When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, I was in Sindia, Senegal, a road town of about 3,000 people with the US Peace Corps. My job there was to 'do international development' and 'strengthen international regard for Americans abroad' and 'promote community economic development'. I was less than a year out of my undergraduate degree in linguistics and hopelessly unprepared to do any of those things. I knew that I was vaguely interested in working internationally, and participating in the Peace Corps was sold to me as the perfect way to figure out if this was the right future for me. My time in Senegal was cut short by the pandemic, but I managed to learn one important thing: this form of development was not for me. I didn’t – and still don’t – think it’s right to rely on barely-trained recent graduates without any funding to try and shape the rural economies of developing countries allied with the US.
After this brief but educative stint with the Peace Corps, I returned back to the US and started work for a company that implemented USAID public health programs. All of a sudden, I was working with budgets of many millions of dollars, I was proposing approaches to implement new projects, and I was working with a team of international experts. In many ways, this was the opposite of my experience of the Peace Corps; I had funding, and I was providing support to in-country experts instead of fumbling through on my own. But this system, I came to find out, had its own problems. The projects I worked on were developed years before implementation and were often irrelevant when the time came to carry them out. They were underfunded, despite the original large price tag. And, they were designed with the US’s high level goals in mind, often overriding the wants and needs of the host country in an echo of colonialism. Again, I learned that this wasn’t the system for me.
When this second realization set it, I knew I needed to find – or maybe forge – a better path. To do this, I would need more education, not only in context and theory but in skills and strategy. It seemed reasonable that one master’s degree couldn’t give me all of this, but luckily Oxford offered the perfect pair. I’m currently studying Water Science, Policy, and Management, an interdisciplinary program designed to promote deep, cross-cutting thinking around and across the anthropocentric hydrological cycle. In short, no kind of water is off limits, and all interactions between humans and water are included. Next year, I will complete an MBA at Saïd Business School, hopefully carving out a focus in sustainable, international business. With this MBA, I will be able to focus on skills and applications, shaped by the foundational knowledge that I am working with this year.
Right now, I’m starting week 5 of term, and I know this was the right choice. With resources from both programs already available, I am able to shape my two years at Oxford and create the best foundation on which to build my future. I am engaging with scholars from a myriad of background about ethical forms of international development, being mentored by practitioners in the field, and finding inspiration in the experiences and work of my cohort. After years of shaping my career by learning what I didn’t want to do, I’m beginning to imagine a path forward that I believe in.