Archive for Stories From the Field
Monday, September 29th, 2014
Monday, September 29th, 2014
Why is Cuba such a contradiction? Because Cuba is characterized by everything I was told the world should not be! Socialist not democratic, communist not capitalist, systemic human rights violations, a dictatorship, inefficient, unproductive; should I continue? I was able to get a sense of this notorious island during a seven day immersive learning excursion with twenty-seven other MIIS students and the renowned Professor Jan Black.
There was a time when I imagined Cuba as a socialist utopia. I had thought Cuba was going to be the national anthropomorphization of Eugene V. Debs famous quote that is “opposing a social order where it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives to secure barely enough for a wretched existence. But, there is no substitute for actually visiting the country – after seven days in Cuba, I’ve realized that the little island nation, and the United States, are a lot more complex than I was led to believe in the comfort of my Midwest upbringing.
As an American, I grew up on the smell of apple pie; lightly toasted crust, crisscrossed across the top, somehow evoking feelings of liberty, justice…righteous stuff. You see, Cuba, at least for United States citizens, is one gigantic contradiction and trying to digest and make sense of the country through the nationalistic viewpoint from which my mind has been programmed to think, whether I like it or not, is no easy task. Close your eyes and think about apple pie. Now, envision biting into pineapple sorbet. So, I apologize now if, and that is a big if, you get to the end of this blog and you walk away more confused than you started. That’s fine though. Cuba could be the poster child for the phrase; the more you know the less you think you know.
Our professor and guide Dr. Jan Black told us to experience Cuba using our five senses. I would like to take the liberty of taking you, my reader, along for the ride with the idea of trying to engage your five senses. Unfortunately, I am less likely to engage your sense of smell. But, here we go:
We met with all different types of people, from Cuban foreign ministers to a diplomat from the U.S. Interest Section. We also met with individual Cubans, both pro-government and oppositionist. We met with U.S. expats working with the Cuban health system and Cuban students studying international relations. What was so trying after listening to all of them was that you could easily pick each one up and place them into two buckets, Cuban Nationals (CN) or U.S. Nationals (USN). Whether we were speaking to Cuban oppositionists or expat sympathizers of the Cuban government their rhetoric fit, nicely, within these two buckets. Their world-views and indeed those of us students had been systematically crafted by the nations from which they grew up and regardless of their support for either side or not they continued to use rhetoric that perpetuated the conflict between the United States and Cuba. What was most contradictory of all was that these two worldviews of the same conflict were like hearing two completely different stories for two completely different historical events told perpetually for generations upon generations without change.
How are these national worldviews constructed within a citizenry? It is often much more subtle than one would assume. Irrespective of whether we understand nationalism as a positive or negative force, it is generally acknowledged that nationalism places the nation on the highest pedestal and viewed as the supreme agency of meaning, collective identity, and moral justification. Critically noting that one of the powerful ways in which nationalism becomes historically instated is through its presumption that the nation is sacred, likening it to be equivalent to the church. Interestingly, if nationalism is being valued as sacred within the population we can see its physical manifestation in the ritualized images of national leaders and national public ceremonies that are underscored by the nations presumed history of greatness. Harry Anastasiou, a professor of Conflict Resolution at Portland State University and world-renowned leader in the settlement process in Cyprus, goes as far to claim nationalism can be a justification for divine election.
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Over the summer, students participating in DPMI Kenya had the opportunity to visit President Barack Obama’s paternal grandmother! She lives in the province of Nyanza, on the eastern edge of Lake Victoria. Nyanza is a Bantu word which means “a large mass of water.” The provincial capital is Kisumu, where the DPMI training is centered in partnership with the Omega Foundation.
Said DPMI Kenya participant Maritza Munzon: “There is lots of natural beauty near town and I feel fortunate to have taken a walk through Kakamega Forest, taken a boat ride on the biggest lake in the world (Lake Victoria) and visited President Obama’s paternal grandmother! I never thought I’d get to do any of it, let alone the last part!”
Friday, September 12th, 2014
Michelle Zaragoza, IEP, left the United States to begin her Peace Corps service as an Environmental Education Promoter in Nicaragua last month. What follows is an excerpt from her blog: “My Journey as a Peace Corps Master’s International Volunteer”
March 5th: Just another regular Wednesday morning. I was pacing my living room anxious about the phone call I was about to make to my Peace Corps recruiter. Not having heard from them in more than two months I was more worried than excited.
