In our fifth edition of the e-introductions, meet Mohamed. He studied mechanical engineering at VIT University, but has transitioned to writing about Indian foreign policy and international affairs for publications like The Diplomat and The Huffington Post. He hopes to gain some practical experience with the United Nations and return to India to become a policymaker. In his free time he likes to watch cricket matches and read crime novels (but not necessarily at the same time).

Full Name: Mohamed Zeeshan Razeek
Age: 22
Degree Program: Master of International Affairs
Concentration: Economic and Political Development
Anticipated Graduation Year: Spring 2018
Hometown: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Undergraduate University: VIT University
Undergraduate Major: Mechanical Engineering
Undergraduate Graduation Year: 2015

What’s your professional background?
I switched out of engineering professionally and became a foreign affairs columnist. I’ve been writing on Indian foreign policy, government and international affairs in general for almost the last three years, for magazines such as The Diplomat and websites such as The Huffington Post. I think such a profile is rather strange, considering that I graduated from engineering school only last year. My professional career, while still nascent, therefore began even before I had graduated out of undergrad. I’ve been fortunate that my writing caught the attention of some leading editors very early, which gave me the sort of journalistic opportunities I got – some of which have thoroughly shocked me. A couple of years ago, CNN wrote to me asking if I would be able to take up an opportunity to work with the legendary Fareed Zakaria!

Did you apply to SIPA to change careers or to gain experience in a career path you already have experience in?
To change careers. I’ve always had innate interest in international affairs, but it’s difficult to gain the right kind of exposure and education in this field in India. I believe that coming to Columbia and New York will set me up for a fruitful career in international affairs, and hopefully in Indian foreign policy! My real endeavor, in the long run, is to help shape India’s foreign policy for the construction of a better world.

What was your reaction when you found out you were accepted to SIPA?
Absolutely thrilled! I’ve heard that it’s doubly difficult to gain entry into SIPA a year out of undergraduate study (it’s difficult to gain entry into SIPA, period). To be part of the Columbia family and study at an Ivy League school is a dream come true. Columbia has a history of nurturing some great Indian leaders – Babasaheb Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian constitution, is a standout example – and has contributed similarly to the story of many a nation in different parts of the world. I’m privileged to be part of such a celebrated legacy.

Why did you say “yes” to SIPA? (Does anybody say “no” to Columbia and SIPA?) SIPA is the foremost school in the world for policy studies and was my top choice all the way through (I was also accepted into The Fletcher School, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins). Its location in New York is a massive bonus; New York being the most happening place on earth will give me the exposure I crave for in this field. But above all, SIPA is the breeding ground for some of the greatest minds in public policy, and mingling with such illustrious colleagues will greatly enrich my knowledge and career.

What do you most look forward to as a graduate student at SIPA?
The opportunity to explore myself and further the research I’ve been doing on Indian foreign policy and diplomacy in general. It would be a real blessing to be surrounded by some of the finest minds in the world and the greatest experts in international affairs. I think this is a real opportunity for me to discover myself and push into new frontiers, especially given my relatively young age. I hope to be able to fulfill this goal!
Do you have any apprehensions about starting graduate school? I have a license to be nervous! I’ve never crossed the Atlantic or received formal training in international affairs. I’ve never been in the United States before, nor have I spent time in a place like New York (Mumbai comes close I’m told, but I’ve never lived there either; Bangalore is far quieter). I’ve never had to fend for myself so far from home either. But nervous as I am, I certainly look forward to this!

What are your goals after SIPA?
I intend to gain some experience at the international level through work in multilateral agencies such as the UN. This would help me be in the thick of things, so far as international development is concerned. Over time, I intend to return to India to help my own country in its governance and policy making. Revamping India’s foreign policy is a core ambition of my career. Sitting on the outside, and through the experience of all my writing, I’ve come to realize how much India can do on the global stage and how little it does at present. A more proactive and responsible Indian foreign policy has the potential to create long-lasting peace and prosperity everywhere. I want to play a part in that great story.

If you could change one small thing about your community, country or the world, what would it be?
I can give you a laundry list of policy ideas here, but I’m going to be a touch philosophical. I think that in this day and age, everybody has opinions, but few are empathetic. It’s a very disconnected, impersonal world and it’s made us increasingly insensitive. That is why we have so much conflict on the lines of identity – religion, tribe, race, or even caste, as in the case of India. Conflict of this sort is borne out of the dehumanization of human beings; in many parts of the world, folks don’t look at individuals as individuals, they look at them as manifestations of a certain community identity. That is something that I believe has got to change. For example, most people woke up to the Syrian crisis only after they saw a baby wash up dead on the shore. Till then, this wasn’t really about human beings at all; it was about a bunch of sects at war with each other, and the death counts were mere statistics.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
People tell me I’m rather unconventional, but I would instead say that I’m free spirited. I got into writing largely because I found it liberating. I always had so much to say and writing sort of gave me the outlet I needed. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I’m addicted to writing; I can’t go a whole fortnight without writing something or the other! I’m also a big cricket buff (no, not baseball, it’s cricket!) and although I can’t play the game very well, I often do watch it almost as a stress-buster. I’m as addicted to reading as I am to writing, and I rather enjoy reading crime novels and stories of suspense, the likes of Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming. I suppose it’s vicarious pleasure in a way. I can never be James Bond, but I certainly crave the thrill of being him!

View all of Fall 2016’s interviews here.