A Political Scientist in Development: An Interview with Kaan Jittiang

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Kaan (right) at graduation with his mentor.

Hi Kaan, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What brought you to the Elliott School?

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My name is Bhanubhatra Jittiang, but most of my friends call me “Kaan”. In Thailand, where I’m from, almost everyone has both a real name and a nickname. Kaan is a shorter version of my Thai nickname—Kaankaew.

Before coming to the Elliott School, I was living in Thailand. I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 2011 from Chulalongkorn University and then spent two years working towards my Ph.D. in Political Science at the same institution, until I completed my coursework and passed the qualified examination. I was also a teaching and a research assistant. I came to DC because I was granted a scholarship from the Royal Thai Government to pursue graduate studies abroad. After finishing both the Master and PhD, I’m required by the scholarship to work as a university lecturer in Thailand.

I chose the IDS program at the Elliott School because I wanted to study development in Washington, DC, a center for international affairs. While I will be working in academia in the future, the IDS program gives me a chance to gain practical knowledge and expertise. I think this is very important because it will allow me to understand the practical limitations to theory. I’ve chosen democracy and governance as my concentration and want to learn about development from a political scientist’s perspective.

 You have decided to write a thesis instead of completing the capstone. Why? Tell us a little about your topic.

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Enjoying Washington, D.C. with friends

It was a big decision to opt-out the capstone and choose to write a thesis. I hope to gain a strong research background for my doctoral studies.  More importantly, working on the thesis will allow me to deeply investigate the topic in which I am particularly interested.

I will investigate the No-Dam Movement, an environmental movement in Thailand. I am researching how social media is used to gain supporters, mobilize them offline, and to urge the government to reconsider its plan to construct a dam in a national forest area.

The case study that I will investigate in Thailand is interesting because  social media has never before played such a vital role in mobilizing popular support for an environmental cause, especially to urge the government to reconsider its plans and to halt the construction of a dam. This topic will allow me learn more about social movements, social media, and environmental politics, topics that are not seriously investigated in Thailand. I hope my education in the US will provide me with expertise on these issues so I can contribute more in my home country when I return.

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Kaan participates in the Young Leaders Program, The 25th Asia – Pacific Roundtable

How has it been adjusting to life in Washington DC? What are some of the challenges to being an international student? What are the benefits?

Although I previously lived in the US for a year long student exchange from 2005 – 2006, I was still afraid of re-adjusting to life in the US before arriving last year. However, living in Washington, DC has not been difficult for me because it is a very international city. I can easily find foods and other things that I prefer. Moreover, living in DC allows me to meet, talk to, and exchange views with new people who have various backgrounds and come from several countries around the world.

The biggest challenge for me is that I do not like living in a busy city (though I had lived in Bangkok for several years before coming to the US). I have to balance the time that I spend in the city and the time that I go out to the countryside. Luckily, I can easily escape to the forest in DC since there are several huge green spaces located in and around the city.

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Hands On Relief Work: Laurel Jansury on Volunteering in the Philippines

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IDS Student Laurel Jansury

By Laurel Jansury, GWU IDS Student

I could never understand how people could fall completely head over heels in love within a matter of days. I never understood, that is, until I went to the Philippines. Over winter break I had the opportunity to spend two and a half weeks doing earthquake relief on the island of Bohol.

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The main road to our camp. Periodically along they way we would see these signs painted on the road

On October 15th, 2013 at 8:12 am a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Visayas region of the Philippines with a majority of the damage being sustained in Bohol. The earthquake caused over 35,000 families to lose their homes. Unfortunately for those affected, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit 23 days later with a ferocity that caused many relief organizations to shift funding and man power to the neighboring island of Leyte. While this lack of aid had a detrimental effect on the population, many volunteers, like myself, came to the program because of their interest in volunteering for Super Typhoon Haiyan relief.  I had previously wanted to work on natural disaster relief but wasn’t able to because of school or other commitments. This time, since school was on break for the winter holidays, I jumped at the opportunity.

