The Next Phase

10 Aug

For those of you who have been following my adventures, I recently moved to Washington, DC to start a new job!

My new neighborhood

 I am the lead international communications and marketing associate for NCBA CLUSA International. A little bit of background on who they are and what I do:

  
The NCBA part stands for the National Co-operative Business Association and is the domestic trade association for co-op businesses. We host conferences, advocate for the co-op business model on capital hill, and connect co-op businesses across industries. Some businesses you may have heard of, but may not know are co-ops are REI, Florida’s Natural, Cabot Farms, and Ace Hardware. We also represent groups like food co-ops, rural electrical co-ops, and credit unions (1 in 3 Americans is a member of co-op). To be a co-operative business you must adhere to seven cooperative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic (Members contribute equally to and democratically control the capital of their co-operative).
  4. Autonomy and Independence (if they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources they maintain democratic control and co-operative autonomy).
  5. Education, Training, and Information (so that members will be good decision makers, and so the general public will better understand co-operatives).
  6. Cooperation among Co-operatives (strengthening the co-operative movement by working together).
  7. Concern for Community (work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members).

The CLUSA part stands for the Co-operative League of the USA and is the name most commonly seen on our international work. Part of my job is to unify the two sides for a cohesive NCBA CLUSA brand that works domestically and internationally. On the international side, we truly believe in a community based approach, that works to strengthen groups and service providers to improve livelihoods through market-based approaches (as opposed to humanitarian aid, which comes only in a crisis). That’s a lot of jargon. Basically it means we work to strengthen groups and businesses on the ground through connecting them to outside markets, or making them more efficient, or improving nutrition.

Because of this cooperative foundation, a large chunk of our work is strengthening farmers co-ops, training in conservation agriculture, and nutrition led agriculture (innovations and strategies that work with assessing each community’s individual needs). These help to build resilience in communities. Food security gaps and climate change cause small shocks to be devastating, but increasing nutrient outputs (like planting yams or carrots in communities with Vitamin A deficiencies), or strategically farming with better irrigation techniques make those shocks (like drought or flooding) easier to resist. Because co-ops are community based, development solutions are community based. We work with mother’s groups and women’s savings and credit institutions. We’ve done work with youth and governance, because politically involved youth form community organizations. We work with coffee growers and co-ops and then link them with purchasers in the US (a co-op to co-op trade model that keeps prices fair). We train and support groups all along the agriculture value chain. We are one of the first organizations to start work in Cuba, which is starting to grow its economy by broadening the space for co-operatives.

Personally, my job is the tell these stories. To be able to share the best practices of innovative development in the field. I am helping to redesign what’s presented on our website (coming soon!), opening communication flows with the field teams, and promoting our leaders and techniques as innovators and best practices in the industry. Eventually I will be able to travel out to our projects (overseeing a current portfolio of 17 countries and 21 projects – as of August – projects open and close all the time as they finish their cycles).

My joy is telling stories, and these are the best stories to tell. The stories of overcoming challenges, of seeing opportunity and making the most, of going from barely making it to sharing wealth with others. These stories are why we in the international development industry do the work we do. Every one of the numbers is a story, and it’s my job to make that real and accessible to all of you back here.

So that’s my new job. I moved across the country, and back from Africa to start this next phase. I’m looking forward to a whole lot of new experiences, and meeting some interesting and inspiring people.

From grad school to Peace Corps and now NCBA CLUSA, I’m still telling these stories. But now, I have a lot more potential projects to cover and a wider platform. I will continue to update this blog with more of the personal side (with lots of travel photos!), and you can always see the work I’m doing here.

African Football Needs to Stand up Against Corruption

15 Jun

My most recent piece published on Africa Agenda calls out Confederation of African Football (CAF) leader Issa Hayatou for his unwavering support of FIFA head Sepp Blatter. Given the most recent rumours that Blatter may not actually resign come Spring, the CAF needs to stand up against corruption and Hayatou all the more.

