Posts Tagged ‘In the Field’

It’s not the same out there

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Alanna Shaikh at Blood and Milk reminds that development work in DC or any other well-developed city can be very different than when you’re, to borrow a phrase from Rushmore, in the shit:

In country, though, every success and back-step hits you right in the gut. Your life feels like a series of wins and losses. It’s hard to have any sense of overall progress when you just had a terrible meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture and your training just got cancelled. On the other hand, when things are going well, you’re so full of energy and creativity and passion you can push your work to whole new levels of impact.

Launch of Public Diplomacy, the magazine

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I attended a reception last night for the launch of Public Diplomacy magazine, published by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. It was quite a good networking event actually, which I can admit was at least partly because they served sushi and had something like seven microbrews to choose from at the bar.

I encourage you to check out PD the magazine, which features thought-provoking essays on the broad and important topic of public diplomacy, one that certainly encompasses the work we do in international education, exchange, and development. [Also, if you are looking at grad programs, you might be interested in the USC Master's in Public Diplomacy program, now in its third year of existence.]

Event: A New Direction for USAID—At Home and Abroad

Monday, March 9th, 2009

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is hosting an event tomorrow morning titled, “A New Direction for USAID—At Home and Abroad:”

This 2nd forum in a series on Defense, Development, and Diplomacy will look at the proposed Cabinet-level development agency, and the new pathways the Obama administration might pursue to increase collaboration and cooperation between the Development community and the various arms of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. What are the right solutions to the bureaucratic roadblocks? How could these changes ultimately lead to better structures and better-implemented foreign policy? What are the challenges in appropriating more money in Congress for USAID?

The forum has a number of sponsors, including the Alliance for Peacebuilding, headed by a good friend of Sherry’s and NCIV’s, Chic Dambach.

The event is from 9:00 to 10:30 tomorrow morning in the Nitze Building at SAIS, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue in DC. RSVP is required by close of business today (

National Peace Corps Week

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I know I’m a bit late posting on this, but this week is National Peace Corps Week! Check out more about it on the Peace Corps Polyglot, the National Peace Corps Association’s blog. Also, an article by a returned Peace Corps volunteer appeared in yesterday’s USA Today arguing for a “rebuilding of the Peace Corps” from its current level of 4,000 annual volunteers to the more than 8,000 it sent 40 years ago. Money quote:

So here we find ourselves, celebrating the inauguration of President Obama, a farsighted leader who has inspired millions of young Americans with his call to service. We also find ourselves on the threshold of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s new diplomatic initiative, the exercise of “smart power” in a multifaceted effort to reclaim our moral and political integrity in the eyes of the world. The obvious equation seems written in neon: “Call to service” plus “smart power” equals Peace Corps.

Dollar for dollar, you cannot get a more reliable, cost-effective answer than the Peace Corps when the challenge is to win hearts and minds around the globe.

PS—Apologies for a few days of no posts, but like Sherry had been earlier this month, I’ve been “flat out” this week with the Alliance’s big event, an advocacy day in which our members descend on Capitol Hill to lobby their Members of Congress. I’ll post more this weekend/next week, but will also try to bang out a few latent posts now.

Talking careers at the NCIV conference

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Sherry and I were privileged to have a full house yesterday afternoon at our presentation on careers in international education and exchange at the NCIV conference. Lauren Jacobs, my good friend who works at the USDA Graduate School’s International Institute, introduced us and moderated the session, and Sherry and I gave our spiel on Working World the book, how it came to be, the intergenerational aspect of the book, and some of the main career-building concepts in it. The best part of the session, as always, was the audience participation during the Q&A. It’s always gratifying when, not only do participants ask great questions and get engaged, but also when others in the audience begin to add their own perspectives and answers to these questions in addition to or instead of Sherry’s and my answers. We’ve always maintained that these career topics are better approached from multiple angles and viewpoints, and the Q&A parts of our sessions never fail to confirm this.

Anyhow, some of the topics covered include:

How do these concepts of career building relate specifically to the fields of international education and exchange?

I have to admit I felt a little sheepish that this was the first question, as you’d think we would have already covered that in a session on international careers. But as Sherry then emphasized, the career concepts that we discuss in Working World, while typically tailored for international careers, could be applied to careers in most any fields. But we did then mention a few things that careers seekers in these fields need to keep in mind that are particular to the IR world, including:

–While we all got into this work because of our love of travel and ideally want to have international travel as a part of our jobs, those jobs are tough to come by. But just because a job doesn’t have international travel doesn’t mean it’s not a solid building block for your international career.