The organization I volunteered through, All Hands Volunteers,  focuses on deconstructing unsafe houses, allowing the residents to be able to begin to rebuild. Knowing that a majority of the work would be manual labor I was unsure what the experience would be like and I definitely did not expect it to enjoy it so much. At 7 am every morning we would load up onto the jeepneys, which took us to our work sites for the day, and come home around 4:30 pm, with a break at 11 for lunch. Teams of 5 to 8 people would go to different sites throughout the area surrounding our camp. The deconstruction included pulling tin sheets off roofs, prying apart wooden support beams, sledge hammering concrete columns and moving loads upon loads of rubble. While we were doing the work to help others, they weren’t the only ones benefiting from the work; there is nothing like sledge hammering and some creative visualization to get out a bit of stress!

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The team loading up on the jeepneys to go to work in the morning.

The most rewarding part of our day by far was the ride to and from the sites we were working on. Easily recognizable (mostly because we were the only vehicle on the road with 10 gringos riding on the top), children would come out of their homes to yell hello and wave to us. Seeing their smiles and enthusiasm gave us the strength we needed to continue to do our work day after day.

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Before and after cleanup efforts

While the work was gratifying, my fellow volunteers are what made the experience so much fun. Living in a communal space like our camp, eating, working and spending your free time together helps you to get to know people pretty quickly. Nothing bonds two people together more quickly than commiserating over flooded tents! Though all the volunteers came from such diverse backgrounds, they came together because, for no matter how short the time period, we all wanted to help. By the time I left our project, we had 147 volunteers from 17 countries, who contributed 14160 hours of labor and finished deconstructing 71 houses, 5 chapels, 3 schools, 1 town hall and 1 church.

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The All Hands Project Bohol volunteer group

Though I knew that this experience would give me new insight into doing development work, I never expected that it would actually change my life so completely. Having completely changed my concentration and area of focus, from international education to humanitarian assistance, I am already planning to return to the Philippines for the summer to continue the relief work there.

Rachel Clement on Gender, Youth, & Urbanization

OID: Rachel, tell us more about yourself and why you chose development?

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement

Rachel Clement: I’m originally from Colorado (and I miss it terribly especially when it’s hot and muggy here in DC!), but have spent several years working in Austria, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. I majored in Sociology and Spanish in undergrad. Professionally I have spent time working for a small NGO in a rural village in the Andes in Ecuador and as a Bilingual Program Specialist for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. Both instances helped me to realize that my calling was development.

Rachel and her "little sister" before indoor skydiving in Denver

Rachel and her “little sister” before indoor skydiving in Denver

At BBBS I interviewed volunteers, children and families and matched children ages 7-12 with suitable adult mentors. I mentored a girl for over 5 years, and still consider her my “little sister.” Working with youth domestically who were living in poverty and seeing them rise above so many challenges and obstacles and make their own paths in life really inspired me. While I was in Ecuador I learned a lot about development, and felt frustration at my own lack of knowledge. The organization I worked for was trying to build tourism, invest in human capital by building computer and English-language skills, as well as improve  water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems. The water in the village was not potable–you could actually see things floating in it–and there was no formal road in to the village to bring supplies (such as water and medicine) or to transport the children to the next village over for secondary schooling. I attended several community meetings and there were several times when the concerns of the community did not align with those of the NGO. Being an insider/outsider allowed me to see both sides, but not how to resolve the issues that were presented. There were a lot of factors for the NGO to work on, and they tried to work with the community on a lot of them, but I felt that going to graduate school would allow me to see the “big picture” of development and program management so that I could be prepared to tackle the processes involved in a development project.

OID: So, why did you decide to stay in DC this summer and are you happy that you did it?

