Morgan Courtney is a “Design thinker + foreign policy/international development practitioner working for social impact” who wrote an article for the Huffington Post. She offers ten points of advice for the “Graduate Who Wants to Work in International Affairs.”
Of interest to the Peace Corps community and prospective applicants is #2 from Courtney.
Get field experience.
Many field jobs in international development require prior field experience. It’s a Catch-22. How do you get field experience if jobs require you to already have field experience? There are a couple of different ways.
Firstly, your summer or semester in South Africa doesn’t count as much as you think it does. Sorry. What employers are looking for is real work experience, not classroom time, in another country. (What IS good is language proficiency from your time abroad!) So what can you do after college to get field experience?
In my estimation, the very best option is Peace Corps. Stop shaking your head — I know what you’re thinking, but two years is NOT as long as you think. I know it might feel like an eternity now, but the first year is all about building trust and learning the language well enough to do your job, and the second year is when the magic happens. On top of that, they give you housing, skills training, language training, health care, and a stipend that’s enough to live on. Basically, it’s a whole experience, packaged and with a bow on it, that will enable you to get field experience. Bonus: my unscientific observation is that about 40% of the people who work in international development NGOs and the U.S. Agency for International Development are returned Peace Corps Volunteers . . . and that is a powerful network.
You can also volunteer for an organization (see #1 about unpaid jobs), which is what I did, until I ran out of money, quite literally. But I managed to get myself some field experience and had to do everything myself (arrange housing, pay for my airfare, buy a sketchy medical plan online, teach myself the local language, etc.). I loved my experience, but also would have appreciated the kind of support that Peace Corps provides.
A note about volunteering. There are now pay-to-volunteer programs (“volun-tourism”) that will arrange for your housing, food, etc. and you essentially pay for the privilege of volunteering somewhere. Here’s what I’ve seen: 1) These are usually rackets, and you could do more good just moving into a community and working with a local NGO, and 2) this does not carry much (if any) weight with hiring personnel. So if you want to do it for personal growth, cool, but if you are doing it to get field experience under your belt, save your money and do something else.
Thanks to John Coyne for forwarding this article, from the Peace Corps Twitter. And, to Morgan Courtney for the unsolicited endorsement.