Foreign Policy

Isobel Coleman

Isobel Coleman in the green room

Isobel Coleman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, grew up in New York and London before heading to Princeton for college. After focusing on Asia for her doctorate and working in the private sector, Coleman returned to policy about 10 years ago. “The world was really very focused on understanding the Middle East better,” said Coleman, whose Paradise Beneath Her Feet: Women and Change in the Middle East contributed to that effort. Below, Coleman tells us more about herself.

Q. Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?

A. It depends what season. In the winter, I’m probably at the hockey rink. In the spring, I’m at the lacrosse field. And in the fall, I’m probably at the football field.

Q. What do you do to clear your mind?

A. I like to read a meaty article in the New Yorker or Vanity Fair. It doesn’t even have to be substantive – just something that takes me away from whatever I’m thinking about.

Q. What do you wish you had the nerve to do?

A. I’ve always done exactly what I wanted to do. I got married relatively young, when friends of mine thought that was a crazy thing to do. I started having kids relatively young. I kept having kids – I have five children. I’ve been an entrepreneur. I travel to places that people seem to think are dangerous, and they sometimes are. I’ve never really felt timid or afraid of trying something or doing something new. I don’t lack for nerve.

Q. What music have you listened to today?

A. The only music I’ve listened to today is when I was on hold on the phone. I heard Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, which was very pleasant.

Q. What do you wake up to in the mornings?

A. Typically my youngest daughter comes in and wakes me.

Q. When do you feel most creative?

A. When I’m writing, and trying to figure out a way to convey an experience or information or ideas in a way people will find interesting to read.

Q. What is your favorite word?

A. Mom – when I hear one of my kids saying it.

Q. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A. Secretary of State.

Q. If you could take only one more journey, where would you go?

A. I’ve been blessed – I’ve traveled all around the world. When I was in college, I went trekking in Nepal. This morning I had a Nepalese cab driver take me to the airport and as I told him, Nepal is one of the few places I long to go back to.

Q. What is your most prized material possession?

A. Other than my photographs, nothing. I’m not a collector of things.

Q. What is your greatest extravagance?

A. Taking long, hot showers. If you’ve gone for a period in a place where you can’t take a shower, you really appreciate being able to do it. My kids come home from school and say we can only take three minute showers because we’re melting the polar ice caps. And yet I really love to take a long hot shower.

Q. Who is the one person living or dead you would most like to meet for dinner?

A. My husband.

To read more about Coleman’s talk on women in the Middle East, click here.

*Photo by Sarah Rivera.



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