Rachel Clement: I’m really happy I decided to stay in DC this summer. I was able to attend several lectures that I wouldn’t have had time for with school and interning during the school year.  I heard from top people from the UNDP, Population Council, Oxfam—just recently I saw Rajiv Shah  talk about women in Afghanistan.  It’s amazing to have the opportunity to hear people you read about in class speak and often have the chance to talk to them afterwards and ask questions. It really makes you question what you hear and read in class in an intelligent and critical way. It’s also a great way to explore topics that aren’t  necessarily in your area of concentration, and to hear different points of view.

I’ve been an intern with The Coalition for Adolescent Girls since February and when I was offered the position I knew it would be through December (and that I couldn’t go abroad.) The Coalition is made up of 40+ member organizations who come from all areas of development.  It’s the perfect internship for me because gender and youth are both cross-cutting issues and members of the Coalition address both from all areas—economics, health, advocacy, education, and more. It’s given me a really healthy perspective on what is and what isn’t being done for girls in development as well as which areas I want to specialize in. So, while I was sad to not be in the field I think the experiences I gained are well worth it. It also afforded me the opportunity to take my research methods class over the summer, which means I’m better prepared (and able to go part-time second semester) for the IDS capstone project.

OID: Your concentrations include Youth and Gender. What got you interested in these aspects of development, and how have you found them to be inter-related?

Rachel Clement: I was in a sorority in college and am the kind of girl who loves wearing a dress–I don’t think I’m my mother’s generation of feminist. I didn’t start out identifying myself as a feminist, which would make my poor mother cringe to hear, but in all of my previous professional experiences I realized how much of how we interact with the world around us is impacted by gender. Everything from how you walk to school or work, to what you wear and what you say, to what kinds of jobs you take is impacted by gender. And yet, traditionally a lot of development policies and programs lumped people together as though men and women—and boys and girls—all have the same needs.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign. This year's theme is girls' education.

A group of GWU students participating in a Day of the Girl advocacy campaign for ABC News. This year’s theme is girls’ education.

I’m passionate about girls in development, which is why I am concentrating on youth and gender in urban spaces . I’m a huge proponent of consistent collection of sex and age disaggregated data (and I’m not alone). (If you’re interested in gender but don’t have space for it on your schedule, DevEx made this list of the “top 10” books you should read and it includes everything from value chains to mainstreaming. It’s not comprehensive but might be a good starting place!) I decided to focus on young women because I think often they are the most overlooked part of any population. In most cultures, including my own, we are taught to be quiet and respectful while boys are taught to speak up and dominate classroom discussions, relationships, politics, business, you name it. And I don’t think all men are bad or that all men hit women, but I do think there are a lot of girls and women whose voices aren’t heard, and I want to help amplify them, and give them a place within the world and their own communities.

Urban Quito, Ecuador

Urban Quito, Ecuador

I chose urban spaces based in large part on my own professional experiences with youth in urban and rural Ecuador and urban Denver. The global trend, particularly in the developing world, is towards cities and urbanization. About half of the world lived in cities as of 2000, and it is projected that by 2050, seven out of ten people will live in urban areas. I was born and raised in a city and feel I have a better understanding of urban issues and aspirations, and living in rural Ecuador really helped me to define that I don’t have that same passion for rural areas. One of the big issues we saw there was a rural to urban migration of young people, so I don’t think the two are separate issues, either. I think building good cities that provide economic and educational opportunities for young people can also increase the kinds of migration we see, and help to improve rural areas, keep young people at home to finish their education, and to be more financially stable in general. I’m hopeful that by concentrating on vulnerable populations in an emerging area of need will position me where I can be marketable and of the greatest use.

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

Rural Pistishi, Ecuador

OID: You have previous work experience working with domestic youth, how has this impacted your view of youth and international development?