Why care about the CAF’s stance? A cross continent stand against corruption (in football) would be just one step towards a more coordinated effort against corruption generally. The African Union has made corruption in governments a priority; let’s start with a low hanging fruit in the CAF. Sports brings people together. Come together against corruption in soccer, and maybe that will spread.

Read the piece here.

Vietnam – Two Weeks of Vistas and Vittles

4 Jun Sapa, Northern Vietnam
Sapa, Northern Vietnam

Sapa, Northern Vietnam

I recently celebrated my golden birthday, the one where you turn the age of the day that you were born (sorry to those born in the first half of their months). And what better way to celebrate than to travel around Vietnam for a couple weeks because… unemployment, and fiscal responsibility and life choices are for tomorrow.

So in an effort to live life to the fullest, I flew halfway across the world for the first time to South East Asia with no other agenda than to eat amazing food, see beautiful sights, and hang out with a great friend.

So if Vietnam has ever been on your travel wish list, here’s what I did from top to bottom, or bottom to top as the South to North route took us.

Ho Chi Minh City

A skyline view of Ho Chi Minh from its tallest building

A skyline view of Ho Chi Minh from its tallest building

Our first few days had us recovering from jet lag and adjusting to the heat in Ho Chi Minh city, the biggest city in Vietnam-formerly known as Saigon. Forty years ago this past April, Viet Cong troops lead by the city’s namesake poured in as American troops withdrew from Vietnam. Since then, Vietnam has been a communist nation putting itself back together, with some amazing history, and some seriously beautiful views. In celebration of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war, communist flags and billboards were up all over the city.

The communist hammer and sickle for industry and agriculture was all over the city.

The communist hammer and sickle for industrial workers and peasants was all over the city.

The dove signals 40 years of peace since the Americans left on April 30th, 1975.

The dove signals 40 years of peace since the Americans left on April 30th, 1975.

In an effort to better understand this country that I had only read about in textbooks, we went to the War Remnants Museum. Right near the Reunification palace, the seat of the government where Viet Cong troops took control of the city, the War Remnants Museum was an interesting view of the war through the eyes of the victors, the communist government. There was a very thorough section about the journalists who lost their lives covering the war, which was personally and professionally interesting to me. There was also a lot about the effects of the chemical warfare (such as Agent Orange), a sobering reminder of human atrocities. Other examples of communist nation solidarity propaganda posters, like ones from Cuba, were a fascinating look into the public affairs side from the other side of the war.

A mix of the Vietnamese and Cuban flags.

A mix of the Vietnamese and Cuban flags.

The next morning we visited the Cu Chi Tunnel district where Viet Cong guerrilla fighters dug miles of tunnels underneath nearby villages from which to launch attacks and live while Americans patrolled the area. They refurbished some of the tunnels and we could duck walk/crawl through them. I could only get about 40 meters before I felt overwhelmed and claustrophobic considering the historical context. I’m still glad I got to learn more about the war, however, and put a geographical context to what I’d learned in history class.

An example of a

An example of a “tiger trap,” where American soldiers would be caught.

The small entrance to the tunnels could be easily camouflaged.

The small entrance to the tunnels could be easily camouflaged.

Vietnam war history aside, our trip continued in the vein of amazing places and delicious food. In HCMC, as the locals say, we certainly couldn’t leave without a giant helping of fresh seafood. Based on the recommendation of a local friend we got lost through the back streets of Saigon and found a popular seafood… tent. This was just the start of some of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.

Conch, shrimp, mussels, clams, snails, squid teeth - you name it, we tried it, and loved it.

Conch, shrimp, mussels, clams, snails, squid teeth – you name it, we tried it, and loved it.

Trying out the yolk and some coconut water. Also, getting played like the tourists we were.

Trying out the yolk and some coconut water. Also, getting played like the tourists we were.

Hue and Phong Nha National Park

From there we flew north to the central coast region and spent a few nights in the old imperial city of Hue. Right on the Perfume River, an old citadel was the seat of power through the 1800s. The architecture was beatiful, and really my first introduction to the older Asian style. I probably was too excited by the lanterns and dragon carvings.