First try went to voice mail and I thought I would just try tomorrow…I called again and she picked up on the first ring. She started some small talk, and asked what I was up to in my life. The whole time I was hoping she would just get to the point and tell me what ever bad news she had. She asked about the research I was doing in school and I gave her a 30 second description of my Fulbright proposal for an environmental education study in Nicaragua. She laughed…why was she laughing!? After what seemed like for ever she says, “Well we have a slight problem”…here it was!
She says, “I know we had originally told you you’d leave in September but that has changed. Could you leave earlier?”
Confused I said yes, although a little worried about how much earlier that meant. And she says, “We think you would be perfect for our Environmental Science Education program in Nicaragua that leaves in Aug…” YES!!!! YES and YES. I may have yelled yes about five times into her poor ear! After waiting ten months since I first sent in my application I was being extended an invitation to my top choice!
Monday, September 8th, 2014
- Blog contributed by Maritza Munzon, MPA/IEM ‘15
I was in Kenya a total of two months; at the time it felt longer, maybe because it’s a slower pace of life in Kisumu, or maybe because compared to a year at MIIS anything else seems to go at a snail’s pace. Whichever the case, slow was nice and much needed. Now looking back it seems like it all went by in a blur, I can’t believe how much I saw and experienced in two short months, while still having time to cook, read for fun and watch the World Cup every night! The DPMI training was intense of course, but nothing short of what is to be expected from a MIIS workshop, except that it was longer (10 days). This meant 8 hours a day of group work, charting, mapping, learning new tools and immediately applying them. We mostly failed at implementing the tools properly, but a great deal was learned from correcting our mistakes. I can now say that I am no expert at program design, but I know how to tackle the task of designing a program.
Our guide/mentor/program liaison, Rose Waringa, is a multitasking superwomen, she did a great job of taking care of us in and out of Kisumu. On the weekends we were taken to explore the local sites, it was great to get out of Kisumu and leave the books behind for a bit. There is LOTS of natural beauty near town and I feel fortunate to have taken a walk through Kakamega Forest, taken a boat ride on the biggest lake in the world (Lake Victoria) and visited President Obama’s paternal grandmother! Never thought I’d get to do any of it, let alone the last part!
Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Last week the Peace Trade and Development (PTD) students met with Tesla’s global trade team at the factory in Fremont. The students were there to offer their pitch to the Tesla Challenge which called for proposals on sourcing raw materials for the new Gigafactory. In addition to the pitch session, the students were treated to lunch and a VIP tour of the Tesla factory, an impressive and re-purposed building conveniently situated in a California Free Trade Zone. “I was treating the presentation like a final exam, but when it came time to present, I had realized that we were speaking to real individuals with genuine concerns about their long-term acquisition of critical minerals. This wasn’t a quiz–my team had done in-depth research, provided a reasonable strategy, and were ready to have a conversation about alternatives.” – Shruti Korada, PTD summer 2014 student What was the best part of the Tesla challenge? Well, that’s subjective but things definitely got intriguing when one team suggested sourcing Lithium from the moon and another proposed a corporate-backed coup d’etat… Learn more about the PTD program via: go.miis.edu/ptd.
Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
The International Professional Semester Service (IPSS) program has provided hundreds of MIIS graduates with the opportunity to head start their professional career, while serving in an international organization as junior professional staff member. Some fellows have even used the IPSS experience to catapult themselves to become subject matter experts, as it is the case of Jia Ren (MAIPS Trade, Investment & Development 2014).
For her placement at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute (BACEI), Jia contributed to a report entitled: Trade in the Bay Area: Investment and Global Financial Flows. The work, led by BACEI and sponsored by HSBC Bank USA, analyzed the trade, investment and commercial relations between the Bay Area and its major global trading partners, especially China, focusing on informing business leaders and other decision-makers about the potential for increased business growth in the region.
International Professional Service Semester (IPSS) is an immersive learning experience, integrating academic work with professional experience. Students serve as junior professional staff members in an international organization while producing specific deliverables for academic credit. The IPSS program is offered through the Graduate School of International Policy and Management (GSIPM) during the spring semester. For more information about IPSS please visit: go.miis.edu/ipss
Friday, June 20th, 2014
MIIS and FMS Alumna Danielle Steer Shares Tips on Living and Working Abroad
Over the course of the next two months, 21 Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) Fellows will be heading into emerging markets as scouts, business development consultants, and impact investing associates. FMS fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and have very diverse international experiences. For some, the FMS field placement is a first exposure to living and working in an emerging market.