Rachel Clement: I think sometimes people forget how big a little thing can be, which was really brought home to me working with youth domestically. I paired children with one-to-one adult mentors. Usually the mentors took their mentees to do fun things like go out to ice cream, to the park to play, or maybe work together on homework. We really discouraged spending money (and encouraged spending time) with the kids. I was fortunate to see several of our “Littles” graduate from high school and move on to pursue tertiary education. Interacting with the kids everyday really brought home to me how having those support systems—whether it’s family, friends, or a role model or mentor—can make all the difference for someone. I didn’t start out with this concentration when I entered GWU, but through the cornerstone and other courses came to firmly believe that interventions made in childhood and adolescence can be the most impactful long-term investment one can make. I often think of the children that I supported at BBBS and about what a big difference simply having one extra person who acts as your cheerleader can make, and how enormous of an impact organizations that promote healthy youth outcomes and supported mentorships can make.

OID: You’ve completed a few internships while in the IDS program. Can you speak to how you found these internships and how they have benefited your studies at the Elliott School?

Rachel Clement: I found my first internship through the Elliott School Career Center job website. I had an interest in gender and a vague interest in youth and Plan International posted two positions related to adolescent girls. The position I applied for was a research internship looking at funding that is either targeted at interventions for or eventually reaches adolescent girls. From this internship I began focusing most of my class papers on adolescent girls and the various interventions that are being used currently. The thing with writing a 20 page paper, and doing it well, is that you have to be interested in what you’re writing about and I found that I always had too much to say and too many pages to write! From this, I began looking at organizations that have programs specifically working with and for adolescent girls. Naturally when the Coalition for Adolescent Girls advertised an internship opening, I applied immediately! I think interning while going to school is the perfect balance. I was in a youth class with a professor who helped to write a major US government youth policy. Actually talking to the person who wrote the policy was a truly memorable experience. That, coupled with people who are working to translate that policy into practice, gave me a really full view of all of the moving pieces that go into changing development policies, priorities, and programs.

OID: What was the best advice you received before your first year? What is your best advice for incoming IDS students?

Rachel Clement: In the fall, about one month into my first semester, one of my friends died. I was still new to DC, and my cohort really came through. I remember the now-President of OID, Alejandro, stopping me outside of Gelman and saying, “we are your family now. You have to deal with this, and we are here for you.” I think that’s what really makes IDS unique: you’re in this cohort of people from such diverse backgrounds and interests, but everyone is really compassionate and caring. We edit each other’s papers during finals, host dinners and study groups, and are just really there for each other as a support system. I don’t know of another program that has that. It doesn’t have to be something as tragic as a friend’s death: being in a new city or a new program can be really stressful and isolating for anyone. Just know that your whole cohort feels some degree of the same thing and that they (and the second years!) are here for you, and can and will make that transition easier. I’d also echo some of the advice given by other second-years: don’t worry too much if you don’t have all the answers right now. Take on internships, even if they are unpaid or part-time. Attend as many events in DC as you can, even if you don’t think they are in your area of interest. You’ll figure it out (and if you stay in DC and want to take a class you couldn’t fit in, GWU has really good alumni rates for auditing classes!)

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim's new strategy to end global poverty.

GWU students listen as World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s new strategy to end global poverty.

OID:  What is (are) the best class(es) you’ve taken at GW? Do you have any recommendations on how to find the best schedule?

Rachel Clement: That is a tough question. Best classes: I loved the Gender and Development class with Dr. Fink. I was a little intimidated to take two classes with the co-chair of the department my first semester but I am very happy I did. It was great to see Fink in her element and I think she brought to that class the perfect balance of structure and debate. We had some really eye-opening and thought-provoking discussions that made me decide on gender as a concentration (and that I wanted to look more into youth interventions as well). I still reference the readings in meetings and other classes I’ve had. I think other interviewees have echoed this but Mr. Yetter’s Participatory Planning class was also incredible. I wrote my final paper for that class as a re-imagined second-chance at my experiences in Ecuador, and what that would have looked like using participatory methodology. It was phenomenal to apply a real-world experience in a class like that.