In the hall of royal urns at the Hue Citadel

In the hall of royal urns at the Hue Citadel

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Ornate golden thread detail on the walls

Ornate golden thread detail on the walls

Guarding the steps

Guarding the steps

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The roof detail.

The roof detail.

That afternoon we rented a motorbike for a couple bucks and rode out of the city along the coast through small villages filled with ancestor’s shrines. We rode by shrimp farms and street food stands (the duck was delicious!). They say motorbike is really the way to see Vietnam, and being able to see what we wanted and explore where we wanted was great.

My first time on a motorcycle.

My first time on a motorcycle.

Street duck.

Street duck.

Shrimp farmers on stilts.

Shrimp farmers on stilts.

The next day we headed up north on a day trip to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which has the largest cave in world (Han Son Doong). We, however, went to Paradise cave and still were able to walk through about 1K of high vaulted caverns. The landscape and drive were spectacular, limestone karsts which had eroded to provide stunning drops and peaks.

We walked through a rain-forest to Paradise Cave.

We walked through a rain-forest to Paradise Cave.

The river to Phing Nha Cave.

The river to Phung Nha Cave.

Paradise Cave.

Paradise Cave.

Inside Paradise Cave.

Inside Paradise Cave.

At the end of the 1k walk through the cave, it continues for another 30K.

At the end of the 1k walk through the cave, it continues for another 30K.

Hoi An and DaNang 

Travelling further down the central coast, we hired a car to take us the four hours from Hue to Hoi An, and were able to stop at landmarks along the way. A small oyster pearl farm sat across an old fort with beautiful views of the coast. We took our necessary selfies on China Beach (cue M.A.S.H., but more recently called DaNang Beach). Marble Mountain proved to be the biggest surprise of the drive down, with a huge complex of pagodas and temples. We explored the caves and hiked to the top for spectacular views of DaNang.

At the top of Marble Mountain, spectacular views of DaNang and the coast.

At the top of Marble Mountain, spectacular views of DaNang and the coast.

Pilgrim came to visit Marble Mountain.

Pilgrim came to visit Marble Mountain.

At Marble Mountain, a huge complex of pagodas and temples.

At Marble Mountain, a huge complex of pagodas and temples.

On China (DaNang) Beach.

On China (DaNang) Beach.

Stopped at pearl farm.

Stopped at a pearl farm.

Some scenery from the drive to Hoi An.

Some scenery from the drive to Hoi An.

We got to Hoi An by late afternoon, known for its Chinese old town and Japanese covered bridge. We decided to stay a bit outside the old town, closer to the northern An Bang beach. Our homestay had free bicycles for us to use so we could bike downtown for some delicious dinners. Hoi An was how I would draw a Chinese old town if I were drawing one for a fairy tale: Chinese lanterns everywhere, gorgeous flowers lining the streets, and old wooden architecture giving the buildings a sense of true history. The city’s old town was one of the only cities untouched by the war, and its preservation has made it a UNESCO world heritage site and tourist boon. One of our days in this area we also booked a snorkeling (for me) SCUBA diving (for Leslie) trip to the Cham Islands. While not the most exciting sea life, it was still a beautiful way to spend a day in the ocean.

The old Chinese meeting house.

The old Chinese meeting house.

Beautiful streets in old town Hoi An.

Beautiful streets in old town Hoi An.

Just a typical street in Hoi An.

Just a typical street in Hoi An.

The Japanese covered bridge that connected the old Japanese town with the Chinese side.

The Japanese covered bridge that connected the old Japanese town with the Chinese side.

Sunset on An Bang Beach.

Sunset on An Bang Beach.

A lazy afternoon on one of the Cham Islands.

A lazy afternoon on one of the Cham Islands.

SCUBA diving around the Cham Islands.

SCUBA diving around the Cham Islands.

Fishing boats off the coast of Hoi An.

Fishing boats off the coast of Hoi An.