As an alumna of the Monterey Institute MPA program, I can’t begin to count the number of experiences my colleagues and I have shared about being a development practitioner including “how to cope” and “methods for success”.
I decided to enlist the help of fellow FMS and Monterey Institute alumni to give our fellows advice for living and working in the developing world. Their collective advice stems from experience in Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Peru, Ecuador, Philippines, and India.
Tips for Living and Working in an Emerging Economy
- Talk to your taxi driver! They have some of the best suggestions for local places to check out and more generally just some great stories about life.
- Get close to a family or two, especially if you’re in a more rural area. This will give you so much more insight than just hanging with the expat crew. Have meals with these people a lot. They will also look out for you.
- Invest in a good fan that oscillates, embrace crowded bus rides, and keep a good sense of humor.
- It’s okay to be homesick. There may be moments when you long for the safety of “home.” Find a way to bring a piece of home with you to self-sooth when need be (i.e. a DVD, favorite book, cooking spices and ingredients, or Siracha).
- When family and friends visit have them bring you items from “home” like cheddar, mac & cheese boxes, and socks.
- Take part in four things that can expedite building relationships – playing sports, music/dancing, food, & drinking (albeit not to excess or to the point where you cannot make sound judgments).
- Be prepared for reverse culture shock. Sure, there will be some initial culture shock when you move out of your home country. But no one ever prepared me for the reverse culture shock. It might hit you when you order a coffee in Swahili at Starbucks or when you are overly cautious trying to cross the street in your hometown. If you can, get in touch with other people who might be experiencing it at the same time or who can sympathize. That community of people “who get it” when you are stunned by consistent electricity or hot running water is comforting.
Money & Safety
- In a taxi, lock both back doors. Sometimes people try to open them while you are sitting in traffic.
- Keep your money in two places on you. If a thief tries to steal from you, pull out your stack with less money and say that’s all you have.
- Keep $50 USD in small bills stashed away in your luggage.
- Try to find out before arriving at your assignment whether or not credit/debit cards are commonly accepted. More often than not, you’ll need to carry cash, so finding an ATM in a well-lit, secure location is key.
- Put together a thoughtful budget before you leave. How much are you willing and/or expecting to pay for housing each month? Groceries? It adds up quick, and if you’re traveling with a fixed amount of cash in the bank, you don’t want to find yourself in a sticky financial situation without a backup plan.
- A steripen is a great small investment. You can use it anywhere and it saves a bunch of money as opposed to buying bottled water. It’s also good for the environment.
- If you are a single (read: unmarried) female, regardless of having a boyfriend or not, be prepared to frequently explain your lack of husband. (Side note: You’re not likely to convince an inquiring man to change his stance on the matter, but don’t let it keep you from sharing your point of view. “Some of my female colleagues chose to wear fake wedding rings to avoid this, but I personally didn’t feel right pretending to be married just to avoid these conversations.”)
- Keep your bag or backpack in front of you down by your legs or on your lap when traveling or at a restaurant.
Keeping in Touch
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Take as many pictures as you can of your community, your work, and your travels but know when to be discreet either out of respect or for your own safety. It might feel vain, but ask people to take pictures of you in the field as well. It makes for better storytelling and helps your family and friends to better understand what you did. Not to mention when you’re feeling nostalgic upon your return, it’s nice to look back.
- Post about your travels via social media. Someone in your network will always have a good recommendation for a connection, place to eat, or site to visit.
- Patience is a virtue: In Peru, everyone is late, and people have different professional standards. In the end these are all cultural differences and shouldn’t be taken personally.
- Take your colleagues out to lunch! You’ll get a taste for local cuisine, build relationships, and hopefully pick up on some local slang!
- During rainy season, don’t walk through flood water in the street. There may be a hole in the ground that you don’t see.
- Don’t be scared to rock a fanny pack!
- Never travel without the following:
Pocket knife & sewing kit
Charcoal pills (for tummy aches and intestinal issues)
Calendula cream (for mosquito bites and burns)
Duct tape (It really fixes everything!)
Have any intriguing travel tips or stories of your own? Please share them via: email@example.com
Monday, May 5th, 2014
From posting these blogs to writing them!
IPSS in Cambodia
It seems like ages that I was working at the GSIPM front desk, driving my boss and other staff “insane” with my preparation-related anxieties and emotional outbursts for my IPSS applications. I am sure they were as much relieved as I was when the Cambodia Office of The Asia Foundation approved my application.
