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已有 1093 次阅读 2023-8-24 06:54 |系统分类:人物纪事|文章来源:转载

Long Night’s Journey into Day-

One woman’s path from poverty and domestic abuse to a Harvard PhD


Starting my new job at Bain in Fall 2022.jpg

Mina Mitreva spent a lot of time looking for a place to sleep during her early years in London. A Bulgarian living in the United Kingdom (UK) at a time when immigrants were largely unwelcome, Mitreva could only work cleaning and housekeeping jobs with wages much too low for a deposit on an apartment. She tried temporary accommodations—monthly stays—but found herself on the street if a paycheck was delayed or if she simply ran out of money. She sometimes found a bed in one of London’s hostels. When none was available, she might stay with a friend. Usually, though, she was too embarrassed to admit she had nowhere to go. When all else failed, she simply rode the bus all night. 

“You choose the longest route—the one that goes as far as possible through London,” Mitreva says. “You get about an hour-and-a-half journey that way. If you had a monthly pass, it was quite affordable, because you could take the bus as many times as you wanted. You do that five or six times, and then the night is over.” 

Mina Mitreva’s long night in Britain lasted seven years. It included not only poverty and homelessness, but also domestic abuse. Her journey to daylight led her to an undergraduate degree at King’s College in London, then to the University of Cambridge for her master’s, and finally to the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Harvard Griffin GSAS) where she received her PhD in the study of history last November. Today, as she embarks on a new career as a management consultant, she is mindful of the obstacles she overcame and how they shaped her.  

The Contract 

Mitreva was born in Bulgaria the year the Berlin Wall fell. During her childhood years, the country’s transition to democracy was plagued by corruption, scandal, and profound economic instability: Bulgaria experienced a brief period of hyperinflation in the 1990s during the transition to democracy and at one point defaulted on its national debt.  

An outstanding student, Mitreva joined thousands of others who left the country in those early years.  She enrolled at a university in Berlin, Germany, to study economics. After only a few weeks, though, she felt alienated from both the city and her coursework. (She was also running out of money.) She returned to Bulgaria but left again soon after a friend in London told her that there were jobs in the UK.  

“Bulgaria had entered the European Union (EU), so I thought I could live and work legally in Britain,” she says. “My English was better than my German, so I thought, ‘Okay, that’s all I need to know.’” 

It turned out that the agreement to admit Bulgaria into the EU allowed immigrants like Mitreva to live in the UK but with very limited access to the labor market there. During the four years it took her to get proper work authorization, Mitreva labored for a cleaning agency as a self-employed contractor and later worked as a housekeeper. The most money she made during this time was less than £9 an hour cleaning up after train passengers who came through Brighton Station often drunk, sometimes to the point of being sick. Throughout this time, Mitreva was housing-insecure, if not homeless, then just a short step away. 

[Abusive partners] try to isolate you to make you lose a sense of reality and lose your support system.   
–Mina Mitreva 

“There were multiple occasions when I just couldn’t continue paying rent,” she says. “When I wasn't completely broke, I would spend the night at a hostel in a room with maybe 16 beds. Share one bathroom. Share a kitchen. When that wasn’t an option, I tried not to sleep on the streets because you get disturbed by police or other people. I did sleep on several park benches, but I always preferred the bus.” 

When Mitreva tells her story, it sounds at first as though she was alone in the UK. The truth is, she traveled to London with her high school boyfriend, whom she married shortly after they arrived in the city.  Because he didn’t speak English, he couldn’t work most of the time, thus adding to Mitreva’s burdens. Feeling excluded and growing increasingly erratic, he became manipulative and tried—often successfully—to distance Mitreva from her family and friends.  

“Later I learned that this is a typical strategy for abusive partners,” Mitreva says. “They try to isolate you to make you lose a sense of reality and lose your support system. I was already in a foreign country. I didn’t have many friends, and he alienated me from them. And I’m ashamed to say I barely spoke to my family for a number of years.” 

Although far from home, poor, with no secure housing, and living with an increasingly abusive husband, Mitreva somehow never lost her desire to learn and achieve. “Even when I was sleeping in a train station, I thought, ‘I’m going to go to university. I'm going to do great things.’ That was the contract.’”  

