Tunisians at Columbia: Yasmine Rejeb

Introducing Yasmine Rejeb, a David Bartsch and Joan Haffenreffer Bartsch Global Fellow at Columbia University.

April 18, 2024

Can you please introduce yourself? 

Hi, my name is Yasmine Rejeb, and I am currently an international law graduate student at Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne. I have been a David Bartsch and Joan Haffenreffer Bartsch Global Fellow at Columbia University for a couple of years now, and I have been working as a research fellow on the Youth in A Changing World project, a research project launched by the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University in 2017, which will be published in 2024.

How did your journey with Columbia University start?

It’s actually quite an interesting story. It all started with the Youth in a Changing World Project workshop organized in Tunisia back in 2019 by the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University (CGT) and Columbia Global Center Tunis. I was still in high school back then and had just participated in the workshop like any other participant would. Upon receiving the email confirming my participation, I was overjoyed, little did I know that this marked the start of an unexpected journey.

Following the workshop, all participants were invited to convene online for a discussion around the effects of COVID-19 on youth. As it was my baccalaureate year, and given the uncertainty we all went through in Tunisia, I was very frustrated and my participation that day ended up being quoted in World as Family, an amazing book authored by Dr Vishakha Desai, the chair of the Committee on Global Thought of Columbia University at the time.  

After this discussion, I was fortunate enough to apply and be subsequently selected as a working group member tasked with organizing the CGT's Inaugural Global Youth Summit on the Future of Higher Education. Then, my internship with CGC Tunis followed. Afterwards, I received an offer to become a member of the core analysis team for the Youth in a Changing World project. And that’s how I ended up as the inaugural David Bartsch and Joan Haffenreffer Bartsch Global Fellow. 

A small anecdote I would like to share: during the Tunis workshop, I vividly remember pondering over the logistics of analyzing the data collected, especially considering Tunisia's linguistic diversity with three commonly spoken languages sometimes used in the same sentence. Fast forward two years, I found myself leading the analysis of data gathered from workshops across different countries, including Tunisia. Life truly has a way of surprising us sometimes. Who would have thought that the issues I was thinking about as a Bourguiba high school student would end up being one of my responsibilities as a research fellow a couple of years later? Certainly not me at the time!

How was your internship at CGC Tunis and where does it fit in this journey?

Certainly. I had the opportunity to work with CGC Tunis before my official internship. This collaboration stemmed from the Center's involvement in organizing the Global Youth Summit, in which I was also a part of the working group. While my internship officially began in March 2021 and lasted until August 2021, it's worth noting that it took me three months to complete my end-of-year study project during this time. 

Reflecting on my internship at CGC Tunis, I can confidently say it was an exceptional experience. It equipped me with essential skills and insights as well as the networking opportunities that prepared me effectively for the professional world and continues to this day to shape my journey towards making a positive impact.

Can you talk about your experience as a 'David Bartsch and Joan Haffenreffer Bartsch Global Fellow'?

My experience as a David Bartsch and Joan Haffenreffer Bartsch Global Fellow has truly been life-changing. From my initial involvement in the project during the workshop in Tunisia, to officially becoming a fellow in April 2021, the journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. Being part of such an impactful project, as a researcher, analyst, and writer is like a dream come true. It transformed me in so many ways. I gained a lot of confidence, and I appreciate that the people at CGT valued my input enough to make me part of the analysis team, even entrusting me with a leadership role.

Following Columbia University’s Committee of Global Thought’s dictum of learning from the world, the YCW project used a unique approach that combined trans-border collaboration and dialogue that taught me a new way of engaging with the world. Honing my critical thinking skills came as a direct consequence of studying so many diverging and sometimes converging realities in the project. It’s amazing what we can learn from asking 400 young people from dozens of nationalities the same questions and listening to their discussions.

However, I cannot discuss my fellowship experience without acknowledging the incredible Columbia University professors Dr. Laura Neitzel and Dr. Vishakha N. Desai. They have both changed my life in so many ways that I can’t begin to describe. Beyond the project itself that has taught me so much about youth and global issues, I can confidently say that their mentorship,  guidance, and the relationships I’ve cultivated along the way with all the amazing people involved have been some of the most rewarding parts of this process. 

What advice would you give to young Tunisians aspiring to make a change on a global scale?

To my fellow Tunisians dreaming of making a mark on the global stage, I say this: Believe in your potential and seize every opportunity.

Don't give up, even if it all seems impossible right now. Just do the next best thing within your capabilities and keep your final goal close to your heart. Whether it's excelling at a university in Tunisia or securing a scholarship abroad, every step counts toward achieving your aspirations. 

While I've been privileged to spend time abroad and that certainly brought me closer to my end goal of attending Columbia one day, my journey actually started in Tunisia so I am aware not only of the limitations and challenges but also of the great opportunities that await you. 

I would also like to say, please volunteer as much as you can, the power of volunteering is immeasurable. By getting involved with international NGOs early on, you can achieve what may seem inaccessible at first glance.

Embrace remote work and online opportunities, attend virtual conferences, and explore avenues that spark your interest. These types of transborder but also local events organized by international actors can become your way to breach the global stage. 

For me, a transformative moment came from a simple act – browsing the Jamaity website and coming across the Tunis Global Center’s post for the Youth in a Changing World project workshop. A lesson I’ve learned from this is to never underestimate the power of exploration and seizing seemingly simple opportunities.

In essence, while each journey is unique, there are lessons to be gleaned from those who've walked similar paths before us. As I've learned from my own experiences and the wisdom shared by others, belief in oneself, perseverance, and seizing opportunities that ignite your passion are the pillars upon which dreams are realized.

What’s next for you?

Now I am really hoping to get accepted into Columbia University's Global Business Law and Governance program, part of the Paris Global Alliance Program. So ideally I would be in Columbia Law School for the first semester of next year, then return to Paris for the second semester to take classes at Sciences Po Paris and Sorbonne. If this path doesn't come to fruition, I'll continue my studies in Paris 1 as an international law student and choose a specialization for my second master's degree. I'm still deciding on that part because the options after an M1 in international law are all extremely interesting.

Regardless of where I end up, I want to continue working on transnational projects like Youth in a Changing World. Despite the tumultuous events unfolding globally, I still believe in international cooperation and I will for sure keep implementing and incorporating the lessons I've learned from my experiences as a fellow in my future endeavors.