Today, 93F/62% humidity (and climbing!), Cambodia feels already like home and it’s only been 7 weeks. Why does it feel like home? When I came back to Phnom Penh from a weekend visit to Siem Reap a few weeks ago, I was sitting at the back of a motorbike taxi driving me home from the bus station. I was directing him, and I got this strange feeling of coming home. I knew my way around, recognized buildings and streets. Anybody slightly familiar with Phnom Penh knows that the streets in this city are a nightmare. House numbers do not make any sense. The only way to communicate where you are is you or a building in relation to a street intersecting. You get the hang of it pretty quickly: “Hey, I live at Street 278, close to street 143, third building on the left, next to a school. Our house has a green iron gate. Walk east towards the Olympic Stadium if you get lost and call me.” Or, “my work is on Street 242, between Monivong Blvd and Street 63.” I communicate with motorbike taxis and tuk tuk drivers the same way, “Just head towards the Royal Palace, I will show you.” Fascinating!
It was scary to hop on a motorbike at first but now I have a bike. It is a lot of fun to bike through Phnom Penh especially on the weekends when traffic is slow. Most of the time, however, it feels like committing suicide when I merge into the traffic. There are no apparent rules, except for one: Be reckless and inch your way forward at all cost! This is particularly evident at traffic lights when the time is ticking down. At 10 seconds, you can feel the vibe of hundreds of motorbike drivers around you, getting itchy, accelerating – vroom vroom – and rolling forward inch by inch, hitting your tire, and releasing a bunch of exhaust fumes into your face. Not that it will do anything for them – and it certainly does not do anything for me except speeding up the decay of my inner organs – but it is hilarious to watch. Then the traffic light hits 3 seconds. Oh boy! The patience has come to a sudden death, an invisible conductor begins to direct the honking concert and the chaos unfolds. The bus coming straight at you, no problem. People here can manoeuver very well. There is also a panacea for this: drafting behind a big SUV or within a group of 10 motorbikes which are forcing their way through traffic and I am good to go. Or, change lanes to the opposite side and wait on the sidewalk (the 3 or 4 in this city that actually earn the name sidewalk) and take any opportunity to make a left turn even though
the traffic light for the left turn lane is still red. I am afraid I have to re-learn how to drive when I come back to the US.
I was very fortunate when I got here because the arm of the MIIS Mafia reaches very far. During my preparations, I bombarded two MIIS alumni and friends working and living in Phnom Penh with hundreds of questions. We are currently four MIIS alumni because the fourth rejoined in March. They can take credit for having made my stay here so comfortable and relaxed. The first day, we went out to a local market and despite signs of a culture shock for me, my friend’s nonchalant demeanor made walking the streets of Phnom Penh almost normal. Thanks to them, I have come to love Phnom Penh very quickly.
Cambodia is host to a plethora of NGOs, both local and international. Any non-Khmer person you meet on the streets introduces him/herself as “I am working for XYZ.” There is an obvious “invasion” of French people in Cambodia, and then, of course, the Aussies who openly call Southeast Asia their backyard. Honestly, however, Australia is the backbone of many projects here and the biggest donor. If it wasn’t for their support, many things in Cambodia would still not work very well. Not to advocate donor dependency or dismiss foreign aid as something inherently bad, the work that’s being done in Cambodia is incredible. The country is changing rapidly, economically and socially. Just the structure is still limping and has not caught up yet.
My work for TAF (yes, acronyms and abbreviations are not just a MIIS specialty!) is very challenging and inspiring. The first-hand experience of the “real thing” is amazing. The NGO field is so diverse and development has many facets. Networking is fantastic and I have met so many interesting people with very diverse backgrounds. It is an eye opener for the different possibilities and niches out there.
I will be working on a project on Intimate Partner Violence which is quite severe in the Asia-Pacific region with current studies indicating very high prevalence rates. Going beyond the nominative aspects of focusing on attitudes towards acceptance of violence against women, I will support a project that will look at the macro-level. I already participated in a workshop from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs,
experiencing the dynamics between donors and recipients. I am very excited to work on a project that is contributing to tackling such a serious problem.
Coming from a strictly academic and research heavy background, I have not been oblivious to the technical hurdles of policy design, implementation and evaluation, but working with people in this field makes the rather abstract discussions in a Policy Analysis class a lot more tangible. That being said, I have finally made my way to
Asia after all these years and, as my wonderful Australian coworker put it the other day, I am “finally becoming important.”
I am growing on many levels with IPSS. It is a good start for navigating the abyss of career development, applying knowledge and learning to know who you are.