Hanoi and Halong Bay

From the central coast we flew up north to the capital Hanoi. We stayed outisde of the old town in a beautiful AirBNB in the expat Westlake district. A very cute and walkable neighborhood, we were close to a local Bia Hoi tap house (local beer) and took taxis downtown for massages and to see the Women’s Museum. Since it was halfway through our trip and my self declared birthday, we spent more time enjoying Hanoi on our own terms rather than trying to cram in the touristy sites. We forwent the temples and mausoleums to hunt down the city’s famous coffee with yogurt, which was basically a coffee milkshake (and therefore delicious).

Westlake District of Hanoi.

Westlake District of Hanoi.

Some delicious fresh spring rolls.

Some delicious fresh spring rolls.

Costimes from the Women's Museum celebrating the Mother Goddess, a part of Vietnamese folk religion.

Costimes from the Women’s Museum celebrating the Mother Goddess, a part of Vietnamese folk religion.

Coffee with yogurt. Hanoi is also famous for coffee with egg, which came out with a custard like consistency.

Coffee with yogurt. Hanoi is also famous for coffee with egg, which came out with a custard like consistency.

The best Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich with everything from pork to duck pate) in town was this small street cart.

The best Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich with everything from pork to duck pate) in town was this small street cart.

A view of downtown Hanoi from the Westlake District.

A view of downtown Hanoi from the Westlake District.

The next morning we were picked up by a tour company for an overnight cruise on Halong Bay. Probably the best way to see the bay, we spent the night floating on an old Chinese junk, making fresh spring rolls, squid fishing, and kayaking between the giant karsts. Some of the islands also had spectacular caves and views. Halong Bay is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world- with almost 2,000 islands in a small space it deserved the title.

The view from Ti Top Island out across the many many many limestone islands in Halong Bay.

The view from Ti Top Island out across the many many many limestone islands in Halong Bay.

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One of the islands was basically hollowed out with this spectacular cave.

One of the islands was basically hollowed out with this spectacular cave.

Eagle Island - get it?

Eagle Island – get it?

The view off the back of our boat.

The view off the back of our boat.

A floating fishing village in Halong Bay.

A floating fishing village in Halong Bay.

Halong Bay.

Halong Bay.

There were many old junk boats touring around.

There were many old junk boats touring around.

Sapa and Surrounding Villages

After coming back from Halong bay, we took a 6 hour bus north to Sapa (close to the Chinese border), getting us in around 2am in the middle of a thunderstorm. Thank goodness we booked a hotel! But, with the rain cleared up by the next day, the town was much cooler than anywhere we had been. It definitely helped that we were close to the highest peak in Vietnam – Fansipan. The mountain town is built up on cliffs, providing stunning views of the villages and terraced rice fields. We again rented a motorbike and scooted about to some of the surrounding villages. First, a Hmong village called Cat Cat with a beautiful waterfall then the next morning we went a bit further afield to a Red Dzao village called Ta Phin where we hiked in isolation among the rice paddies and along the mountain trails. The night in between we ventured out and happened upon a cultural festival, or potentially a “love market” where young people from the small villages come in to sell their wares and meet one another. Sapa itself was a beautiful town with some great markets (yes, there was dog meat), and a great last stop for our trip. From Sapa we headed back to Hanoi in order to catch a flight down to Ho Chi Minh where we relaxed our last day until our respective flights out.

Sapa, from our hotel.

Sapa, from our hotel.

The local market - frogs in a net, yum!

The local market – frogs in a net, yum!

I do love street food.

I do love street food.

Hmong women at the Sapa market.

Hmong women at the Sapa market.

On the way to Cat Cat village.

On the way to Cat Cat village.

Terraced rice paddies.

Terraced rice paddies.

A Hmong woman with her daughter at the local Sapa market.

A Hmong woman with her daughter at the local Sapa market.

Cat Cat Village (Hmong)

Cat Cat Village (Hmong)

Thac Bac (Silver) Waterfall

Thac Bac (Silver) Waterfall

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Red Dzao women near Thac Bac Waterfall. They wear red head pieces.

