Author Archives: elsheikh1213

On Moving Forward


It was only a year ago that I came across Marina Keegan’s piece The Opposite of Loneliness written for Yale Daily news. We all learned of her death soon after. Her words continue to penetrate my thoughts. “This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.”

I came to the AIE cohort feeling misunderstood. I was not too sure where I fit in this world of Muslims and non-Muslims, realists and idealists, Americans and citizens of the world. False dichotomies perhaps, but they ruled my world until I made it here. Here, I thought was safe, but soon enough, trickled in the apprehensions. I finally stumbled across an entire cohort of romantics, dreamers, and inspirers. Was there space for an introvert like myself? Was this space genuine, effective? I slowly receded within myself– uncertain as to whether the label of the creative was one I wished to carry.

Then came the intimate conversations, the unraveling of personal narratives, and the spotlighting of human insights. This youthful bunch, who once seemed years beyond my passions, talents, and dedication, became people who were in relationships, seeking love, breaking up and down. They enjoyed trying new restaurants, listening to top forty music, but some also swore off anything synthetic enough to make it to the radio waves.

In the words of Jay-z, these people could literally have been anywhere in the world, but there they were, right here, with me.

Many of my classmates have naturally earned their spots on my speed dial list, many of them will be on the receiving end of lengthy emails, phone rants, or dramatically long reviews of the latest books, articles, plays, music, and films that I have consumed. Some will make treks across the Atlantic to come see me, and others – well, I will gradually shed my daily routines to join them in theirs.

In an effort to continue the conversation, I have taken it upon myself to acknowledge that it is not only about strengthening the bonds I have made while here, but it is also about having the courage to reach out months, years, or decades later to a classmate that I might have only spoken to briefly, because intuition inspired me to do so.

Moving forward is about recognizing that neither time nor space stands in the way of the maintenance, development or strengthening of a tie. Rather, apathy.  Stomp apathy.

I remind myself time and time again that the best moments of our lives are not behind us  – they will continue to erupt. Our paths will all cross in due time. Cities, literature, experiences, both professional and personal will soon define our nexus.

You can read the full post at


Tagged , ,

Full Circle

I thought I would take some time to shed light on the cohesive nature of my academics at HGSE. As I might have mentioned before, a fellow classmate of mine from the Technology, Innovation, and Education cohort and I have been working throughout the course of the year developing The Pop Up Project.

The Pop Up Project aims to enable young, female, Arab youth, living in the Middle East with 21st century skills. These skills we have defined as critical & design thinking, problem solving, digital fluency, active citizenship, and collaboration. We plan on achieving this by creating educational and explorative spaces out of repurposed shipping containers. These educational destinations will host a variety of curricula that teach the aforementioned 21st century skills, but through different vehicles. This summer we plan on launching in Beirut, Lebanon with a course on computer programming and coding.

So what does this passion project have to do with academic cohesion? Considering making an entrepreneurial endeavor come to reality takes a whole lot of work but it became a lot less daunting as I had the chance to work on three different components of my vision in three different classes here. The flexibility of the curriculum here at HGSE will really allow me to leave here with something I can truly call my own.

In T550: Designing for Learning by Creating, we were able to develop the curriculum to be utilized within the space, while in A132: Educational Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, we developed the business plan for the initiative. Finally, in S301: Arts in Education: Learning in and Through the Arts, I was able to draft a grant proposal were I ever to seek out funding.

All in all, the chance to make my courses work for my passions and interests is one of the most fulfilling experiences of being an HGSE student.

Popping in a City Near You,


From DXB, With Art

It’s crazy to think that this time last week, it was Dubai’s heat rather than frigid east coast temperatures keeping me off the streets. Wrapping up a week-long internship with the famed Art Dubai, I had the opportunity to mingle & mix with the region’s most avid art-seekers.

Dare I say it – but the Cartier exhibits, Abraaj VIP lounges, & exclusive beach parties were a little too much for my taste, but the glimmering luxury did little to distract me from the 70 galleries that called the famed Emirate home for the week.

Take for example, Tashkeel – rendering creative energy for those in search, it stands as an exemplary institution committed to the cross-pollination of cultures. It was here that I met Nasir Nasrallah a telecommunications engineer turned story provoker. The local artist showcased his Story Machine: a fully functional vending machine, dispersing stories & found objects in exchange for 20 dirhams. He cites his childhood fascination with machines and his love for listening to the stories of the ever-evolving populations of the UAE as his main inspirations for the commissioned piece.

Or take the work of El Seed – the French Tunisian artist knighted for his waves in the realm of calligraffiti. Doting grand mosques, walls & other societal icons across the region with his colorful words, the artist was recently invited to fuse his work with the French fashion house of Louis Vuitton, making him the first Arab to collaborate with the brand.

