by Laura Berglund ’20
English majors have taken diverse and exciting paths after graduating from Macalester, including creative writer and former Words Senior Editor Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan ’18. Fuleihan recently began graduate school across the pond at King’s College London, where she is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Contemporary Literature, Culture & Theory. We caught up with Fuleihan to hear about this new chapter of her life as well as her other post-Mac adventures.
Where have you worked, or what projects have you worked on since graduation?
After graduating from Macalester, I had a very busy year! I was living and working in Minneapolis with a few jobs in various literary fields. Over the summer, I worked part-time at Coffee House Press and interned at the Loft Literary Center, while also volunteering as a reader for the Mizna literary journal — a journal focused on Arab America. In September, I became a full-time employee at Coffee House Press as the Marketing and Publicity Assistant, continued to volunteer with Mizna, and also taught storytelling as part of the Hear I Am Project, which taught podcasting skills to adults with disabilities. In the winter, I became a grant review panelist for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, which was a wonderful way to learn about the rich non-profit arts world in Minnesota. I also started a year-long contract to write critical and personal essays on literature each month throughout 2019 for the Ploughshares blog, and in the spring of 2019 I took on the role of editor for the Mizna journal and got to see that through the publication of the twentieth anniversary issue, which is now available for purchase on their website. I am also a fiction book reviewer for Sukoon, which was coincidentally the first non-school affiliated journal I was ever published in.
How have your grad school plans unfolded? For example, when did you know you wanted to attend, how did you decide on your program, and what has it been like thus far?
I’ve always known that I wanted to attend graduate school, and after spending some time away from the classroom, I realized that I just really love education. Though I was embedded in the rich literary environment of Minneapolis and beyond through my various jobs, I still craved class discussions and deeper critical analysis than I was experiencing. My position with the Ploughshares blog has been an incredible opportunity for me to stay attached to critical writing, which prepared me to jump back into the academic setting. Though doing a Master’s in literature is not the most common thing, especially among the professors I knew and talked to, I felt really compelled by the modules offered in the program in contemporary literature, culture, & theory that I am doing now at King’s. I had planned to spend two years working and then head to a Ph.D., but I loved the MA at King’s so much, and more so than any other Masters programs I had seen, that I decided to just apply to it and on the off chance that I got in, I would go for it, but if not, I’d stick with my original plan and apply to Ph.D.’s the year after. Luckily, I got in, and now here I am in London! It’s likely the biggest life decision I’ve ever made and it also had the least amount of planning going in, so it feels very surreal.
At this point in your education and career, what are your biggest takeaways from your time at Macalester?
Each time my framework changes, such as working part-time or full-time or now being in graduate school, I find that I appreciate my time at Macalester even more. It is a really unique place in that so many of the barriers that exist at other educational institutions are already dismantled, at least somewhat, for the students. The tight-knit community that allows campus-wide debate to even potentially exist, the small classes, the fact that it’s nearly impossible not to form relationships with your professors, the wide availability of professional opportunities such as precepting courses, tutoring in the MAX Center, working for The Words, etc, is truly incredible and evidently quite rare. Of course, no place is perfect and all institutions have their inherent barriers and downfalls, but I am so grateful that of all the institutions out there, I got to spend my undergraduate time at Macalester, a place that really encourages critical thinking beyond the classroom and into the community as a whole.
What have been some of the challenges and rewards of post-graduation life?
It is SO MUCH reading! The system in the UK is very different from in the US, so I have almost no writing assignments during the semester and just have huge essays at the end, and I will write my dissertation over the summer. In addition, my program has the lowest contact hours that I know of, with only two classes per week each for two hours only, though my courses have higher credits than others. So, I have four hours of class and the rest of my time is spent reading novels, (dense) theory, and analysis. My second week, I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do in one week (sadly not an exaggeration), and so it has been both wonderful and also quite challenging to dive headfirst into this strangely nebulous existence of purely reading and discussing literature and theory. I have also been seriously contemplating becoming that person at the gym who reads while walking on the treadmill because sometimes staying stationary for so long can get to be too much!
How do you feel about living and studying in London?
London is a huge and complex city with so much to do and see, so it’s a great distraction when I need a break from hours of nonstop reading, but it can be daunting as well. I know I will never be able to really get to know the city in the year I’m planning to live here. And what with the huge mess of Brexit, there’s a tense undercurrent of anxiety much like there is in the US — or maybe I’m just imagining it because I feel like it should be there. I haven’t heard anyone actually from the UK talking about Brexit (though everyone on the tube reads the free tabloids covered in caricatures of Boris Johnson alongside random celebrity gossip, quite a strange form of mass-consumed media), so I’ve only really discussed it with other international students. On a lighter note, there are lots of Macalester alumni here, so I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends, as well as some family members I hadn’t seen in many years. And there is a fox who lives in my building’s backyard and sleeps curled up outside my living room window each night! His name is Richie, and he responds to the super in my building almost like a pet. It’s very cute and extremely British.
Finally, do you have any advice for current English majors or minors?
Yes! Take advantage of everything that Macalester offers that interests you, and go to your professors’ office hours! Not enough students do, and I wish that I had done so more. Seeing how larger universities work, I am so glad and feel so fortunate for the education that I had at Mac. It was basically tailored to me with almost no intentional effort on my part to make that happen, and seeing how other universities work, that’s really uncommon. If you’re planning to go to graduate school, start doing your research early. And I’m always happy to talk about any of my experiences in publishing, freelancing, or graduate school in the UK, if anyone is thinking of heading in those directions — my info is on Mac Direct.
Many thanks to Fuleihan for her update! If you’d like to read her work, visit her author archive on Ploughshares.