–Sherry’s admonition that career seekers think about “how do you want to spend your days?” takes on particular importance when considering an international career. A career as a Foreign Service officer may sound intriguing and sexy on the surface, but is a life on the move, transplanting from country to country every few years the kind of life you want? Working on the ground with an international development project may sound exciting, but life can be very difficult in the areas where you may be asked to serve (my friend Beth who worked in southern Sudan comes to mind– her daily life was incredibly challenging). Is this how you want to spend your days? Sherry and I brought this up not to suggest this shouldn’t be how you want to spend your days, but rather that it’s important to consider these issues.

Do I need a Master’s degree in these fields?

We’ve fielded this question many times and, at the moment, seem to be answering it in the same ways each time. Sherry always encourages those in the IR fields to get as much education as they can as early as they can. “It’s always harder to go back the older you get,” she advises. I mentioned, as I have before, that it realistically seems more and more necessary to have a Master’s in the fields, given the huge increase of those applying to and entering MA programs in IR. As more of your competition for jobs gets higher degrees, it becomes increasingly necessary, I think, that you have one as well.

But I also think that, at an early point in your career, several years of experience is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than a Master’s degree. I mentioned the shock I had when I came out of my Master’s degree program with 1-2 years experience and had tons of trouble trying to find anything but an entry level or nearly entry level job. I figured that my MA made me ready for a higher position: program associate, program officer, etc. But it turns out that while my Master’s made me attractive as a candidate for sure, it did not replace the fact that I didn’t have several years of experience working in international education or exchange. (I’ve talked with many young people, both at the NCIV session yesterday and at other sessions, who had similar experiences, thinking their MAs would take them a lot further right away than they actually did).

However, I’ve also come to see that as I’ve progressed in my career, my MA has come to mean more and more. I truly believe I wouldn’t have landed either my last job or my current one without a Master’s. This seems to show me that having that Master’s and coupling it with the experience I am constantly gaining will be a very beneficial thing for my career down the line. So while a Master’s might not be absolutely essential at first for a young professional (experience can be just as important), it seems that adding an MA to your resume eventually is a wise thing to do.

Is getting a Master’s at an international university a good idea?

Sherry and I deferred to those in the room who had done their graduate degrees abroad to answer this question. One participant who did a Master’s in IR in Ireland mentioned that doing graduate school abroad was a fantastic opportunity for her, and she had many experiences she wouldn’t have had if she’d studied in the U.S. She did say, however, that it was particularly difficult to get engaged with her U.S. netowrk upon graduation, simply because cultivation of that network had been difficult from abroad.  And while she did cultivate a network in Ireland, getting a job there had its own complications based on her status as a foreigner. So her conclusion was that there are many pluses to doing a Master’s abroad, as while as minuses, and in the end it’s up to the individual and what he or she wants.

What kinds of skills should I be looking to learn for positions in international affairs? What if I have broad interests? Can I pursue those or should I be looking for narrowly-tailored positions that will teach me very specific skills?

I think everyone in the room agreed that it’s both important to do what you like to do (that is, have your daily work be tasks that you enjoy and that utilize skills you are good at) and to always be trying to gain new skills, to be looking for growth opportunities within your job and when you decide it’s time for a new job. Certainly there are skills that are extremely beneficial and often necessary in international affairs jobs–whether those be intercultural competency, language skills, writing, proposal construction, budgeting, project management, etc.–but there is no reason not to pursue something that you enjoy simply because it doesn’t seem to “fit” into some kind of an international rubric. One participant summed this idea up quite nicely when she mentioned that she has a degree in chemical engineering but now works in international education. A perfect example that you should follow your interests and your passions and not try too hard to plan it all out, because it’ll never go according to that plan anyway.

I’d email you, but then I’d have to kill you

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

If you are considering a career as a State Department diplomat because of the glamour and excitement you percieve the job brings—what with all the intrigue, deception, spying, lavish dinner parties, and late night flights to exotic locations that are undoubtedly a part of the diplomat’s daily world—then let me sweeten the pot even more. Become a diplomat and so enter the shady world of email espionage.

Three exchange orgs and the WEST Program

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Starting a new job is always an exciting experience, if also slightly odd. It’s especially weird when there is no real buffer or transition between one job and the next—you go to work on Friday as usual, enjoy your weekend as usual, and then wake up for work on Monday as usual, only to go a completely different place. This quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his book The Beautiful Struggle, sums up quite nicely the refractory, almost out of body experience that can come with starting a new job:

Just when you master the geometry of one world, it slips away, and suddenly again, you’re swarmed by strange shapes and impossible angles.

That all said, my first day at the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange was a pretty successful one, I think, and I’m very gratified to be there. Among a few other places, my first eight hours on the job took me to the Foreign Press Center on 14th Street for a press conference announcing the introduction of the new Work, English Study and Travel (WEST) Program, a partnership between the U.S. and Korean governments that will allow “qualifying [Korean] university students and recent university graduates to enter the United States for a period of up to 18 months on J-1 exchange visitor visas that will allow them to study English, participate in professional-level internships, and travel independently.”

