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Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Ali

Posted by: andrewst | November 5, 2020 | No Comment |

Sarah Ali graduated from the Honors College in 2008, sold her car and moved to Palestine with the “hope of finding a job!”  Though her first adventure was short-lived and she returned to the U.S. for a few months, she has “no regrets” about the choices she made in that “rocky first year.”  “Sometimes, and especially in your twenties,” she writes, “you really need to make risky moves and follow your passions.” Though offered a position – in many ways her “dream job” – in a congressional office on Capitol Hill (after a short temporary position) Sarah declined the offer and flew to Beirut, Lebanon, where she found a job paying $10 an hour.  Though living “paycheck to paycheck” Sarah was living on her own terms.  Two years later, she accepted a position to teach at an international school in Erbil, Iraq, where she met her husband.  She then pursued her master’s degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; she graduated in 2014.

Sarah’s education and experience eventually landed her a position as a Business Development Specialist for the East Asia Pacific sub region at Catholic Relief Services, a position she loves.  Her job entails working together with country teams in the Philippines, Indonesia, Timor Leste and the Pacific Islands to “design projects that support the most poor and vulnerable people in society in ways that are sustainable and dignified.”  Sarah helps to design the projects and translate them into “winning proposals” so that they can win funding for implementation.

Unfortunately, Sarah transitioned to this position just as COVID-19 hit, which delayed her move to the Philippines.  She and her family had already vacated their apartment and put all their belongings on a ship to Manila when they received word of the delay.  Somehow, Sarah (along with her husband and two young children) have been able to take this all in stride.  They are riding out the pandemic in an Air B&B in Baltimore, Maryland and are focused on the “silver linings: living in a familiar area with a big backyard and lots of grass, and (hopefully) spending the upcoming holidays with the grandparents.”  Still working from “home” in Maryland does have its challenges: “As much as I love having calls with the teams,” she says, “I don’t love doing it late into the night!” (There is at least a 12-hour time difference!) In addition, she really misses that feeling of teamwork and the collaborative problem solving that is intrinsic to the job and easier to accomplish in-person. That being said, Sarah knows she is blessed and feels quite lucky that her kids and husband “have been able to thrive” through the pandemic thus far.  They do hope to get to Manila eventually, pull their things out of storage and “resume the expat life” they love so much.

Sarah’s bold spirit is warm and welcoming.  Her take-charge, positive attitude is a tonic in a world that is often fear-based and negative, which is, no doubt, one of the reasons why she has landed in this fabulous career with Catholic Relief Services, and why she makes a great mentor to our juniors and seniors through our mentorship program.

Sarah volunteers as one of our mentors to give homage to some of the many influential mentors she has had in her own life, including the “infamous John Creed,” who supervised her bachelor’s essay and made “a huge difference in where (she) ended up.”  In addition to Dr. Creed, other favorite political science professors include Dr. Lynne Ford and Dr. Claire Curtis.

Sarah is the first to admit that much of her career progression has been a function of privilege; she comes from a white, middle-class family with two working parents.  She acknowledges this with humility and is ever so conscious of the fact that not everyone will have the advantages she has had in life, nor will everyone have a safety net around them that allows as much freedom as she has been granted, but her best advice for all undergrads remains:

  • “If you are able to take some risks during and after college, take them!” And, Sarah would add, extracurricular activities should be among those risks! One of Sarah’s favorite places while at CofC was the South Carolina Student Legislature, where she made “lifelong friends” both from CofC and other colleges.
  • “If you can, give yourself some time to be (a little bit) more sure of what you want in your career” and, don’t rush to grad school: “Be careful – very careful – about taking on more student debt.” See how far your undergraduate degree can take you first and then build on that if/when needed.
  • “Although it is very important to respect your parents’ hopes and advice, at the end of the day you need to own your path…don’t suppress your own passions in order to please anyone else!”
under: Alumni, Mentorship Program

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