Thursday, September 28th, 2017...5:30 pm

IEM/DPMI Plus Practicum Spotlight: Charlotte Grant

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Charlotte Grant is an IEM/MPA student who is currently completing her IEM/DPMI Plus practicum working as an Adolescent Initiative Intern for Save the Children in Laos. We spoke with Charlotte about which classes from MIIS have helped her the most, the pros of taking an unpaid internship, and what life “on the ground” is like in Laos!

How did you come across your internship?

Actually, I was in the process of sending emails to UN offices and IOM offices in Southeast Asia when a friend mentioned that there was one at Save the Children in Laos that she wasn’t going to take. I had a quick Skype session with her contact and it sounded like what I wanted to be doing and was a position where I could learn a lot in a very short amount of time.

Why did you choose Laos?

It sort of chose me I guess. I knew I needed my practicum/DPMI+ to be either paid or cost neutral. I looked for opportunities in Southeast Asia so I could take advantage of the Freeman Foundation monies. Since cost of living in Laos is so low the $5000 grant is going really far. If visas allowed for it I could probably afford to stay longer than 6 months. Unfortunately business visas are pretty highly regulated.

What has been the most unexpected thing to happen to you at work? Outside of work?

I expected to be working on design and evaluation planning components of a new project. But I’ve actually been able to work a lot on the new global Every Last Girl campaign and International Day of the Girl events. I’ve created two videos, one of which will be shown at the event as well as at a regional conference in Bangkok. I was also sent into the field to photograph young mothers in everyday life. Many of my photos will be printed and displayed at a gallery for International Day of the Girl and others will be used for the global campaign. I’ve always loved photography so getting to combine my passion for development AND photography has literally been a dream come true. I spend my days at work creating frameworks for situational analyses and editing photos and videos. If I was getting paid I would probably never leave.

Outside of work I’ve been surprised with how friendly and happy everyone is here. Having previously visited communist countries I half expected the same demeanor. However, Laotians are nothing but friendly, helpful and caring. The people I rent my apartment from lived in France for many years so we actually communicate in French instead of English or Lao. On Wednesday nights I play board games with their son and his friends from France. Learning to play new games in a language I’m still learning has been a challenge but really fun!

What has been your favorite cultural activity in Laos?

Hopefully that will come next week! All of this month has been the boat racing festival. Each village has their own boat races and then there is a national holiday for the Vientiane boat race. I went to one village’s race on the Mekong but supposedly the one next week is huge since everyone has work off and people come from all over.

Much like the American south with churches on every corner, here there are temples on every corner. Many times they are used as landmarks. For example, “the mini mart with good bread is by this temple” kind of thing.

What is one thing you hope to gain from your experience abroad?

I hope I don’t just gain one thing! Overall, I would like to feel confident about going to work in an international development office in the field. I think there a lot of things I need in order for that to happen but so far, I’m gaining all of that and more here in Laos.

Which class or classes have helped you the most so far in your new position?

Language! I know it’s a prerequisite for MIIS, but honestly doing SILP and learning French has been incredible. Not only has it given me a circle of friends here I never would have known previously, it’s also opened work opportunities and allowed me to communicate with locals who speak French.

Data and Policy Analysis- Laos is communist. That’s no secret. But because of that there is very limited data and research done on touchy subjects. Having learned R has actually allowed me to be able to pull UN data and run my own analysis which I’ve then been able to use in reports and even in the video I created.

Not a class, but Human Centered Design has been HUGE for me here. I pitched the idea of running a short workshop with my team to help us design the new program for very young adolescents and my supervisor liked the idea so much she thought of three more ways we could use it. One of which is coming up very soon. I’ll be introducing the idea of HCD through a workshop aimed to build community. Though not confirmed the topic will be “How can we build community on a multi-cultural team.” Save the Children Laos recently hired two Hmong staff members to work on this project because we are targeting Hmong communities. They speak a different language and have many unique cultural traditions. Since they came on board there has been a clear divide in the staff. This workshop will attempt to begin to bridge that gap and then will be followed up by a staff retreat where we can delve deeper into some of the things that came up and where we try to prototype some of the ideas that came out of the workshop.

Favorite new food from Laos?

SO MANY! I’m super into the BBQ right now. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Not US BBQ, Korean, nothing. Super tasty and fun. You BBQ everything at your table and there is sort of like a moat of broth and veggies surrounding the meat that’s over the fire so the veggies cook as the broth heats. I’ll send a photo or video of it.

Do you have any tips for people who are apprehensive about taking an unpaid internship?

JUST DO IT. I cannot say this enough. If you are apprehensive about it, do it in SE Asia so you can apply for the Freeman. The flexibility my office has given me with deliverables is incredible. They’ve been so open and accommodating and are grateful for everything that I produce. They’ve been impressed with what I’ve been able to do after my 3 semesters at MIIS. (hopefully this means they’d be open to someone else taking on my role!)

Yesterday I had dinner with Save the Children Norway and they mentioned jobs they had available. My resume has been pushed into the hands of CRS, Unicef, and USAID chiefs of party and country directors. The connections you make while in the field are incredible. I understand MIIS has deep connections but it pales in comparison to the personal relationships you build while simply being in country (sorry MIIS Mafia) and actually being able to sit by a pool and talk about your career goals over a cold Beerlao (This literally happened. I was sitting by a pool with a USAID Nurture Chief of Party, mentioned CRS, and she mentioned the country director lived right behind her. He now has my CV and is circulating it to see if there are any positions that fit my skill set). This experience has become the cornerstone of my resume and the $3000 it would have cost me on my own was probably worth it. Fortunately, with the Freeman I didn’t have to worry about that.


To follow Charlotte on her journey abroad check out her blog: lifeofasaveintern and instagram: chgrantz.

If you would like to learn more about DPMIPlus email Miranda Meyer at


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