Best schedule: Don’t give up! Search other schools in GWU at the Consortium. This semester I’m actually only taking one Elliott class; the others are in the School of Public Health and one via the Consortium. Taking classes outside of Elliott is an extra step (you have to have your professor, advisor, and the registrar sign an additional form for consortium, and sometimes really justify your class choices for other GWU schools) but for me it’s been worth the hassle! I really appreciate that about GWU: since I have been able to hone down my concentration through my core coursework and the papers I wrote in my first year, I can take classes now to apply that knowledge and further increase my skills as they relate to my concentration. My class with Dr. Ruiz on Adolescent Health is really engaging and it’s interesting to get a non-development perspective from my fellow classmates. I’m taking an urban development class at American University and we are actually doing a service learning project with a community here in DC. I applied to AU and GWU initially, so this is a great way to get the best of both worlds! The class is also really diverse: about half international students and half-Americans, with several students from business and law perspectives.  I’m also taking Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course which is out of my comfort zone and fast-paced but I am loving it thus far and  can’t wait to apply it in urban contexts with youth-oriented services. I’m contemplating taking Advanced GIS next; I think the way youth can and cannot move around a city and obtain services like education, transportation, and sexual/reproductive healthcare is intriguing and directly impacts effects of programmatic interventions.  I am confident that having a GIS skill-set can help me provide additional expertise once I enter the workforce.

Interview with Farrah Ahamad

Farrah Ahamad outside the White House

Farrah Ahamad outside the White House

OID: Hi, Farrah! Thank you for so much for talking to OID today. Please start out by telling us a something about yourself: where are you from, what makes you passionate about development, and why did you decide to pursue a Master’s in International Development at GWU?

Farrah Ahamad: Well I’m from the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and I did received my undergraduate degree in Business from Boston University, concentrating in International Management. Being from the developing world, I really wanted to study International Development to try to learn more about how I can improve the lives of the people of Trinidad and the Caribbean region.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago

I chose GWU for a number of reasons. No one can deny that the location of the campus is ideal to gain the most exposure during my time in grad school. Conventions, discussions, conferences and international speakers are the norm in DC and the insight that you can gain from attending these events is invaluable (not to mention the chances for networking!) I also loved the flexibility of the programs, and the way students can tailor their classes to pursue the more specific or broad concentrations that they want. Also, the chance to learn from and work with professors, academics and practitioners from the field allow students in this program an inside look into the world of international development and what they can expect when they graduate and begin working. I believe that students get the most all-round experience from GWU and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

OID: What is your area of concentration and how did you come to find that? Any particular classes that you’ve taken that relate to your concentration that you highly recommend, or that helped you realize where your passion lay?

Farrah Ahamad: I have chosen to concentrate in Civil Society and Private Sector Development. I chose this because I am very passionate about the power of the people, but I also understand the realistic need to include the resources of the public sector to create a mutually beneficial relationship for the private, public and civic sectors. I believe this belief came out of all of my experiences, including my time living in the developed world, my time studying business and the private sector, and my time studying abroad in London, England and working in Parliament. It all came together after some research, and realizing that International Development was a field that brought them all together in a way that would help me help my country and the rest of the developing world.

OID: Where are you this/these summer and how did you get this position?

Farrah Ahamad: This summer, I am interning at Population Services International (PSI). I got this position after applying through their website and doing three rounds of interviews. PSI is a public health firm that focuses on social marketing and franchising to create sustainable change in the developing world. I am learning a lot about how partnerships with the private sector, as well as involvement on the local community can create sustainable change that benefits the people who need it most.

OID: It seems like a lot of the IDS students are abroad this summer. Obviously we are all jealous of them, so staying in DC must have been a tough choice! How did you make that decision and how do you feel that your work experience will help you once you graduate?

