4 Questions for Rachel Landry - 2015-2016 Shapiro Scholar

Rachel Landry, Shapiro Scholar
November 02, 2015

Rachel Landry, a 2013 graduate of the Elliott School, is GW’s Shapiro Oxford Scholar for 2015-16.  Rachel is currently pursuing an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.

The J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Scholarships are awarded to George Washington students or recent graduates for post-graduate degree study at Oxford University in Oxford, England. Only students who have been endorsed by GWU to apply for the Rhodes, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships in a given year are eligible for the Shapiro Scholarship. All nominees for the Shapiro Scholarship must also be accepted for study at an Oxford degree program and for placement at an Oxford College. 

Rachel double-majored in international affairs and French language and literature and completed an honors thesis for both majors.  The research for those theses centered, on the one hand, upon the legal protections of asylum seekers within European courts, and on the other, the literary accounts of the journeys of West African migrants to the EU. 

Following graduation, Rachel was selected to participate in Humanity in Action, and during that program in Berlin, Germany, she deepened her understanding of the challenges asylum seekers face in Germany.  Afterwards, Rachel continued her involvement with Humanity in Action as a senior fellow and sought compelling ways to present the contributions of immigrant communities to wider audiences.  For example, Rachel was actively involved in the development of a U.S. timeline of migration, citizenship, and belonging for the project with WINGS and ROOTS and facilitated educational workshops using the project's historical timelines.  Prior to enrolling at Oxford, Rachel worked at the Council of Foreign Relations then as the director of special projects at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law.

We caught up with Rachel, who has now been at Oxford since September, to learn more about her experience applying for fellowships.

1. As a Marshall and Rhodes applicant, you qualified for the Shapiro scholarship. How did you hear about Marshall and Rhodes and what inspired you to apply for them?

I first considered applying for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships during the winter of my senior year (2013), while I was deep in the application process for a different opportunity, the Humanity in Action summer fellowship. I was already familiar with the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, but this was the first time that I seriously considered applying. While providing me guidance on the application process for the Humanity in Action summer fellowship, Paul Hoyt-O’Connor at the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, and my other mentors, encouraged me to apply for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.

I knew that I wanted to gain professional experience before pursuing a graduate degree and therefore decided that I would apply for the scholarships the following year, to begin studies in the fall of 2015. I was greatly inspired by my mentors who believed in my candidacy and eventually guided me through the application process. Ultimately, I chose the Rhodes and Marshall over other scholarships as Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre offers an unparalleled opportunity to pursue research and to study with leading academics in the refugee and forced migration field.

2. What was the application process like?

The application process for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships was demanding and rigorous, both in terms of time and intellect. From start to finish, the process was a year long. I began to seek GW's nomination for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships in April 2014, received the nomination in September 2014 following an interview by the GW nomination committee, was awarded the Shapiro scholarship in January 2015, and was offered a place at Oxford in March 2015.

The process is not only a significant time commitment, but also requires tremendous reflection on one’s academic interests and career goals. Applicants must be motivated to research their proposed area of study and to stay abreast of current affairs in their field and more broadly. The application process necessitates an openness to critique as well as the drive to write and rewrite personal statements and essays over and over again based upon constructive feedback.  In the interview before the GW selection committee, applicants will be challenged to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge in the field, articulate their proposed course of study, and defend their unique opinions and viewpoints.

Regardless of whether or not the applicant is successful, the process itself is an incredible opportunity for self-discovery and intellectual growth, as well as an ideal moment to foster and strengthen relationships with mentors.

3. What sorts of other fellowship or research experience did you have as an undergraduate?

My research experiences, fellowships, and internships during my senior year and immediately following graduation played a significant role in helping me to determine my course of study at the graduate level.

As a double major in international relations and French language and literature, during my senior year I pursued research on global migration through the lenses of international human rights law and francophone literature. In my international affairs thesis, I analyzed case law to assess the roles of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice in ensuring the protection of asylum seekers and upholding international human rights norms, like non-refoulement. Ultimately, I had the opportunity to present the research for my international affairs thesis at the European Union Center of California during the Claremont-UC Research Conference on the European Union.

In my French literature thesis, I examined the relationships amongst writing, exile, and identity during forced and voluntary migrants’ journeys in the works of Senegalese author Fatou Diome. At the same time that I was writing my theses, I also sought practical experience, interning at an immigration law firm, where I assisted francophone-African clients to complete asylum applications.

Immediately following graduation, I participated in the Humanity in Action summer fellowship in Berlin, Germany. The fellowship brought together students and recent graduates from around the world to examine the roots and forms of injustice and their contemporary implications, from the historical persecution and mass murder of Jews to present-day structural discrimination in Germany's asylum and refugee policies. As part of the fellowship, I conducted research with two of my peers through semi-structured interviews on how the German education system has responded to its increasingly multi-ethnic student body, developing recommended "best practices" to teach the history of its National Socialist past.

Ultimately, these experiences both on GW’s campus and abroad solidified my interest in pursuing a master’s degree in refugee and forced migration studies.

4. What will you be studying at Oxford and what are you most excited about for the year to come?

At Oxford, I am pursuing an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. My research will center on the European Union’s governance of mixed migration along the Mediterranean Sea and the political implications of the current refugee/protection crisis for the European Union. I will build upon research that I began in Paris during my undergraduate degree on theoretical frameworks for European integration and use such frameworks to rethink the European Union’s unique responsibility and role in protecting refugees and forced migrants. I am immensely excited for the opportunity to learn from some of the leading academics, policy makers, and practitioners in the field of refugee studies, an opportunity that is unique to Oxford. I am also looking forward to getting involved in local issues around migration, such as the campaign to close the Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, a detention centre with refugees and other migrants just six miles from Oxford.

To learn more about post-graduate fellowship opportunities, please make an appointment with our office.