Then came Zid Zid Kids the Morocco-based, trilingual, children’s, arts education specialists that I had the pleasure of working with throughout the course of the festival. Blending the magic of play into their commissioned exhibit, the design-duo sought to create a space that would engage children beyond the aesthetics of the arts, inviting them into a world of tinkering & exploration.

The list goes on, given the over 75 international museum groups & over 22,000 individuals from 32 different countries in attendance. With a focus on the depth of the experience rather than the breadth, Art Dubai, for the country’s self-proclaimed week of the arts, stands as the epicenter.

In Search of More Sun & Maybe a Bit More Glam,


A Seven Day Internship

When I tell people I’ll be interning in Dubai over my spring break, the sideways glances ensue.

“Internship? Are you sure that’s the right word?”

“You’re traveling 12 hours on a plane … to work … for a week?”

“Isn’t spring break a time to vacation with new friends or catch up on the ever-growing piles of work?”

Yes, I get it. It’s not necessarily the most traditional form of internship or use of spring break, but when the offer presented itself, I figured what better way to accent my Harvard experience than with an intense, 7-day internship in Dubai.

Ticket booked, lodging confirmed and I will be on my way.

Art Dubai is the largest art fair that takes place in the Middle East, South Asia, and the continent of Africa, and it just so happens to coincide with my spring break. The festival aims to blend public space with the arts, consuming the city with creative works. Last year, about 22,500 visitors, 75 museums, and 75 galleries from 32 countries attended!

I’ll be working with the Sheikha Manal Little Artists Programme in partnership with Zid Zid Kids, the Morocco-based trilingual children’s art education specialists to host a series of educational programs and workshops for children and teenagers attending the festival.

Beyond the chaos of arranging my academic schedule, booking flights, setting aside time for visiting with family and friend while in Dubai, the excitement of applying the concepts and projects in real time to the my work at Art Dubai will be extremely fulfilling.

Dubai-bound & Cambridge-based,


Tagged , , , ,

How can HGSE help me better define my passion?

Before coming to HGSE I knew that I was passionate about learning and the arts, but I did not really know what that meant beyond that. As someone who did not necessarily identify with being an artist prior to beginning the Arts in Education program, I was confused as to how to let those around me understand my conglomeration of passions. I knew I loved a ton of buzz words: creativity, innovation, social entrepreneurship, 21st century skills – but how would these concepts come together to form a cumulative degree?

What has been so amazing about my experience here so far has been the opportunity to dabble in a little of everything. Indeed, a one year masters program can be demanding – being a senior and freshman all in one go – but I have always believed that nothing makes you more productive than the final hour. I had the opportunity to take a class at Harvard College on social entrepreneurship that helped me visualize how an enterprise manifests by constructing a model. The diverse identities in my AIE classes led me to understand creativity as an attitude rather than as a construct. And finally, my course on educational innovation this semester with Fernando Reimers made notions of innovation and 21st century skills real through the many conversations that have transpired in class with successful entrepreneurs.

My passion grew both in depth and breadth – I feel as though my once rigid definitions have not only loosened throughout the course of the year, but have also become richer. Unanswered questions can certainly seem frustrating and ambiguous, but knowing that learning is an eternal process can help pave the way for some clarity.

In search of answers (& potentially more questions),


In Search

As I greet my second semester here at HGSE, I am not only faced with the next round of classes, but also the looming site of graduation. In recent weeks, I have found the prospect of exploring my employment opportunities abroad to be increasingly exciting. Although the Middle East has always been a temporary home,  I think the time has come to lay down some roots in a place where my roots first sprouted.

Utilizing the alumni network here at Harvard, the career center, and the networking skills I developed while at school in DC, I am sifting my way through the various options.

Doha and Abu Dhabi are both promising, with each of these Gulf metropolises investing heavily in the arts and cultural scene. Take for example Saadiyat Island – a 500 meter island off the coast of Abu Dhabi that is being transformed into an international leisure and cultural destination. The Louvre and the Guggenheim will both be opening on the island in 2017.

Doha, on the other hand, is looking beyond importing cultural instituions and creating its own icons. The Museum of Islamic Art is the first of its kind in the region, housing a grand collection of Islamic art, a study, and a library.

Although the job search can be a daunting and frustrating process, a much-needed phone call home got me recharged for the hunt.

In the words of my father, “This is the most exciting process of your life, Nora. You’re seeking out institutions that love and value the same things you love and value. What can be greater than that?”

And with that, the search is on.

Seeking What I Love,



A Tale of Two Cities

Weeks filled with travel – I could not have dreamed of a better way to spend my January break. With the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar all out of the way, it was time to dig into the human spirit of the city. Orhan Pamuk stands as one of the country’s most prominent & prolific writers, donning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. I dipped into his memoir Istanbul: Memories & the City prior to landing. Then came The Museum of Innocence: part novel, part museum.