The three sponsoring organizations of the WEST Program are international nonprofits certainly worth checking out for those interested in the fields of international education and exchange:

The Association for International Practical Training (AIPT) (based in Bethesda, MD): provides educational and professional exchange experiences that enhance cultural awareness, develop global competencies, mutual understanding, and international cooperation.

The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) (based in Portland, ME): helps people gain understanding, acquire knowledge, and develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world.

The Intrax Cultural Exchange (based in San Francisco, CA): provides both international students and U.S. host families with a unique and personal exchange opportunity that increases cultural understanding, and inspires mutual respect and personal growth.

“Cody and his trilingual immersion program”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

I caught this commercial last night while watching (I’m not ashamed to admit) American Idol, and it cracked me up. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I think the more American kids (or Americans of all ages, for that matter) that we have in trilingual immersion programs, the better off we’ll be.

I’m also going to take a second to commiserate with the Cheeto-eating lady’s scorn of those who haughtily use the term “Mandarin” to refer to the Chinese language (this has been a little pet peeve of mine for awhile). My venting after the break.


How a communications job became international

Monday, December 15th, 2008

The weather in Shanghai so far has cooperated quite nicely: moderate temperature, sunny, and mostly clear. Below, a pretty decent view of the sunset from Sheshan, a 328 foot hill about 30 km outside of Shanghai and the site of both an observatory and the “Far East’s first cathedral,” the Sheshan Basilica:

We’ll see what it’s like in Beijing, where I’m headed tomorrow.

A brief word on what the heck I’m doing in China anyway. On a macro level, I’m here traveling with the Dean of Georgetown College (Georgetown University’s undergraduate arts and sciences school), expanding our linkages and partnerships with various Chinese universities, including Fudan University here in Shanghai, and Renmin and Beijing Universities and the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. On a more specific level, we’re using our expertise at Georgetown as a practitioner of the liberal arts to help Chinese universities establish and grow their own liberal arts programs. Chinese universities have a tradition of pre-professional education, but not of general education in the liberal arts tradition. There is a new interest at top universities, however, in developing this liberal arts tradition. We, as representatives of Georgetown College, are here to act in something of an advisory role.

Yang Xinyu, Secretary General of the China Scholarship Council, said it well when discussing (in this IIE publication) U.S.-China exchange in higher education:

China’s development has unique characteristics, and it can be difficult to adapt the experiences of others to this context. By opening their doors to the outside world, Chinese higher education institutions could discuss these problems with partners from other countries, see their own problems from a broader standpoint, and make changes based on what they have learned through this exchange.

I think this gets to the core of what Georgetown College is trying to do with its Chinese partners in their development of liberal arts programs within their universities: present our model of the liberal arts not as the solution, but rather as just one model, as well as a gateway to dialogue about the “Chinese model” in the hopes of making progress based on what is learned through the exchange.

So, now that the question of what I’m doing in China has been answered, the next question could reasonably be: why am I, as a communication director at Georgetown, involved in this China work? The answer after the jump.


ND Pick of the Week

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Working World got a nice shout-out in Notre Dame Magazine, the publication of my alma mater, as last week’s “pick of the week.”

In other news regarding Notre Dame, I am actually on campus in South Bend, Indiana right now to participate in a series of international career events with students and faculty and will be delivering the keynote address (that’s right, keynote) at an event tonight called “International Impact”: Contributions of Arts and Letters Majors to Society, Business, and Global Relations,  Pretty fancy, I know.  More on the outcomes of this event and these meetings at Notre Dame later.

Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News & World Report

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I had the privilege yesterday of hearing from Brian Kelly, the editor of U.S. News & World Report.  Brian, a ’76 grad of Georgetown, came back to campus to participate in a Dean’s Lunch Seminar, a program initiated by my office.  Brian’s had an interesting and varied journalistic career, moving from the Chicago Sun-Times to a small political magazine in DC, Regardie’s, to the Washington Post, then to U.S. News & World Report, where he worked for nine years before being named editor in 2007.

He spoke to a small group of Georgetown students about his early days as a political reporter (“I covered crime and politics, but in Chicago, it’s pretty much the same story”), about the opportunities and challenges the Internet has brought to journalism (“Bloggers often use MSM [mainstream media] as a derogatory term, though in the MSM we actually check our facts”), and about why he still has a passion for journalism even after 30 years (“Journalism is not about being witty or clever or the smartest guy in the room.  It’s a service, it’s about communicating with the public”).

Brian also had a few things to say about the international nature of his journalism career: