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Yasir Zaidan (’17): Ph.D. Candidate in International Studies

Yasir Zaidan at IWP Commencement
Yasir Zaidan at IWP Commencement in 2017

“I think IWP is unique because the program is very practical, specialized, and perfectly fit my interests. When I was applying, I knew what IWP was before I knew what D.C. stood for. I am blessed to be one of IWP’s alumni.”
-Yasir Zaidan (’17)

Originally from Sudan, Yasir Zaidan (’17) explored challenges facing Africa as he completed his Master of Arts in Statecraft and National Security Affairs at IWP. Yasir is pursuing a career in international relations education and is working on his Ph.D. in International Studies at the University of Washington while conducting field research in Africa.

Yasir is from Sudan and earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Khartoum. However, his education drove him in a different direction. He became involved in international relations and national security because he wanted to help his country and region with their strategic and national security planning. So, as he began his search for higher education, he knew that relocating to Washington, D.C., would be the perfect place.

While looking at schools in D.C., Yasir discovered IWP through a simple google search and decided that the makeup of IWP’s curriculum and distinguished faculty would best suit his interests.

Studying Statecraft and National Security Affairs

Coming from a science background and a foreign country, Yasir took every opportunity to attend events at IWP and around D.C. When asked about what opportunities IWP had to offer that he found most interesting, he said:

“For someone like me coming from Sudan, it was beneficial to be in D.C. to be studying and attending lectures at IWP, but also attending events at think tanks. Usually, professors would direct you to events around town, and sometimes they would even speak at these events. I remember Professor John Tsagronis hosted former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and it was great to hear the thoughts of someone as experienced as him.”

Donald Rumsfeld speaking to Prof. Tsagronis' class
Donald Rumsfeld speaking to Prof. John Tsagronis’ class in 2015

He found IWP’s emphasis on hiring scholar-practitioners as professors beneficial to his education. He said, “Something I really liked about IWP was the professors were also practitioners at the same time. They knew what the actual world of policy would look like.”

In addition to participating in events at IWP and around D.C., Yasir also spent time publishing national security-related articles. One was titled, “This Sudanese School’s Students Are Rapidly Joining ISIS,” where he tells the story of an elite school in Khartoum that defies years of mythologies in the West about the lure of Muslim youth to extremism.

Yasir also spoke about how IWP influenced his thoughts on international affairs and national security. He noted two core classes that all students must take: IWP 615 Western Moral and Political Thought and IWP 606 Ideas and Values in International Politics. He says:

“The two core classes that influenced my thoughts were Western Moral Traditions and Ideas and Values. Those two classes were very basic and gave you a moral compass for your policy and standing in your analysis. It also connected international affairs theories and politics with philosophy and religious thought, which was really intriguing.”

In addition to the core classes, Yasir took a directed study course with Dr. Anne Bradley on developmental economics in Africa. He wanted to understand why his country was so behind economically. He said, “Even though Dr. Bradley was not an expert on Sudan, she designed a class with beneficial readings and course content. Those kinds of classes that you can actually design with your professor were extremely helpful on a subject that I am very close to.”

Additionally, Yasir emphasized the tight-knit IWP student and alumni community available to all when they graduate from IWP. When asked if there was a moment that he felt encapsulated his IWP experience, he said, “I got married about two months ago. A friend of mine is American, and I met him at IWP. He flew all the way from the United States to Sudan to come to my wedding. So, it is not just an academic place but also a place to cultivate friendships.”

Lastly, when asked what he would tell students interested in international affairs about his IWP experience, Yasir said, “I would say it is the best kind of combination between theory and practice to actually get involved in international relations. It also gives you a very solid basis in terms of philosophy and moral thinking.”

Striving for a Career in International Relations Education

During his time at IWP, Yasir secured employment as a political assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. As a result, he got the opportunity to work with several fellows to make policies that he felt could make an impact in the Middle East. He says, “During that time, I started writing op-eds and published many of them in foreign affairs, world policy, and world politics reviews.”

Unlike many IWP students who go on to work in national security and international affairs roles, Yasir has decided to earn his Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Washington at the Jackson School for International Studies. He intends to become a professor in statecraft, national security, and international relations.

He is currently in the middle of a fellowship, conducting field research in the African region for the next year. Following that, he will be back to teach at the University of Washington.

New student lunch with the President, 2014
Yasir (third from left) at a new student lunch with the President in 2014

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