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Student Spotlight: Zainab Dossaji ’20

Posted by: hutchisonch | February 28, 2019 | No Comment |

For political science major Zainab Dossaji ‘20, a major part of‘ the classroom’ has been the offices of the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, an elephant preserve in Cambodia, the city of Amman, Jordan, and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Public Policy Leadership Conference.  She credits the political science department with helping and encouraging her to participate in these experiential learning opportunities. “One of the great things about being a political science major is that it is flexible enough to allow classes that aren’t taken at CofC to count for major credits. This has been the biggest reason why I have been able to study abroad twice and spend this entire year away from campus. Every experiential learning opportunity I have had, from debating politics in DC to visiting UNICEF in Amman, has influenced my overall goals.”

Dossaji is originally from Spartanburg, SC and came to the College of Charleston unsure about exactly what she wanted to study. Since she already had an interest in politics after the 2016 election, she chose political science as what she described as a ‘preliminary option.’ It didn’t take her long, however, to know that she was on the right path. “I took Dr. Creed’s World Politics honors course and I was hooked,” Dossaji explained. “I was bouncing around between history, philosophy, and international studies as my possible major and his class showed me that political science incorporated all of those subjects. Being a political science major at the College of Charleston specifically has been an incredible experience. I cannot say enough about the department. All of the professors are so helpful and have a real passion for their students as well as their particular areas of interest. I’ve had a lot of meaningful discussions with the faculty and the students within the department.”

The summer after her freshman year, Dossaji joined a study abroad trip to Cambodia and Vietnam led by Dr. Jen Wright from the Department of Psychology and political science professor Dr. Chris Day. “This experience has been one of the most vital and influential of my undergraduate education. Studying genocide and international intervention in Cambodia is the reason I became interested in humanitarian action, human rights, and international NGO work.”

The experience also influenced her decision to travel to Amman, Jordan for a second study abroad. “Fast forward almost two years later and here I am studying refugees, health, and humanitarian action. Everything I learned on that first study abroad experience has helped me transition into this program. Being abroad showed me how to think critically and analytically about international work and demonstrated that it was okay to question the humanitarian institutions and systems that are in place.”

That doesn’t mean that Dossaji hasn’t experienced challenges or bumps in the road. “Spring semester my sophomore year was an incredibly challenging time for me,” Dossaji explained. “I was forced to make a lot of decisions about my future without having a solid plan of what I wanted to do post-grad. At the same time, I had applied to a couple of nationally competitive awards and failed to receive them. This was a hard blow because so much time and effort were put into those applications. A combination of the fear of the unknown as well as rejection made for a stressful semester. Mid-semester I learned that I had to take time to reflect and enjoy the moment, rather than stressing over the past and future. I stopped being daunted by the unknown and began to embrace the opportunities it could hold.”

Those opportunities included spending her fall semester in Washington, DC interning at the Department of Justice in the civil rights division. In her program, students worked full time at their internships and then attended night classes, which Dossaji was able to count toward her political science major. “Working full time is a completely different experience than being a student. It’s definitely more tiring in some ways, particularly with commuting and such, but it’s also nice to have a clear-cut time of when you’re working. In college it feels like the majority of your time is spent in classes and then studying afterward. It was great to come home after work and know that the day was over. I think working in DC is also an incredibly unique experience because you’re surrounded by politics regardless of whether you are working with a political organization or not.”

After a full year off campus, Dossaji is looking forward to returning to CofC this fall and to prepare for (hopefully) attending law school. “For me, personally, all my learning opportunities helped me confirm my dream of going to law school. I was able to realize that I wanted to play a role in changing the legal system to help alleviate social injustices that take place nationally and internationally. If it wasn’t for my experiences outside the classroom, I never would have known how law and policy truly intersect.”

Experience seems to be the keyword of Dossaji’s time at CofC, so it’s no surprise that her recommendation to underclassmen and incoming freshmen is to adapt and enjoy your time at school and to experience everything you can. “Allow your plans for college (and the future in general) to be adapted. You truly don’t know what the future holds and that should be exciting rather than daunting,” Dossaji said. “My best experiences in college have been the ones I never planned for. Join the clubs that spark your interest, engage in discussions that make you feel challenged and empowered, and take advantage of every opportunity–not with your resume in mind, but your passions.”

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