Red Dzao women near Thac Bac Waterfall. They wear red head pieces.

A Red Dzao woman from Ta Phin village and her homemade embroidery.

A Red Dzao woman from Ta Phin village and her homemade embroidery.

The view from Ta Phin Village.

The view from Ta Phin Village.

For anyone planning a trip, feel free to mention any questions in the comments and I will be happy to provide the names of the places we stayed and the tour companies/day trips we used – all highly recommended for those with a mid-range budget. In total for the two weeks, excluding international airfare, I spent around $800 (including domestic airfare).

New Piece on African Media Coverage

20 Apr

While I’ve been job hunting I haven’t been sitting idle. Check out my new piece, published on Africa Agenda, about the tone of media coverage of the African continent and the most recent obsession with Ebola.

You can access the article here.

And be sure to check back for more pieces on the media and Africa as I start working with Africa Agenda on the side. Just one way I can use my skills to spread the news about a more real African story – how very Peace Corps Goal 3!

Peace Corps Never “Wraps Up”

27 Mar OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was officially in Ethiopia for 2 years, 2 months, 1 week and 5 days. I have officially been home for three months, 1 week, and 2 days. I have officially processed Peace Corps.. in the last 20 minutes.

I came home to visiting friends! and Christmas! I started job hunting about 2 months ago. I made funny mistakes like taking a napkin to the washroom, or being a little too excited about tap water. I clung to grocery lists for dear life. I bought new clothes, and went to museums and concerts. I played piano for the first time in over two years. I got laser eye surgery and FINALLY finished Insanity. I DID all sorts of things, I answered all sorts of questions, but I didn’t really reflect.

I reflected a lot during my time in Gondar. I reflected on my professional goals. I reflected on my reactions to stressful situations. I reflected on reflecting (I had a lot of time).

Coming home, my answer to the generic “How was it?” became a pat one. “It was rewarding and challenging.” But how was it rewarding (and here and here and here)? In what ways was it challenging (and here)? And so what? Was it one era of my life, the end of a chapter to finish and put up on the shelf as I hop in the drivers seat and speed down the highway back home? Oh yeah, driving.

On the one hand Peace Corps was not an anomaly. In the past five years, I have spent 34 months abroad working, not to mention travel. I will always have wanderlust. I will always want to learn about new cultures and have new experiences. In a way, my two years in those cement rooms in Gondar were the longest I’d stayed in one place in the last eight years. Peace Corps was anomalous in that it made me stay put. To dive deep into a culture and city and language that in no other circumstance would I have known that intimately.

Sometimes we talk as if there is one moment where as RPCVs we “reintegrate.” And then poof! I’m back to “normal.” Sorry to break it to you, but I was never normal. Though perhaps now I have an excuse.

I have no idea what my next five years are going to look like. I do know I want to be in a job that uses my leadership and motivational skills in a creative capacity. I do know I want to work with social issues either internationally or domestic. But these are pretty broad standards – I could be happy in many ways. I could be pursuing these things on my own, or in a partnership. This flexibility, while still understanding how I want to use my skills, is something I certainly learned over the past two years in Ethiopia. My battle with expectations and my definition of personal success changed daily.

I’ve said this before, I don’t think Peace Corps changed my life. I am too stubborn for that, and I had worked internationally before. What it did do was bring out some aspects of my personality that were always there, but under the surface. What comes out when you are out of your comfort zone… for two years. For me, I learned how much I use humour to cope. This is not a bad thing, though it can be off putting to those who don’t get it. I learned I do very well in high stress situations. I am calm under stress. I am more even keel than I thought, but can be highly rational to a fault. But I also learned to appreciate those times when I get overwhelmed with emotion, mostly its over something beautiful, though I was certainly deeply saddened at points. I tried and failed not to get angry over and over again, but I did succeed in letting go quickly.

My experiences in Ethiopia will always be a part of who I am, blending in with what has come before. I will always be excited to see an Ethiopian name or hear a snippet of Amharic. I will always be curious about how people came to this side of world, as they were curious about me.

