Profile with Liz Fouksman

Liz Fouksman (California & Lincoln 2010) is pursuing a DPhil at the University of Oxford. She holds an MPhil from the University of Oxford in International Development and a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research explores the way development institutions spread knowledge – in particular ecological ideas – from global movements to local implementation, and vice versa.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Liz Fouksman: I call San Francisco my base, but I don’t call it home. It’s the place I return to the most often.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Liz Fouksman: Most of my pleasure reading is novels, and I have a tendency to get sucked into the stories and not be able to put them down – to the detriment of my work! I’m reading Proust’s Swann’s Way at the moment, and I’m finding it surprisingly compelling, if rather slow-moving. I’m just at the start of it, and the narrator is describing his childhood and it’s so perfectly observed – the terrors of being a small child. The first 60 pages are entirely about going to sleep and the fright and helplessness of being a child sent off to bed by the grown-ups.

Rhodes Project: What’s playing on your iPod right now?

Liz Fouksman: I’m trying to learn the ukulele at the moment, so I’ve been listening to a lot of bands that use it: She & Him, Beirut, Noah and the Whale.

Rhodes Project: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Liz Fouksman: Flying, which is so unoriginal. I spend so much time flying and going from place to place anyway that it would be amazing to just be able to do it on my own. And just for the pleasure and freedom!

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Liz Fouksman: I wanted to be a clown for a bit, or just generally run away with a circus. Being an ice-cream man also seemed to have a lot of perks. But I do remember being asked this question at age ten and saying that I wanted to do something that would involve travelling a lot.

Rhodes Project: What would an ideal day look like?

Liz Fouksman: It depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. There’s the ideal writing day, in which I’m very calm and focused and get a lot of work done while meeting with friends for lunch and getting a run in. Then there’s the ideal travel day where I’m in a foreign city having adventures, getting lost, meeting new people. And there’s the ideal “do-nothing” day where you lie lay around with a book, ideally on the beach, listening to the waves and staring at the sky.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year-old self?

Liz Fouksman: To be more playful, and to take things less seriously– cultivating more playfulness and whimsy in my life.

Rhodes Project: What’s the best or most interesting thing that’s happened to you in the last year?

Liz Fouksman: I went to Kyrgyzstan on fieldwork – it was this fascinating experiment of going off into the blue and expecting different people and organizations to humor you and talk to you and engage with you. And somehow, they do in the end. Going on fieldwork is an extraordinary way to see a new placeand dive in much deeper than I normally would if I was simply travelling, to meet and talk with everyone from professors to village elders and rural schoolchildren.

Rhodes Project: What was the fieldwork?

Liz Fouksman: I was doing fieldwork for my DPhil in International Development. I spent several months at a charitable foundation in Kyrgyzstan and their partner NGOs in a village where they are working, asking lots of questions about the climate change adaptation programs they were running there. It stuns me that you can show up after a pretty small email exchange to a foreign country and engage people in a deep and meaningful way. I never stayed in a hotel the entire time; I always stayed with locals, took up many people’s time with lots and lots of questions, and almost everyone I met was open and generous with their time and knowledge and hospitality. I’ve benefited so much from strangers’ generosity towards me.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Liz Fouksman: I spend a lot of time reading, and If I don’t run for many days on end, I go a little crazy. I also love having conversations on walks: going on walk-n-talks (aka ramble-ambles) has become an Oxford tradition for me. I invite one other person to go on a long ramble along the canals or river or woods of Oxford and have meandering discussions as we walk.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you, and why?

Liz Fouksman: I think I was raised by novels, and I’m still very strongly shaped by them. I also feel that a defining feature of my Oxford experience and particularly of the Rhodes community here has been meeting a handful of people that have been incredibly influential on my life and how I think about the world and how I want to move through it. I don’t necessarily mean saving orphan babies or winning elections or Olympic medals: most of the lessons I’ve learned at Oxford have been about creating community, or cultivating openness and thoughtfulness in conversation, or inclusiveness and generosity, or putting one’s convictions into practice even when this defies conventional ideas about success.

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