Farrah Ahamad: Personally, while I believe that field work will do nothing but enhance the grad school experience and give insight to what it takes to work in development, I feel that my time would better be spent in the space between field workers and those in charge.  I know that this is where my skills would be most needed back in the Caribbean and since that is my ultimate goal, working in this space rather than going abroad will give me more of the kind of experience I will need to be successful in the arena I want to eventually work in.

OID: The first years are about the start their first year of grad school. What do you wish someone had told you when you started grad school? What do you wish you had done differently or better?

Farrah Ahamad: Don’t freak out! You don’t have to have it all figured out in your first semester. EVERYONE changes their plan of study at least once, so relax, get the broadest range of experiences that you can so that you can eventually make a decision that fits you best. Go to as many events that you can, even those that you don’t think you are very interested in. You may be surprised what you learn and what your path is supposed to be. (Editor’s note: check out the OID calendar for some great upcoming events.)

OID: Any class recommendations or favorite study spots that you want to share with the group?

Farrah Ahamad: Many people may not agree with this, but Gelman Library was always a fav of mine. (Editor’s note: it has been newly remodeled!) Everyone knew they could find me on the third floor in the weeks leading up to finals. There are always lots of people in there which gives you a bit of motivation that you aren’t alone during finals…and the Starbucks’ 24/7 supply of coffee doesn’t hurt either.

Interview with Jelena Ćorić

OID: Hi, Jelena! Thanks for talking to OID today. Let’s start off with some information about yourself: where are you from, what makes you passionate about development, and why did you decide to on the Global Communication M.A. with a concentration in development instead of the IDS program?

Jelena Ćorić at The Elliott School

Jelena Ćorić at The Elliott School

Jelena Ćorić: People tell me I have a rather interesting background. I was born in Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but my parents and I left in 1992, shortly after the civil war broke out in the Former Yugoslavia. Of all places, we moved to Zimbabwe, arriving with nothing but one suitcase and the clothes on our backs. Our home and most of our belongings were destroyed. Fortunately, we adapted to and grew to love our adopted homeland. I have a special attachment to Zimbabwe and the Sub-Saharan region in general. I have a lot of hope for Africa’s future, and everyday I try to correct people’s stereotypes of the continent. For the past six years or so, I’ve been living, working, and studying in the US. I guess I’m a good example of a third culture kid. Basically, it would have surprised everyone who knew me if I didn’t go into something related to international affairs.

I chose my program (Global Communications) because I am primarily interested in strategic communication and the media, but the great thing about this field is that you can marry it to any other interest you may have, which, in my case, is international development. Communications plays an important role in development, whether you’re promoting your organization to a global audience, or creating a media campaign to spread awareness about good health practices. I’m not entirely sure what I’d like to do, but I’m really enjoying exploring different possibilities.

I also believe that the relationship between development and communications is one worth exploring because media can be harnessed for positive change.  For example, I’m sure everyone is well aware of the various uses of ICTs and social media in developing countries. Zimbabwe held presidential elections on July 31st, and people were sharing live, up-to-the-minute updates about the polls on Twitter and other social media. As someone from the diaspora, I was glad that timely information and people’s opinions were so readily accessible. Online social networks are important tools in countries like Zimbabwe, since much of the media is under state control.

OID: Where are you this summer and how did you get this position?

Jelena Ćorić: I was looking for media and communications internships at non-profits and NGOs, and I ended up accepting two positions. I divide my time between Save the Children in DC and ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs) in Arlington. I was inspired by Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report, so I applied for an internship via their website. As for the other position, a friend and classmate, Hilary Hartley, works at ISEP and she told me about the opening there. It’s been a very productive summer!

OID: How did you decide to stay in DC?  Are you happy that you did? What do you think you’ll gain from this experience?