Ultimately, as I start to work towards a new phase of my life my last two years will inform my professional and personal choices. What will programs look like “on the ground?” How would I motivate a cross-cultural team? What successful strategies for sanity did I use in Ethiopia that I could use working in other countries? Or back in Ethiopia? I won’t rule that out – there is too much of my industry in and out of Addis.

I don’t know if I have rose coloured glasses quite yet, but three months later I understand that I really needed this time to come back, see family and friends, sit back and reflect on my past two years.

What this blog will become:

This blog was my outlet to share Ethiopian culture and my personal experiences during Peace Corps and working in development. As I move forward, I don’t think “Wandering and Wondering” changes much for me. I will still travel and have opinions. While no longer exclusively Ethiopian, follow along as I morph this space into more of a travel blog (African or otherwise), and personal musings on applicable topics. And as always, let me know if there is something you want me to write about – something I missed, or a burning question. Thanks for reading and following along.

The Danakil Depression – My Last Hurrah

24 Dec

The last thing I did before I left Ethiopia after Peace Corps was flout the rules and go to the red zone. Methane pools, sulfuric acid, live volcanoes, ancient traditional salt mining and all along the Eritrean border – yeah, I can see why Peace Corps said it was a no-go.

But, six of us had officially finished our service and just had to knock this region off our bucket lists. So off we went to Afar, Ethiopia to see some of the most inhospitable land on earth.

Sunrise in Afar

Sunrise in Afar

We started from Mekele, Tigray’s regional capital and traveled into Afar – known for it’s nomadic salt miners and for being the hottest average place on earth. Travelling in December, the temperature had just started to drop for the winter (to 39 degrees Celsius). Our first few days we ate lunch in an Afari village and visited the salt flats where large camel caravans took the salt into Tigray for sale. The journey on foot takes eight days.

Thank goodness for air conditioning

Thank goodness for air conditioning

Camel Caravan at sunset

Camel Caravan at sunset

On their way to Tigray. Each camel is carring upwards of 200 lbs of salt.

On their way to Tigray. Each camel is carring upwards of 200 lbs of salt.

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In the salt flats, they pump in water to clean and loosen the salt.

In the salt flats, they pump in water to clean and loosen the salt.

this poor donkey was so tired!

this poor donkey was so tired!

wet salt

wet salt

We also went to where the blocks of rock salt are actually mined. We drove through salt flats for miles, seeing no other life. Afari men have been mining salt for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The salt flats are estimated to be almost 8 miles deep in some parts. Modern companies have tried and failed to mine the salt with machines, but they just rust up. Each salt block weighs around 4-5 kilos (about 10 lbs) and the flats sit at around 121 meters below sea level. The area used to be a part of the Red Sea. Around the area are liquid methane pools, salt mountains and sulfur pools. The chemicals in the earth react with water to create different colours (iron is red, sulfur is yellow, copper is orange and green etc.). Walking around the pools, you can hear the earth rumbling below – this is unstable earth.

Driving across the salt lake

Driving across the salt lake

Dried salt flats

Dried salt flats

Our driver

Our driver

An Afari man in the salt flats

An Afari man in the salt flats

salt mountains

salt mountains

small geyser

small geyser

Sulfer pools

Sulfer pools

The Peace Corps group

The Peace Corps group

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That night we stayed with a family in Tigray, then the next morning drove a long way across the desert to get to the base of the Erta Ale volcano. We zoomed across the sand, but driving 12 km across lava rock took 2 hours. That was a bumpy ride to say the least (2 flat tires later). Throughout the trip we had to hire military for protection, considering some of the previous tourist deaths in the region. The volcano itself is actually a military base, where we slept that night at the top near the crater. We had no problems, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve inhaled enough sulfur to shave a few years off my life.

Across the desert to the volcano

Across the desert to the volcano

Our military escort

Our military escort

They let me play with the gun...

They let me play with the gun…

The lava lake!

