Alumni Spotlight – Jasmine Knowles SVMP ’11

SVMP ‘11 Alumnus Jasmine Speaks on her SVMP experience, life in college, and her time in Cape Town, South Africa


Throughout college, balancing various activities, my social life, and rigorous academic requirements not only stressed me out, but often made me lose sight of who I was. Studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa this past semester provided me with daily lessons that have helped to reaffirm not only who I was, but also the person that I wanted to become.


During the semester, I toured the Bo-Kaap, an area of Cape Town which used to be known as the Malay Quarter, but is now home to the descendants of the city’s first Muslim inhabitants. While walking the streets, it became clear to me that the brightly colored buildings, the mosques dotting the community, and the street vendors selling meat alongside the cobblestone roads each echoed a different piece of this area’s unique and culturally rich history.


Even though they were surrounded by this rich culture, I couldn’t help but wonder if these Cape Malay people dreamt of home. They were living out the dreams of the first Muslim settlers that came to Signal Hill, but did they ever dream of home? The place from which their ancestors came and that they never knew?


Home-I think we take this phrase lightly. Many people can point to a beginning, or a place where their relatives came from, but the Cape Malay people came to Cape Town as slaves from India, Malaysia, and other parts of Asia. Their identity was lost, continually in a state of homesickness for a home that we’ve never lived in?


One week after returning to the US, I arrived on the campus of HBS. During the alumni panel on the first night, they all stated that SVMP was a “transformational” experience for them, but I was skeptical that I would be changed during one week.


During the week, I found that I would have conversations with people and suddenly we would realize that it was 1AM and we still had to read and analyze two cases. Our class, I feel, became exceptionally close due to the fact that every night we came together without Pauline or Angie forcing us to, and just sat and listened to each other speak about the situations in our lives that helped to shape us and the struggles that we faced every day.


When I look at pictures of our class, I do not just connect faces with a name. I know each person by name and story and we truly became a family. It is remarkable to me that such strong bonds were formed over the course of seven days, but I think that speaks to the spirit of SVMP.


On Thursday of that week, Professor Frances Frei gave a lecture that I will remember for the rest of my life.  She encouraged us to “go towards what energizes you and to go towards that unapologetically.” Entering into senior year, many of us needed that reminder that we are not obligated to do what our parents or family members expect of us, but rather, what we are passionate about. As I looked around the room and saw tears in so many of our eyes, I understood that Profess Frei was able to see in our class, what we had only dared to imagine was there.


Reflecting on the week later that night, I realized that I had undergone a true transformation, like the alumni had mentioned the Saturday before. Like the Cape Malay people, although I was on this quest to find belonging, as Professor Frei pointed out- my only obligation was to do what was worthy of my energy. Coming back to the United States did not mean that I had to settle back into my normal school routine; but rather, I should use my experiences from the past six months as a guide for where I want to start my career.


I am grateful that SVMP served as a path of re- entry for me back to the United States. It truly showed me that self-discovery can come from anywhere: your immediate surroundings, your friends and family, or even interactions you have with 74 strangers in a classroom.


I am thankful for my SVMP family, who showed me that enlightening experiences do not always come from travels to exotic places. There are ways in which we can discover things about ourselves no matter where we are. 


Instead of yearning to belong or seeking my place in the world, SVMP taught me to remember that the person I am becoming is continually shaped by the shared stories and inspirations I have received from my travels, both domestic and abroad and I am a better person because of it.


Jasmine is currently a senior at Washington University in St. Louis and participated in SVMP during the summer of 2011.


[Back to news summary]