Egyptian-American Student Athlete Balances School, Work, Life

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

I run track and cross-country for the school (Division 1) which is wildly time-consuming, and I also have a part-time job. Being involved in the Arab Club is pretty much the most I can do aside from one or two other things.

Arab Students Association’s (ASA) Story at Boston College

The way we pitch it to the school and to prospective members, for example, when we have our involvement fair – we pitch it as sort of what you need; it’s what you make of it. If you yourself are Arab and you want to express your culture, get more in-tuned, to be around more people like you that share a similar culture, background, and upbringing, then this is a club for you. If maybe your parents are Arab or you are half-Arab and you are just not as in-tune with that part of your life, and you want to be more involved, it’s an outlet for that.

It’s also an outlet for people that know nothing about Arab culture. For example, a lot of the students that are interested in our club are taking Elementary Arabic, starting out at the university with Arab language, and they want to complement their learning in the classroom with learning outside of the classroom through this club. They want to get involved. We serve that purpose for students too. One of the ways we do so is we host a culture show in the spring at the end of the year where we bring in a lot of different groups, or musical and poetry performances, a lot of artistic stuff.

Our audience tends to vary, just like our group itself varies, from Arabs to non-Arabs and people who maybe are Arab, but just aren’t as in-tune with that culture. In short, it’s a lot of different things, but for most people, it’s what they make of it.

Treasurer at ASA

I’ve been treasurer since sophomore year, so maybe three years now. I don’t know If the same goes for other universities and their student organizations, but the treasurer is a very important role here at Boston College in that if you don’t have a smooth-running treasury, with budgeting, you don’t really have a club. For example, our budgets are due for the Fall semester a week or two before the semester begins, so over the summer and a week or two before the spring semester begins, anything that isn’t in the budget, you can’t really do. If you don’t have money approved in that budget request, no events are going to happen during that semester.

Usually, you’ll submit it a week or two before that semester starts, and then there’s a month-long review period. You might get it back, you have to change some things, and then you re-submit it, then it’s finalized. Anything that’s not in the budget can’t be an event. Some of the events are non-funded. We don’t need funding, for example, for random get-togethers, but for the culture show, it’s a very important part of our annual schedule. That has to be planned out well in advance. My role is basically just making sure that the club, that the other e-board members have all of the resources to do what they want, to express themselves, to have fun, to have events, to bring people into the club, and to retain members.

An Opportunity to Build Finance, Budgeting Skills

On one hand, the budget process for student organizations at Boston College has a lot of regulations and policies around it. There’s not a lot of room for innovation or financial wizardry – but it helps you realize some of the more technical stuff in budgeting. There are two offices that we work with: the Office of Student Involvement, which we work with mostly on approving events and ensuring that they’re in compliance with school policies, and then there’s the Student Affairs Business Service Center (SABSC), which is the business office of the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (OVPSA). They handle the finances, give us our P-Card that we use, approve budgets, set quotas and limits as to how much you can spend on certain things. Where the finance learning benefit might come in is when we have to do reconciliation and account audits at the end of every month or every period that you use the P-Card.

I’d say, going forward, post-BC and post-undergrad, what I’ve learned from it is, again, some of the technical ins and outs that go with budgeting and handling transfers of money. It also makes me understand the way that student organizations themselves work at universities, the way that the budgeting works, because the university isn’t going to get any immediate financial return on their investment with these clubs – it’s for entertainment. However, if you want to be ‘macro’ about it, the real return is that it’s going to attract more and more students to apply to the school.

The Student-Athlete Experience

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on it in the past couple of weeks and months as I wind down. When I graduate, it’s going to be the end of my competitive running career. The coolest part has just been how much you learn from it; not really anything to do with running, just learning from the dedication, the hard work, the sacrifice that it takes to do it. The expectations people have from you versus the expectations you have for yourself.

It’s really been an incredible teacher of work ethic, hard work, teamwork, and honestly, just getting things done. Sometimes – and I feel like most athletes would agree with this – it feels like a job more than a sport. A lot of times, actually. On paper, it’s basically a job. I spend more time at practice and competition than in class and at work. I spend a good 25-30 hours a week running or traveling or at competition. It feels like work, especially if you are injured or something like that; it’s not fun, but you just get it done. It’s a great teacher and a great source of preparation for graduating and going into the workforce.

How it’s translated into my academic life:

For example, recently, we were traveling to Atlanta for a competition, and we came back on a Saturday night at 8:30 pm. I had this long Investments paper due on Wednesday that just had to be done during that time because of time constraints. At first, I was a little stressed. I thought, “there’s no way I’ll be able to get this done, especially because it’s supposed to be a group paper – I’m working on it alone.” This was assigned at the beginning of the semester, anyone would say it shouldn’t have been left this late anyway. But that’s just how things played out, with time commitments, I just couldn’t get to it until I got to it. It ended up not being a problem – I worked on it for around 12 hours (Sunday and then Monday). By the time it got to Tuesday, I was completely done with my paper and I did it without it being a detriment to myself. I was able to sit in the library and focus and get it done. That comes entirely from running!

For example, on days that I’m feeling ill or something like that, I still show up to practice. I still give it my best effort, and it’s a reminder to me that if I can get it done… even today, today was a day like that. I got my first vaccine shot yesterday and I’ve been feeling groggy and pretty down since then. Today was 40 degrees and raining; it was very cold at the track. I told myself, “if I can go out there and give it my best effort and get it done, I can get it done on any day.” That applies to school and everything else in the rest of my life.