The lava lake!

Obsidian rock from the volcano

Obsidian rock from the volcano

Wind went the wrong way!

Wind went the wrong way!

Silhouette at Erta Ale

Silhouette at Erta Ale

Erta Ale at sunrise

Erta Ale at sunrise

All in all this was one of the most unique places I have ever been. There are only four active lava lakes in the world, but this is probably the closest you can get to one (we walked right up to the edge of the crater). If this blog has at all put Ethiopia on your travel radar, definitely put a trip to the Danakil Depression on your list.

Holy Research Batman! or Peace Corps Master’s International

30 Oct

For two years I researched, wrote, procrastinated, researched, procrastinated, wrote, procrastinated, and finally submitted my thesis. But wait, what? I’m in the Peace Corps- they make you write theses now? Not exactly.

I am a Peace Corps Master’s International candidate. About a decade ago, Peace Corps and graduate schools started to pair up to create Master’s programs that put you in the field, were grassroots practical, and popped you out with more than two years of international service. More than three years ago (oh my God) I started the PCMI program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies in the International Development Program (MA).

Each school and program is different, and for my program I finished up all my coursework before I began my 27 months and had the two years to write and submit a “substantial research paper” preferably about my country of service. I came in to Ethiopia with two other MI students – one from John’s Hopkins (Masters of Public Health) and the other from the University of Montana (Masters of Youth Development). They both had different versions of MA integration – for JHU, she basically finished her degree, wrote a thesis on something completely random (but very interesting I’m sure) and then started Peace Corps. For UMontana, she had to actually develop and implement a project proposal during her service. I was somewhere in the middle – typical thesis, but sorta, kinda attached to my service.

There are two ways a Peace Corps service can help with a graduate degree – the MI program is one way, where you study, and then are placed to serve being able to test out that theoretical knowledge and practical grad degree skills on the ground. The other way is the Paul D Coverdell Fellows program , which if your school signs up, gives anyone who has completed Peace Corps some sort of break (from as little as waiving the application fee to as awesome as a full ride – depending on the program).  The Coverdell Fellows aid is good for life, so for the RPCVs a few years out you can still access that support. The University of Denver hosts the most fellows of any graduate school, and I had some colleagues who finished their service over 15 years ago.

Personally, the MI program ended up saving me about half of my expenses. It covered 18 out of 90 credits, but because I was able to overload some quarters, I finished in half the time saving me rent and living expenses as well (though probably took a small toll on my sanity). Most of the MI students in my Korbel cohort finished in 1.5 years, a more normal pace.

So what did I ultimately research, write and procrastinate about?

The title of my thesis is…

THE COMBINATION OF MASS MEDIA AND PEER EDUCATION IN ETHIOPIAN SOCIAL BEHAVIOR CHANGE PROGRAMS FOR HEALTH AND GENDER ISSUES

Mmmm Sexy and Academic.

Basically, in 50 pages I outline that behavior change programs (in America think public health campaigns like anti-smoking) in Ethiopia (think condom use or women are equal) work best when mass media (which provides a larger national conversation and a context) is used concurrently with small group peer education sessions (which create personal accountability and can move groups from informed to action). Was that run-on sentence long enough for you?

Social behavior change programming has held a fascination for me since it is the cross section of communications and development. And let me nerd out here for a minute, I have been able to be at the grassroots implementation level for many a prevention program and topic over the past two years. I have had a front seat to see what works well, what works, and what does not work. While I am a little grassrooted out right now (I would love a hot shower), I plan to take these lessons with me into my career.

Clearly I just can’t do one thing. This has been a curse since high school. AP classes? That’s for sissies, IB for me. Undergrad? Why not get two Bacherlor’s degrees? Grad school? I should probably work full time too. And Peace Corps? Let’s write a thesis while we live in sub-Saharan Africa, that sounds fun.

So there you have it, between hugging groups of African children, watching too much Battlestar Galactica, and the occasional international trip, I finished my Master’s Degree. Now someone please hire me.

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