Woman of the Year: Fifi Baleva, SIS '17

Woman of the Year is about recognizing the hard work and passion that many exemplary American University women exhibit. A philanthropist, bright academic and contributor to bettering her community and the world around her, we are proud to recognize Fifi Baleva as our SIS Woman of the Year

Her Campus American University: Tell us about yourself!

Fifi Baleva: I’m a junior majoring in SIS and CLEG. I wrote for a student-run foreign policy blog for the first two years of college. I also worked at the Kay Spiritual Life Center doing the Human Rights Defender Series, and organizing it every Wednesday. I’m also the philanthropy chair for Sigma Delta Tau, so I organize the different philanthropy events that we do. Right now, I work on the Hill.

HCAU: So what is it exactly that you do on the Hill?

FB: I’m interning, so I’m doing a lot of the general things like giving a lot of tours, answering constituents and dealing with whatever anxieties they might have.

HCAU: So one of your majors is SIS - what are your concentration areas?

FB: Foreign Policy and National Security, and the Global Economy.

HCAU: What made you decide to declare a second major in CLEG?

FB: I saw that in SIS, you get a certain set of skills that wouldn’t necessarily make me marketable for today’s employment. With CLEG, you get the communication skills and other aspects. It’s been really fun, because you’re taking it with people who aren’t in SIS.

HCAU: What originally made you interested in international studies and labor rights?

FB: I did Model UN in high school, and my freshman year I had to write about female infanticide. I remember that was the first time I realized these kinds of things happen in the world. Then, being in Model UN, I realized there was actually a channel for changing these things. 

HCAU: And what made you decide to come to AU?

FB: I think the fact that SIS is so big for International Relations, and that everyone seems so knowledgeable about everything. Everyone also seemed so ambitious when I first came to look at the school. I think that really encourages you to also be really ambitious.

HCAU: Can you tell us a little more about the Human Rights Defender Series you worked on?

FB: There’s a human rights series every Wednesday in Kay. It’s secular, so it’s non-religious, and they bring a different human rights speaker every Wednesday to come and talk to students. I used to be Federal Work Study there, so I would promote it on Twitter and make posters, and then when they came I would organize and set up the room, get food, and then greet the speakers. I would also write articles about them for our newsletter.

HCAU: Who was one of your favorite speakers that came?

FB: We had a woman who came from Sierra Leone, and she was so fascinating because she was one of 50 kids. But she talked about it, and explained to us that in that culture that’s fine, or that’s the norm. I just thought she was fascinating.

HCAU: Besides your current internship on the Hill, have you had any other internships?

FB: I had an internship this past summer at the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. They do a lot of banking, and I was working in the legal division so it involved a lot of prosecuting.

HCAU: Being a sister of Sigma Delta Tau, what have you gained from working with such a large group of women?

FB: It’s been awesome. I think a lot of people don’t see Greek life as empowering, but it’s definitely helped me a lot. Sisters have definitely encouraged me to take on leadership roles, and every time you do something great they recognize that you for it.

HCAU: Tell us what makes you feel powerful.

FB: Doing something that I’m really passionate about, and learning about things that I’m passionate about. Or even things that I don’t understand necessarily, but I need to understand. For example, with the global economy, the class that I took was super hard, but every time I understood something, I was like, "This is great because it really connects back to the global economy and how workers are treated."

HCAU: What inspires you?

FB: Seeing other people do really amazing things. Two summers ago, I read I Am Malala, and just thinking about the fact that you can be that person and knowing that your age or gender doesn’t have to define what you do is really inspiring to me.

HCAU: What issues are you passionate about?

FB: I’m definitely really interested in global inequality and working on labor rights. One of the articles I wrote for the foreign policy blog was about the Bangladeshi factory collapse in 2013, and just the whole supply chain and how accountability gets lost within the supply chain.

HCAU: What women do you look up to?

FB: I feel like everyone says this, but my mom. I mean she literally can do anything, and she’s just so resilient and so put together all the time, no matter what the circumstances are. It says a lot.

HCAU:  What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

FB: The saying “Everything happens for a reason.”

HCAU: What advice would you give to women who want to empower other women?

FB: To always share credit. If you’re doing big and you have help, always recognize the people that helped you along the way and not just take all the credit for yourself.

HCAU: What are you most proud of since coming to AU?

FB: We just did a really fun trivia night for brain aneurysm research with the Bee Foundation for Sigma Delta Tau, and that’s definitely been one of my favorite things that I’ve done at AU. I’m not sure if it’s my biggest accomplishment, but we raised a bunch of money and we got two of the Bee Foundation founders from Philadelphia to come talk to us about brain aneurysms.

HCAU: What’s your favorite book?

FB: That’s a hard one, because every time I read a new book that one becomes my favorite book. I just read one, and I can’t remember the title, but it was about a Burmese girl who was there during the bombings that happened in Burma. It was a really, really sad book but it was really good.

HCAU: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

FB: Ideally, I would see myself having a job where I get to travel and meet a lot of different people all over the world

HCAU: Have you studied abroad, or are you planning to?

FB: I haven’t but I did an Alternative Break trip to the Dominican Republic. A law was passed striping Haitian-Dominicans of their citizenship, so we went in to study the effects on Haitian-Dominican groups. We met with some of these different groups and asked them to talk to us about the law: how they see it, what they’ve done to push back on it.

HCAU: What are some of your favorite memories of college?

FB: Anytime I’m out in the city just exploring, or if I get to see a really cool speaker on campus. I remember hearing the Indian ambassador speak, and it was really awesome to get to hear him. I also got to meet Madeline Albright. That was definitely top five.

HCAU: What’s one of your favorite classes that you’ve taken at AU?

FB: Probably analysis of U.S. Foreign Policy, because I took it with Professor Shelton-Colby. She was an ambassador for a long time and she knows a lot of really important people.

HCAU: What’s your favorite place that you’ve ever been?

FB: Istanbul in Turkey. I went a few years ago, and it’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

HCAU: What are your plans for the summer?

FB: I was born in Bulgaria, so I’m probably traveling there. I’m from the southern part, so I really want to visit the northern part. Except for my parents and my younger sister, all of my family lives over there.

HCAU: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in college?

FB: To not be afraid to ask questions. Before I got to AU, I was really apprehensive about sounding dumb. Being in SIS has been so hopeful, because students are always encouraged to ask questions or share their opinions.


Photo Credit: Kristie Chua