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Following in the Footsteps of My Mother - a Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumna

photo of Sara

Sara Sharif
MAIR '21
Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna Fellow
Bologna Class of 1993 Fellow


Q: What encouraged you to apply to Johns Hopkins SAIS? 

A: My passion for international relations stems from my multicultural background. As an Italian-Jordanian with Palestinian roots, I was exposed to the ongoing conflicts and horrors happening in my region of origin, the Middle East. That is why I decided to study Economics of Development and International Cooperation for my undergraduate studies. Furthermore, I grew up hearing about how amazing and life-changing Johns Hopkins SAIS is, as my mother, Lamis El Muhtaseb, studied at the school. While finishing my last year of undergraduate in Florence, I started doing some research about Johns Hopkins SAIS and I fell in love with the diversity of the student body as well as the course selection, especially about the Middle East program. I believed that studying at the school would give me the necessary knowledge and tools to better understand and help solving conflicts in the Middle East. 

Q: How does it feel to be a 2nd generation Johns Hopkins SAIS student?

A: To be honest, at the beginning of my studies I was terrified and intimidated. Knowing how smart and strong my mother is, I felt that I was not worthy of being a Johns Hopkins SAIS student. Despite the initial anxiety, thanks to the kind people at the school that knew my mother, I felt more comfortable. Thanks to these amazing people, who have been so kind and helpful, I now feel at home. My mother’s experience gave me the necessary strength to apply to this program, and walking and studying in the same place where she studied a decade ago is an honor and a blessing.

My mother pursued her masters degree when I was in elementary school and to be honest, I still do not know how she managed to do it. Imagine studying for Trade while having two kids and commuting between Florence and Bologna. She then received a PhD, following her father's footsteps, who travelled from Hebron, Palestine, to Egypt at the age of 15 and received his PhD in the 1940s. She is now working the Center for Strategic Studies (University of Jordan) in Amman. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Siena University, where she teaches in international MA programs. I hope that one day, I can be as strong as she is and that I can make my family proud, because I am walking into the footsteps of an extremely special and talented woman. 

Furthermore, I would like to also thank my donors: the SAIS Europe Class of 1993 and the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna. Without their generous support, this experience would have never been possible. Despite the negative effects that the COVID-19 pandemic had (and still has) on my family, thanks to my donors I am able to continue my education at Johns Hopkins SAIS and for that, I will always be grateful. I am honored to be part of the SAIS Europe community and I hope that one day I will be able to help students the way I have been helped at this time.   

Q: What has been one of your favorite experiences at the school so far? 

A: One of my favorite experiences so far was definitely the Vienna Ball of Sciences. It was an out of a fairy-tale evening and the fact that I was able to share it with my classmates made it even more special. I also enjoyed participating in the Amman trip that I helped organize with the MENA Club and the Conflict Management Club. Being able to show my city of origin to my classmates while having a good time was priceless. We visited many important organizations that work in the region, such as UNRWA. Talking with current practitioners in the field allowed me to connect what I learned in class with some practical insights and gave me the motivation to continue doing my best as a Johns Hopkins SAIS student.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about studying in Bologna and at SAIS Europe? 

A: Bologna is such a beautiful, diverse and vibrant city. There is always something to do, whether going to a flea market or to the outdoor cinema “Cinema sotto le stelle” in Piazza Maggiore, the heart of city. What I really enjoy about the SAIS Europe campus, is the strong and powerful sense of community that is difficult to find anywhere else. As SAISers, we spend a lot of time together studying, working on projects and sometimes, even crying about readings and assignments. The Johns Hopkins SAIS experience bonds us in a special way that cannot be easily broken.

Q: Could you please tell us about your on-campus student work positions? 

A: I could not have asked for a better environment to work. As Student life assistant, I have the opportunity to work with amazing people. Before COVID-19, we organized many fun events to allow students to relax and enjoy the Johns Hopkins SAIS experience as much as possible. One of my favorite things to organize was the dog therapy session that we had just before the outbreak of the pandemic. Seeing my fellow classmates so happy and knowing that my contribution made it possible is something that I will never forget. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I still try my best to assist students to make their experience in Bologna as manageable as possible.

In addition, I work as Lectures and Conferences assistant. Assisting with the organization of the many interesting events at Johns Hopkins SAIS, allowed me to meet and work with highly qualified professors and speakers. Through this job, I had the opportunity to work at the Italian Politics Workshop of 2020, jointly organized by the Istituto Carlo Cattaneo and SAIS Europe.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree after you graduate? 

A: After I graduate, I hope to use the knowledge and skills acquired at Johns Hopkins SAIS to work in NGOs or Think Tanks in the Middle East and then pursue a PhD in International Relations.

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