Why I Got Into Business Development, International Economic Affairs

It came about from my personal interests turning into my majors here at school; my experience with my internships over the past few summers. I’m a politics and economics major and minoring in finance. The business development interest comes from a combination of my economics major and my finance minor. That’s a great outlet that kind of blends the two, where you need some financial know-how but then you also need to have an understanding of the business world that, in general, comes from studying economics, to really fit into that mold of a business development role. Then with international affairs and international economics, that comes from mixing my economics major and my politics major.

I major in politics, but I focus mostly on international affairs. I haven’t really studied too many courses on domestic politics or US politics; to me, it’s just not particularly interesting or what I’d want to pursue later in life. I don’t want to go to law school at any point. However, I would be interested in getting an MBA at some point and trying to go into economic development. That actually ties into my Arab background too. My family is from Egypt and I study a lot of Middle Eastern affairs and conflicts. One of the things that really interests me is how much the US spends in foreign aid and military/defense of the Middle East.

What interests me about that is the prospect of swapping that money out for economic development. For example, in Iraq right now, they have a terrible water crisis that wouldn’t require more than a few hundred million dollars to fix. It’s a problem where many people are left without clean water and it has also crippled the Iraqi economy. I wrote a paper and studied the subject, and came away thinking that instead of the US pouring money into Middle Eastern defense, why not swap some of that money? Obviously it would be naïve to expect that of the Department of Defense but it doesn’t have to be a dollar-for-dollar trade. Swap some of that money and pump it into economic development that’s so desperately needed. That development would be an investment in reducing the amount of aid required down the line, in economic development and defense spending too. That’s something that I would like to pursue later in my career, but that’ll take a good five to ten years minimum of experience to be able to even get into that in the first place.

Self-Marketing Tips to Land Job Opportunities

Some of the best advice I’ve been given is “in order to sell yourself, you have to believe in what you’re selling.” You have to believe in what you’re trying to sell the person. One of the most important things is having confidence in what you’re trying to sell. That means knowing your strengths, working on them, honing them, then capitalizing on them. Another good piece of advice that I’ve been given is that “you don’t have to be an expert at everything but try not to be a liability at anything,” meaning you don’t have to be an expert at finance and economics and politics and medicine – you don’t have to be an expert at all of those. It doesn’t make sense. But don’t be a liability at anything – that means have some general understanding or at least have the capability or the willingness to learn and build some of the skills you might feel like you’re lacking. If someone hands you a guitar, be able to at least strike a few chords.

I also think one of the most important ways to sell yourself is to be someone who is eager to learn, who is coachable, teachable, and good to work with. Because a lot of the requirements for all these jobs – business, sales, or whatever – you can’t possibly just get them from college. You have to be in the business world; you have to have done that job to understand it. When people are recruiting, they’re not looking for you to compete with their senior or intermediate-level associates or consultants. They are looking for people who they can teach everything; and that first year of your job is going to be about learning, learning, and learning.

You aren’t going to get to your job and blow the socks off of everyone. You’re going to go, and hopefully, from both perspectives – from the party that’s hiring you and from your own perspective, you’re going to learn a lot. Ask a lot of questions and then start to challenge your co-workers and other associates. As you ask questions, as you are trained, then you’ll develop those skills you want to develop that will equip you to fulfill that role.

How to Be More Teachable

I think that it’s a lot of attitude and actions. I had a final-round interview for a consulting company in the Fall and the recruiter was giving me advice on my interview – it was a 4-hour interview. He told me, “Don’t try to go into that interview and just show people how much you know. Don’t try to show off or come off as a genius. Most people come into that interview and they get so caught up trying to prove themselves that they forget that these are future co-workers. They forget the basics. These are people that you’re going to be working with, that want to get to know you. So [job applicants] forget to be personable and sociable, they forget to have conversations with people and get to know them. Instead, they go straight to the business and try to prove their capabilities and their skill and expertise.”

That was some unexpected advice but that really helped me feel better about my interview, because that’s something I love doing – getting to know people and just having simple conversations. For that reason, that specific interview went really well. That’s when you later get into the interview rounds, where you’ve already proven you know how to do all of this stuff, or that you know you’re coachable. On paper, attending seminars and things like that show that you are passionate about whatever job it is that you’re interviewing or applying for.

For example, why would anyone hire me for a journalism role when my entire resume is tailored toward business development, and shows I’m passionate about business development and consulting? It just didn’t make any sense. That’s when the more nitty-gritty stuff comes in: tailoring your resume to whatever job you’re applying for. An important thing is showing that you’re passionate and working on whatever skills are relevant. For example, with consulting interviews, casing prep is really important because you’re not really learning any tangible skills like accounting, but you’re learning how to be a logical thinker, which is what most consulting firms look for. They want to see that you’re a logical thinker, you’re capable of seeing ‘big picture’ problems and thinking on your feet.

I think it’s a mixture of things, but the most important things would be showing you’re passionate, making sure that comes through, and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


About the Author

Yahya Soliman is an Egyptian-American student-athlete in the Boston College (BC) Undergraduate Class of 2021 and Treasurer at the Arab Students Association. He majors in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Finance, while running Division I Cross Country and Track & Field for BC. He is fluent in Arabic, English, and German.

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