professional & personal development opportunities, from the hundreds of events at GW and the Elliott School, to the proximity to decision-makers, to the museums/bookstores/farmers’ markets/restaurants/film screenings/green spaces/etc. in the DC community. The opportunities I have had to meet decision-makers, learn from experts, and network with prominent alumni simply would not be possible in any other city.

What city outside of the U.S. should people should visit and why?

I think everyone should visit Jerusalem. It’s a city that is often in the news and is seen as a center of conflict, but it is so much more than that: history, religion, art, politics, and really, really good hummus. I was lucky enough to visit Jerusalem a few times and every time I have been, I have seen something new, learned something interesting, and encountered something that challenged my ideas and perspectives.   

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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, 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.