It’s rare enough for three sisters to have all attended the same college, but Emerson has a trio of royal princess alumnae who are now using their experiences and influence to improve personal development and well being among youth and adults in their home country.
The Asem sisters — Sarah ’00, MA ’02; Noor ’04; and Yasmine MA ’06 — are part of the Jordanian royal family. But their lives are not romanticized fairy tales.
“We’ve always been hands-on in our lives as working mothers, and our partners do a great job. Our mom was very determined; our mother is Persian and she provided a lot of structured discipline,” said Noor.
“Our mom said, ‘If you want to scratch your back you need to reach because no one’s going to scratch it for you,’” said Sarah.
The sisters took lessons from what they had learned from their educations abroad, and, from working in the field of personal development – focusing on the importance of social and emotional learning – for more than a decade, and co-founded the Kyan Foundation in 2020.
“Later in life, we realized the importance of having the skills that we learned to self-manage, communicate effectively, understand emotions, identify strengths and weaknesses, how to be positive, and have our good behaviors reinforced and reaffirmed,” said Noor. “Each one of us reached a point in our adult life where we wished we knew what we know now at a younger age. We want to provide a platform for younger generations, parents, and teachers to shift the whole educational journey so schools become hubs of well-being.”
The Kyan Foundation works with schools in the Middle East and global partners toward a goal of creating a global network that provides workshops and training opportunities to build emotional intelligence for students, teachers, and parents. The trainings, facilitated by qualified practitioners in psychology, mindfulness, neuro-education, and emotional intelligence, hope to build resilience among students as well as teachers and parents to facilitate the foundation’s work within the schools’ communities. Also, they hope to give adults an opportunity to relearn, unlearn, or just see things differently through these presentations.
Being comfortable with oneself includes teaching self-awareness can happen at all ages. Sarah said the work starts simply with modeling, being open to options, and teaching people to understand what’s behind our emotions.
“You start them young with little exercises. With the kids, after every topic, every unit, they sit and self-reflect, and ask, ‘How did you do? How can you do better?’” said Yasmine. “With older children you can ask them questions and make them self-aware to their strengths and weaknesses, and you’re always putting focus on a growth mindset.”
“By not interrupting how they’re feeling, they grow up with resilience,” said Sarah. “If a child falls and cries, we say get up like nothing happened. We’re not validating what they felt. They may not have got hurt, but they had fear. Instilling those little changes is how we interact by teaching them what it feels like and how to overcome it. Emotions make us reactive. We’re training the brain to slow down, disconnect, and reframe how we’re living to integrate self-reflection and look inward.”
Noor added that COVID really opened society’s eyes of the importance of well-being, and understanding our mental health to be the happiest and best version of ourselves.
“Let’s work on the inside of ourselves as well. At the end of the day, that’s what is going to make us successful,” said Sarah. “’What do I know about myself?’ We have to normalize failure, and ask, ‘How do I deal with failure?’ Failures look like battles because we don’t have the tools to manage them.”
The Kyan Foundation is facing its own challenge to integrate into school systems’ dogmatic curricula.
“We currently have a program that we codesigned with experts in the field of positive psychology that was created for middle schoolers,” said Noor. “As a foundation that’s what we offer besides our consultancy.”
Sarah added that universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford are now offering classes on happiness. Emerson also has recognized its importance, as she recently guest lectured about emotional intelligence in a class with Greg Payne, associate professor and Communication Studies chair.
“For me, the work we’re doing, is definitely purposeful. I truly believe in what we’re doing is infinite. You’re putting in a seed for generations to come, to benefit from, that is really the amount of passion and pull the foundation has for me,” said Sarah.
It Wasn’t Disney, It Was Boston
The three grew up to fully recognize that being born into their family was a privilege.
“It’s not what movies depict it to be, or Disney. We were brought up in Spain very much like everybody. We run our own errands, make our beds, cook our dinners,” said Noor.
Sarah was the first to matriculate at Emerson. Yasmine was studying at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts at the time, so there was a sororal draw to the area.
“I applied to schools that had journalism programs and Emerson stood out,” said Sarah, adding that Emerson was her first choice. “I got in and there I went. It was pretty easy. I didn’t have any confusion of where I was going.”
Noor jokes about being jealous of her sisters being in Massachusetts while she was back home in Spain. Interested in political communication, Noor liked picking her own classes, which was different from the formal British school system they experienced growing up.
The sisters credit Payne for helping them craft their Emerson educations. While at Clark, Yasmine spoke with Payne about her interests, and he suggested the Political Communication masters program. The three are very close to Payne and call him “Tio Greg”.
“I view Emerson as home. Whenever I’ve been back, and I’ve been back once with my children when they were teeny tiny, it’s like going back home. It’s like one big family,” said Yasmine. “It’s the best way I’d equate it. The nice thing about the college experience is that you got to learn about yourself as you make certain steps in your life and career. When I look back it’s very comforting. It’s my mac and cheese moment. It’s my comfort zone.”