In 2012, after much wrangling, Mitreva secured government educational loans and enrolled at King’s College London, studying history. Though she waited tables in the evenings and on weekends and holidays, Mitreva excelled in school, winning the Faculty of Arts & Humanities’ Jelf Medal, awarded to the college’s top one percent of students. Her final dissertation received the highest grade ever awarded within the Department of History. Then it was on to the University of Cambridge, where she earned her master of philosophy in the study of political thought and intellectual history, receiving the Mansergh Prize for best history thesis.  

Next, she set her sights on PhD study. In addition to its reputation, its rigor, and its excellence, Harvard Griffin GSAS had something going for it that British universities did not: Her husband, who had become both verbally and physically abusive, could not obtain a visa to visit the United States and thus could not follow her there. 

"How did I decide to come to Harvard?" she asks rhetorically. "It was very straightforward. It put an ocean between me and the past. It also gave me a salary, health insurance, and the chance for a fresh start. So that was that." 

Looking Ahead 

At Harvard, Mitreva wrote a 250-page dissertation on German anarcho-syndicalism and transnational antifascism between 1918 and 1951. Not surprisingly, she chose the topic because of her interest in the origins of economic inequality, the possibilities for equitable distribution of resources in society, and her disenchantment with communism. The anarchist movement in Germany, she says, was nonviolent and based on the idea that the superstructures of the state cause and maintain inequality. 

“There were different anarchist experiments carried out in communes and eventually labor unions over the course of the 19th century,” she says, referring to the “syndicalist” angle of her research. “In the early 20th century, prompted by the end of World War I and emboldened by the Russian and German revolutions, anarchists unexpectedly found themselves in the spotlight of the mainstream labor movement. Anarchist labor unions that had previously been obscure attracted tens of thousands of new members and worked tirelessly to bring about socialism's promise: a society without hierarchy and oppression where all would have equal access to resources and opportunities. Anarchists had unwavering belief in the nobility and intelligence of human beings as well as in the infinite power of individual action.”   

Professor Alison Frank Johnson, PhD ’01, was one of Mitreva’s academic advisors at Harvard. She says that her former student exhibited extraordinary resilience in the face of both personal and academic challenges. 

“Mina was getting death threats from her husband while she was taking classes and trying to engage in the intellectual history of groups that don't get a lot of attention,” Johnson says. “Anarchists are very threatening to established power structures, so there aren’t state-sponsored funding sources or libraries, or records of their lives and research. But despite immense challenges, Mina was able to find a way to stay in the program and secure the support she needed to graduate.” 

Even as Mitreva managed both personal crises and the rigors of her PhD program, she was a pillar of support for others. A resident advisor in the Harvard Griffin GSAS residence halls, Mitreva helped other international students feel at home on campus. 

“Having lived in different countries and having friends in so many different parts of the world, I know how important it is to meet even one person with a smile who can help you settle into a new place and feel at home,” says Ronak Jain, PhD ’23. “For me, that one person—the first person I met in the residence halls—was Mina Mitreva, who had also studied in the UK and was originally from elsewhere. It meant so much to be able to exchange stories and anecdotes about the differences and similarities between there and here.”  

Mina was getting death threats from her husband while she was taking classes and trying to engage in the intellectual history of groups that don't get a lot of attention . . . But despite immense challenges, [she] was able to find a way to stay in the program and secure the support she needed to graduate.   
—Professor Alison Frank Johnson, PhD ’01 

A week after defending her dissertation in August 2022, Mitreva began working at a global management consulting firm. As a member of the general consulting pool, she works with public and private sector clients, advising on topics ranging from strategy to investment diligence. She says she’s exploring the world beyond academia, learning from business leaders, observing organizations that have an impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people, and applying the problem-solving and research skills she honed at Harvard Griffin GSAS. 

"While I was a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, I attended a policy forum where the keynote speaker was Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive officer of Google, and I thought, 'Wow, this is a really brilliant person,'” she says. “That inspired me to start exploring the avenues where you can be very intellectually rigorous outside of a university setting. What impact could I have as a business leader versus an academic? That's still something I'm trying to conceptualize.” 

Mitreva has come a long way from subsistence wages, homelessness, and death threats. While she owns her past, she rarely looks back on it. She’s too busy thinking about the future. 

“I went to the UK a couple of months ago,” she says. “I visited Cambridge for the first time since I studied there. It was nice to reflect on what life was like back then and what it’s like now. But, otherwise, I never really dwell on the past. I prefer to look ahead.”


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