Sarah Israr has always had a penchant for writing.
During her undergrad years, she received UTM’s Harold Sonny Ladoo Book Prize for Creative Writing, and has been recognized as a published contributor to the Rotman School of Business textbook, Contemporary Business, which is used in universities and colleges across Canada.
After completing a double major in business management and English in 2014, Israr got a job working as an international correspondent for the South China Morning Post (SCMP), a Pan-Asian newspaper based in Hong Kong with an average daily circulation of 100,000. She travelled to countries such as Finland, Norway, Malaysia and the United States conducting numerous interviews and creating reports that focused on industry and showcased the investment opportunities available in each country.
Israr is currently working toward a master’s degree in global affairs at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, where she will be studying international law, global security and public policy, as well as economics. This summer, she will be completing an internship in London at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office for their strategic communications cell.
How have your undergrad years helped you focus on your goals and reach your highest potential?
When I was an undergrad I was involved in many campus-related extracurricular activities because they lead to opportunities. It's easy to get bogged down with grades and classes which are important, but extracurricular activities help you discover your interests, what you're good at, how to network, how to work efficiently with a team, how to negotiate and how to problem-solve. I'm quite excited about my summer internship at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office because it works with international organizations including the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, and it promotes British interests and global security. I've never really had an opportunity like this and I genuinely believe that every undergrad experience I had, from being part of the Italian Club to running my own conference at UTM, prepared me for it.
Do you have a memorable experience while you were a reporter for the SCMP?
My coolest interview was with the previous Prime Minister of Finland, Matti Vanhanen. The entire experience was very rewarding, albeit very exhausting. Sometimes I had five flights scheduled in one week, and I was working 16 to 17 hours a day. It taught me how to work very hard and quickly. It also taught me how vastly different business cultures are in every country. For instance, CEOs in California are very to-the-point and don't waste a lot of time with small talk. Whereas in Norway, it was common to drink a cup of coffee and have a little chat with your interviewee prior or during the interview. I did leave after a year and half as the job was physically exhausting, but it opened my eyes to the world of global affairs.
Where else did you work?
I decided that I wanted to stay in the world of reporting and journalism, which is why I pursued a gig at Media Observatory. At my previous job, the focus of my research was narrowly centered on foreign direct investment and innovation. However, with Media Observatory, I began to write about what I was really passionate about: security (both cyber security, counter terrorism and national defense), as well as sovereignty. I knew that I was going back to school to do my master’s, so I really spent these few months exploring what I was truly interested in. Policy regulations surrounding security is such a grey area and is currently evolving as it responds to contemporary issues, which is why I was so drawn to it. I had never written articles that were purely driven by my own interest.
How has your career experience prepared you for further studies?
My career experience really directed me to completing my MGA. What I am learning now is so different from anything that I studied in my undergraduate degree which is truly a testament to the fact that career paths and interests change. So far, the coolest experience that I've had at the program was my final exam for a course on strategy. We were required to complete a crisis simulation where we had 24 hours to respond to an unfolding crisis. We used various negotiation techniques and strategic decision-making applications that we had learned in the semester for the exam. It was very cool to see everything happen in a simulation.
What’s your advice to business students interested in making the most of their time in school and the opportunities available to them?
Have fun and go with the flow! I am a firm believer that there are so many interesting paths that lead to exciting job opportunities. It's okay if things don't go according to plan and it's even more okay if your plans change. I would not be where I am today if I had stuck to the plan that I had when I started my undergraduate degree. On that note, it's so important to try something new. The most exciting moments in life are the ones you least expect.
*Story by Sarah Jane Silva. Photo provided by Sarah Israr for the Department of Management / IMI.