Stumble across the eighty-third chapter of the book and your golden ticket will greet you, granting you free entry into the museum located in the neighborhood of Beyoğlu, off the, dare I say it, M street of Istanbul. A novel that tears away at romance, the reader follows Kemel’s passion for his beloved Fusun, as he obsessively amasses trinkets of his beloved.

Enter the museum & you will be faced with a golden wave, that is 4,213 cigarette butts, followed by eighty-three cabins, for each of the eighty-three chapters, brimming artfully with charms that reflect the story, and more: the daily musings of a Turk, living in Istanbul, in the sixties and seventies, who loves.

Clocks, photographs, tricycles, milk bottles, beds, quotes, and such line the walls. Scattered copies of the book garnish each of the four floors, allowing museum-goers to stop and relive the words. The first of its kind, this museum stands as the wunderkammer of the city, teaching more than one-dimensional experiences through the art of storytelling.

As a student of the Arts in Education, I am always on the hunt for an inspiring museum – you can read more about my adventures at No Fame On M Street. 

Hagia Sophia

C’est Moi

Yours just back from Istanbul,


Tagged , , , , ,

Beyond the Bookshelves

As the semester drifts to a halt, we HGSE-ers are greeted with a round of reading days, allotted time once classes have finished that allow us to delve into our semester’s work in preparation for finals.

Many hit Gutman, while others opt for any one of the trendy coffee shops lining the square. For me, reading days are a time to explore the various avenues that intersect at the University.

After meeting up with some friends at HBS for a quick lunch and squeezing in some case analysis, I stopped by at the Harvard Innovation Lab for The Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge kick-off.

Sponsored by the Deans of Harvard, the challenge beckons students of the university to develop entrepreneurial solutions for various problems in the realm of culture and health. The Challenge commenced with a kick-off event featuring Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Mingling with artists, deans, and my fellow classmates both from HGSE and from the other colleges was absolutely inspirational.

Soon after the event at the iLab, I hustled my way over to Harvard Yard to see American novelist Toni Morrison’s talk on Goodness & Altruism. Yes, you got that right. A Noble Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner plus a Grammy Award winning cellist all in one day – welcome to life on the square.

Now it’s time to hit the books.

Until next semester,


A Visual Update on Harvard Arab Weekend

The hustle & bustle of opening night – finally, seeing the fruits of our labor! Over 500 attendees! 


H.E. Mr. Samir Al-Rifai – Former Prime Minister of Jordan giving his Keynote Address. His father was in the front row, cheering his son on! 


Your’s truly introducing the Syria panel with Christina Lassen, former Danish Ambassador to Syria, Hedi Larbi, Senior International Observer from the World Bank, Sanjeev Bery, Advocacy Director Mena from Amnesty International, Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, & Malek Jandali, world-renowned Syrian pianist and composer. Couldn’t have done it without my amazing Co-Chari, Carine Abi-Akar, and the rest of the dream team!


Syrian-American rapper, Omar Effendum, dropping some awesome beats during our Friday night social function. Ghassan & Imane, our College reps, could not have done a more superb job!


The sounds of Arabia with Layalii 


Our lovely HAW Co-Chair Noura Selim and HBS Co-Chair Said Francis with Members of the Harvard Arab Alumni Association alongside H.E. Mr. Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Thanks HAAA for all of your support!


A full house at HBS captivated by our speakers.


Some of our amazing team members & special ops team coming together to celebrate at the HAW Gala at the Charles Hotel. 



Being a part of such an exceptional planning committee was by far one of my most fulfilling experiences to date. At Harvard, the heart of your learning can easily transpire outside of the classroom. 

From the Fall to the Arab Spring, 


Sustaining the Spring – Avoiding the Fall

One of the most excellent, and simultaneously time-consuming initiatives that I have had the honor of participating in, is the planning of Harvard Arab Weekend. This four day university-wide conference is the largest pan-Arab conference in North America and was lauded by the White House as the “Premier Arab World Conference.”

Talk about impact.

As the co-chair of the education panel and as a member of the planning committee, I have had the chance to work with students, who have quickly become friends, in putting together this timely event. When I was first approached to join in on the planning efforts, I was surprisingly reluctant The caliber of speakers they were expecting to host were professional-years beyond my measly fresh out of undergrad self. Did I have the legitimacy to craft a letter to former Prime Ministers and heads of state, thought leaders and entrepreneurs?

I was not sure – but I gave them my word. The experience has been beyond fulfilling. With a passionate team, we have put together an excellent panel exploring the realm of creative and collaborative learning in the Middle East. We are hosting exceptional speakers from the World Bank and international non-profits and organizations. Also, we have our very own Fernando Reimers, founder of the International Education Policy Program at HGSE, moderating the session.

It is absolutely astounding the sheer opportunities that HGSE and the greater Harvard community can offer. I’m looking forward to sharing photos and snapshots of the event taking place mid-November. Only 13 Arab days and Arab nights to the event!