What is your story?
I’m a rising senior at Case Western Reserve University, studying International Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. I have been fortunate enough to have many unique experiences that have fueled interests that I’m constantly working toward pursuing. First and foremost is my interest in international, and more specifically Middle Eastern relations, economics, trade, and religion. The Middle East is an ever-changing region with such a cool blend of traditions, I want my career to focus on the region in some way.
I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan for the Spring 2019 semester and fell even more in love with Middle Eastern culture and studying the region. My Arabic really improved, which was so encouraging for me. And although I felt independent before that, the experience of being on my own in a foreign country for four months really helped me grow as an individual. Right now I’m in the Arab Gulf on a grant I received from my university – I just spent time in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Bahrain, and now I’m headed to Muscat (Oman) for a few days. I’m conducting independent research on the migrant Christian population here. I am really fascinated by Middle Eastern Christianity, as it is so much more diverse than probably most people realize. If I decide to pursue a PhD, it would definitely focus on that topic.
What consumes my mind a lot right now is what my next step will be after I graduate in May 2020. I’m currently deciding between graduate programs; my top two choices are in Beirut and Rome, and after that I want to move around a bit. I would love to live and work in the Middle East and New York City for some time – and maybe Washington, DC or Europe… I’m pretty open to wherever the right opportunities take me.
I have also been very passionate about makeup and the fashion industry since early high school, which has led me to pursue runway and print modeling in the Midwest for years now; as well as promoting my makeup creativity online. Although I don’t think modeling or makeup artistry will ever serve as my career, (but hey, I’m open to it!), it’s a great hobby that allows me to show my creative and theatrical self.
I really pride myself on being a self-starter. I created the Middle Eastern studies major for myself at my university and I’ll graduate with minors in economics and religious studies because the courses are too interesting to pass up! I have participated in various competitive programs including those focused on finance and economics in New York City and intercultural dialogue and promoting pluralism in the Levant. I have also served as president of the economics society at my university and have held multiple jobs which have allowed me to travel often. Throughout the last three years of undergrad, I’ve come to understand that I can’t expect opportunities to fall into my lap; I need to work my butt off to make things happen and to create my own opportunities when I don’t see the right ones available.
What message do you like to promote to others?
Seize every single opportunity you can and take full advantage of the resources available to you! That usually means your path will be more difficult – more late nights writing papers and filling out applications, working longer hours, etc. But especially at the university level, there are so many resources that students can benefit from: grants for research, amazing internships and jobs around the world, free travel opportunities, and so much more (often, these opportunities won’t be in your specific department or where you usually find yourself, look everywhere). Network like crazy, find some great mentors, and go chase these opportunities that unfortunately so many people don’t know about.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
I’ve worked in my university’s career center for a few semesters now, primarily reviewing students’ resumes and cover letters, helping prepare them for interviews, etc. That work experience has allowed me to collaborate with many of my friends and even classmates I don’t know very well outside of the office to assist them in finding internships and jobs, preparing for applications, and landing opportunities. It is so enjoyable for me and is something I want to incorporate into my life down the line.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to?
This summer I was supposed to intern in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but a few weeks before I would have started it fell through without a good reason. I was really crushed because I was excited to experience a competitive job in a country that is generally unseen by Americans, and it would have been an amazing step for my career. I honestly let myself be sad for too long though, and finally I realized crying wasn’t going to fix it; it was time to figure out my plan B and be productive this summer. Although this summer has been very different than what I was expecting, it has been great for other reasons. Once I was able to change my mindset, I got back into my groove.
Everyone faces setbacks, some huge and some small, and the best thing you can do is learn from the experience and adapt.
Did you have a mentor, coach, or sponsor along the way that was essential to your growth and success? If so, who was it and why
My family: both of my parents, and my three older siblings and their spouses have been the best role models for me and have been my cheerleaders since day one. They are all so successful in their own unique ways and demonstrate hard work and independence while encouraging me to do my best in my various pursuits. My boyfriend has also been the closest and most supportive person in my life for the last two years. He has encouraged me to study abroad in Jordan and chase my goals even when it means we can’t be physically together and when he has his own career to manage. That can be tough to find in a mid-20’s guy, and I’m really blessed to have him in my life.
Two professors at my university, one in religious studies and one in political science, have also been exceptionally helpful in propelling me along my educational and career paths, connecting me with other professionals, supervising projects, and writing countless letters of recommendation for me. I really hope to someday be a mentor for young people like the way they have been for me.
What upcoming adventures or milestones are you most excited about?
I’m wrapping up my research in the Middle East this week, and once I return home I’m really looking forward to starting my last year at the university. My fall schedule has some great and challenging courses lined up in addition to some fun ones, like stage makeup and a cooking class – and then figuring out the next step after graduation, which feels crazy but thrilling.
If you could give one piece of advice for women who are deciding on what career path they want to take, what would it be?
Well I am still in the deciding stage also, so I definitely can’t say I know it all, but what has helped me along the way has been to know who to take advice from. Everyone you meet is going to have an opinion on what you do with your life and career, and it can be overwhelming and frustrating to hear people’s opinions, especially when you didn’t ask for them! So I try to listen to the opinions of the people who I care most about – my family, friends, mentors, etc. – and tune out the people who I don’t really care about. That’s not to say that I ignore them, but I’m selective with what I let affect my decisions. At the end of the day, I think everyone should follow their gut even if people around them don’t understand or like it.
Personal Instagram: @LizardHanna
Makeup Artist Instagram: @LizHannaMakeup