Connecting with our Alumni: Tracy Fuad '07

After leaving Breck, what did the next part of your journey look like? Highlight whatever is authentic to you, but I would love to hear about the decision to leave the country.

After I graduated from Breck, I studied political science at Northwestern and during that time I spent two summers in Iraqi Kurdistan, where my father grew up. After I graduated, I moved to New York and spent some years teaching before beginning an MFA in Poetry at Rutgers, where I got to study with some incredible poets and classmates. It took me a long time after graduating from high school to be brave enough to really commit to pursuing my dreams and passions, because when I was a student I was very focused on pursuing a career in science, even though I always loved my English classes and teachers, especially Ms. Roessler, Mr. Crow, and Mr. Moos, all of whom were really the teachers who taught me to love literature and encouraged me to write. In some ways it was a series of "failures" that eventually led me back to that original passion for literature and poetry. There was a certain point in my 20s when I realized I needed to start pursuing my passion more seriously, or I never would, which led me to taking some writing classes and hosting salons in my apartment and eventually, to graduate school.

How did you take your passions and turn them into a career that has been rewarding and fulfilling?

After I finished my MFA I wanted to leave Brooklyn for a place where I would have more time to write and read and even just to do nothing, or go on long walks or spontaneous hikes, and I started looking into moving to Kurdistan, which had always been a dream of mine. I found a job teaching at a university in a small town near the mountains. I sold all my things, shipped my books back to Minnesota, and got on a flight. Living in a small town in Iraqi Kurdistan was a really almost other-worldly experience which couldn't have been more different than living in Brooklyn. I learned how to be alone, and spent a lot of time just exploring whatever seemed interesting to me, and I spent a lot of time trying to teach myself Kurdish by listening to the radio and reading the dictionary and kids' books and talking to strangers. In that time I wrote two short books of poetry, both of which won contests and are being published this fall. And since then I've been working on a novel. (And lately, I've had a lot of time to write!)

I've been very lucky to go to some writing retreats and residencies, which I think taught me how to work and be in isolation and in quiet, which was really essential for living in a small town in Kurdistan and also for these past weeks in lockdown.

What would you say are the lessons learned as you lived through COVID-19 in quarantine/lockdown in Iraqi Kurdistan?

I had just started a new job in January which I was very excited about, so to receive the news toward the end of February that schools would be closing indefinitely was definitely a bit upsetting. Soon after that, the roads between cities were closed and it became clear that my original plans for the springtime and the Kurdish New Year — lots of hiking and camping and road trips through the countryside — were not going to happen. I think almost everyone is experiencing some sort of huge loss right now, whether it is just the loss of your plans and expectations, or the very existential loss of a loved one. I've tried to mostly not think about that at all, what things might have been like if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, because it really can't be changed. It can feel devastating in those moments, so I've instead been doing other things that I love and don't always get to do, like baking a lot of breads and cakes and cookies. I've been reading some classics. I never read Virginia Woolf and Proust (sometimes in short 20 minute timed intervals, because it's really hard to not be distracted in these times!!!) and then of course writing a lot and going on as many walks and runs as I can. MY world became very small, as I think a lot of us are experiencing, so I am trying to just accept that and be more present in that small world and find all the joy in it that I can. I'm staying at my partner's apartment and we are also hosting a 21-year-old activist from Baghdad who got stranded here with us right when they closed all the borders, roads and airports, and I think the only option, in order to not totally lose your mind in a situation like that — three people in a small apartment — which is I think the situation a lot of us have suddenly found ourselves in — is to be really silly and play some jokes and tricks on each other, plus some singing and dancing — mostly, just trying to love the people you are lucky to be stranded with (including yourself).

Is there anything that is helping you to stay positive right now, or has helped over the past month?

The last sort of informal thing I would say about Breck is that, even without directly traveling abroad through school, I always felt very exposed to different realities and cultures and experiences through the service program and the special programs on MLK day and in May Program. There is always the question of how to create those experiences in a mutually meaningful and authentic way, which I think is difficult, but a difficulty that Breck always tries to embrace and struggle with, rather than turning away from it just because it is inherently messy and imperfect. There are some things I am really critical of about my experience at Breck, but a lot of positive things that I'm really grateful for all the time. As an educator now, I really appreciate how difficult it is to instill an appreciation for genuine critical thinking, which is simply not a given. And Breck, from the very beginning, made the really true mess of thinking and grappling with ideas and concepts at the center of our community and culture.

Tracy can be reached on LinkedIn at:

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