Issaquah man is Rhodes scholar

December 2, 2008

By Staff

If graduating from Harvard in June 2009 isn’t enough, Kyle Haddad-Fonda, 22, of Issaquah, is one of 32 U.S. men and women accepted to study at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

Kyle Haddad-Fonda

Kyle Haddad-Fonda

After a lengthy and intimidating process, including eight letters of recommendation and an interview, Haddad-Fonda was chosen last week for the scholarship. 

Haddad-Fonda talked with The Press about his amazing accomplishments and what he intends to work on in England.

Q: What was your first reaction after having received the scholarship?

A: I was simultaneously excited to hear my name called, relieved to be done with the three-hour wait while the committee deliberated, thrilled at the prospect of studying at Oxford, and humbled by the caliber of the other applicants I had the opportunity to meet over the course of the interview process.

Q: Why did you apply? 

A: The Rhodes offers a tremendous opportunity to study in England, which attracted me because of the talented faculty at Oxford, because I have always loved England when I have visited in the past, and because I like the independence afforded students by the British system. Of course, I also appreciate the irony of studying anti-imperialist movements with the bequest of Cecil Rhodes.

Q: What was the most nerve-wracking part of the process?

A: After my interview, I spent five hours waiting with the other applicants for the interviews to finish and then for the committee to deliberate. We spent much of the time distracting ourselves by attempting — but not finishing — a 1,000-piece puzzle of Oxford’s central library. Despite the tension as we waited, however, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to get to know the other students who also interviewed, including Mallory Dwinal, of Gig Harbor, who also won and will join me next year in Oxford.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a Rhodes Scholar?

A: At Oxford, I will pursue a doctorate of philosophy in Oriental studies. I hope to continue to study Chinese and Middle Eastern history with a particular focus on Sino-Arab relations. For my senior thesis at Harvard, I am researching Sino-Arab relations between 1955 and 1958, the period in which Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iraq formally recognized Communist China. As I continue to study at Oxford, I hope to explore the history of Sino-Arab relations over a much broader time period.

Q: Why do you believe it is important?

A: As China continues to develop and becomes a more prominent force in international affairs, its relations with nonWestern countries will require greater understanding. A true appreciation of Sino-Arab relations requires the historical perspective I hope to gain from my studies at Oxford, which will in turn contribute to our understanding of recent events, such as China’s increasingly strong support for the Sudanese government and the $3 billion oil deal signed by the Chinese and Iraqi governments just three weeks ago.

Q: What is your ultimate career goal?

A: At the moment, I’m just taking life one step at a time. I’m looking forward to studying at Oxford next year, and I know that I’ll have a broad range of opportunities and challenges after my time in England.

Q: Did you ever think you would one day become a Rhodes Scholar?

A: Winning the Rhodes is something I’m proud of, but for me, it was never a goal in and of itself. I like to think of it as validation for activities I have undertaken and interests I have pursued for their own sake.

Q: What activities did you enjoy in high school?

A: I enjoyed swimming and also ran cross country and track, but my favorite sport was orienteering (cross country running with map and compass). I also played on the Lakeside High School quizbowl team and played the harp in my school’s orchestra.

Q: What is one thing you wish you tried in high school, but didn’t?

A: In retrospect, I wish I had begun studying Arabic in high school. My grandfather was born in Seattle in 1909 to two Syrian immigrants, but stopped speaking Arabic after he started kindergarten. After he passed away, I set a goal for myself to learn Arabic. I flirted with studying the language in high school — even going so far as to teach myself the letters of the alphabet — but my school didn’t offer it and I never pursued my interest further. It wasn’t until I started studying Arabic in college that I really regretted not doing more to learn the language earlier.  I did begin studying Chinese in high school, an experience that instilled in me a lifelong belief in the importance of foreign languages.

Q: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

A: Here is a fun fact: Many years ago, when I was in seventh grade, I was lucky enough to become the youngest phone-a-friend ever used as a lifeline on the show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” As far as I know, my record still stands!

Q: What would be your advice to students making their way through high school today?

A: I think it is important for students to explore a variety of new subjects, including subjects not taught in school, to discover where their true interests lie. In a world in which art, music, geography, foreign languages, world literature and world history are given diminished attention in our schools, the responsibility devolves to the student to look beyond the established curriculum and remain open to unfamiliar topics.

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