Student Spotlight: Saleh El Machnouk

470100_350951984948502_1344031467_o 580792_429509433759423_1114701642_n 980455_553471744696524_600826041_o*what did you do before came to the Kennedy School?

Everything I could get my hands on. Worked in print and television media, taught politics at a university, worked for the government, founded and ran a political action group. As you can see – jack of all trades, master of nothing. I really think of myself as a full-time activist at heart. So while doing all these things I was constantly obsessed with advancing the cause of the Lebanese independence movement. It was a rollercoaster ride, but loved every minute of it.

*what did you do and whom did you tell first when you got accepted to HKS? 

Ah, funny story. It was around 2am and I couldn’t sleep – insomnia is quite a regular occurrence for me in Beirut with all the stress. So for lack of a better alternative I went to the computer, checked my email and there it was, congratulations! I screamed really loudly. First I was disturbed that I couldn’t really tell anyone – it was 2am – then I decided everyone had to wake up and cheer with me. I think I told my mom first. She’s my neighbor so went up to her apartment and we did a celebration dance.

*cats or dogs?

Neither! The only animal I’d ever contemplate having is a horse. Someday I will make time and learn how to ride horses.

*what’s the best thing about Cambridge? 

The food! I’m just joking the food is horrible. I love Cambridge. People around here are fascinating in every possible way and the dynamic of everyone coming together is incredible. I enjoy going around different schools, experiencing the culture. I also like how it’s got this village feeling to it. I’m a small town person, I cherish its warmth. I have to say though running by the Charles is what I have enjoyed most about Cambridge – it’s exhilarating.

*what do you miss most about Beirut?

Ah I try hard not to think about it. I miss Beirut so much. Everything about it. Ok maybe not the bombs and the fighting. But everything else. My family and friends, of course. I miss the energy, the passion, and the sense of purpose that comes with being involved in politics. The hundreds of activists I’ve shared my life with over the years. The social life. Oh and I miss our coffee. American coffee is incomprehensible to me.

*what are your 3 proudest achievements (other than being interviewed here of course)? 

First is definitely leading a movement to support the Syrian revolution very early on when it was still a ludicrous thing to do. Second is being here – growing up I was a terrible student and gave my parents a really hard time. It took a lot of persistence and I’m proud of that. And last but not least – this week I decided that I will no longer print any of my readings, and I am reading everything virtually. It’s working! It’s good for the environment and I no longer feel archaic.

*Bieber or GAGA? 

Ah how to choose! Bieber and GAGA together, maybe? I have music on all day. Recently I’ve become an enthusiast of Latin music due to my latin friends at HKS who took me to watch Carlos Vives. I can sing along even though I can’t speak Spanish. I also love Lebanese and Arabic music.

* what one item is essential to your everyday life and why? 

My mother. She is everything I could ever wish for. She gives me strength and I know that as long as she’s there everything is going to be fine. I also miss her very much!

*what are you hoping to do once you graduate?

A million things, of course. I want to create an online media platform for politics and news targeting the young generation. I want to advocate for and promote democracy, human rights, and rule of law in the Arab world. I want to serve my country and the cause so many Lebanese have sacrificed for through my political action group. But most importantly I need to get focused and decide which am I going to work on first!

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