Jelena Ćorić: I simply wanted to gain work experience in DC, and a summer with no classes was ideal for throwing myself into working full-time. As I already explained, my personal background is pretty international, so I wanted to enhance my professional experiences here in the US. Although I’ve felt a little homesick and missed my family and friends in Zimbabwe, I’m really glad that I decided to stay because I get to compare how things function at two organizations with different work environments. (A large, international non-profit like Save versus a much smaller one like ISEP). I also don’t have a huge amount of professional experience, so this summer has been valuable and eye-opening for me. In terms of specific skills and knowledge, I’ve learned about (among other things) creating marketing content, managing media relations, and using social media in a professional setting. Plus I’m building up my writing portfolio, which is always useful.

OID: The first years are about to start grad school. What do you wish someone had told you when you started grad school?

Jelena Ćorić:

  1. Don’t second-guess yourself! Whether you’re fresh out of undergrad or you’re coming in with years of work experience, graduate school is a tough adjustment for everyone. If you’re genuinely putting in the effort, you will reap the results, and of course, it gets much easier after the first semester.
  2. People may be sick of hearing this one, but it’s so true: manage your time efficiently, especially because grad school just flies by. And managing your schedule isn’t just about keeping up with school work, it also helps you make time for a valuable internship or job, networking events and chill out time with friends.
  3. Try to make it to the Graduate Student Forum’s weekly happy hour! We host an event called “Thursday Night Out” (TNO) during the semester and it’s a great opportunity to meet your fellow students and unwind.

OID: Any class recommendations or favorite study spots that you want to share with the group?

Jelena Ćorić: It’s tough to recommend a specific class since I’m sure the OID blog readers have a wide variety of interests. However, I will say that taking Quantitative Analysis was a great experience for me. It was out of my comfort zone, but I gained a valuable new skill. Not only did we learn to use SPSS, I have also become more comfortable working with numbers. Unless you already have a mathematical background, this class would benefit almost anyone. As for study spots, when the library is overrun with undergrads, (Editor’s note: during finals, this is all the time.) I like to retreat to the Elliott School. I find that the 6th floor is usually pretty quiet.

Jelena pets a lion in Zimbabwe

Jelena under a rock in Domboshava, Zimbabwe

Jelena, in Zimbabwe with an elephant

Jelena, in Zimbabwe with an elephant

Interview: Brian Kraft from Jakarta, Indonesia

Brian Kraft

Brian Kraft

OID: Tell us about yourself: what program are you in, what are you studying, and what made you choose this field for your Master’s?
Brian Kraft: My name is Brian Kraft and I will soon begin my second year of an MA in Asian Studies (AS) with a regional concentration in Southeast Asia and a professional focus on International Development. I chose to apply for the Asian Studies program while living on a remote Indonesian island two days journey from Jakarta serving out a Fulbright ETA grant. The internet access there was horrible and I sat many hours in a sweaty internet café in town surrounded by kids shooting each other online while loading HTML versions of university websites. Four months later I was accepted, and I called GW to say that a deposit would be sent as soon as the internet on my island came back on. Since entering grad school, I was elected President of the Elliott School Graduate Student Forum (GSF). We host fun events such as the Spring Fling and Thursday Nights Out (TNOs) for Elliott School graduate students. Check us out here and here.

View from the boat ride to the island where Brian lived and applied to GWU from

View from the boat ride to the island where Brian lived and applied to GWU from

OID: How is AS different than the IDS program, in your opinion? Most of our previous students highlighted here are in the other program–what made you decide to go with AS?
Brian Kraft: Which was better, I wondered—studying international development and concentrating in Southeast Asia or studying Southeast Asia and concentrating in International Development? To be honest, I didn’t know the difference but I had a guess that getting into the AS major was easier for me because I could speak Indonesian. How many aspiring Indonesianists could they possibly have at GWU? It was a Machiavellian decision. But the Asian Studies program is so flexible that really I am taking many of the same development classes that I would have taken if I were IDS anyways. The difference really is that I have a lot of required classes focusing on South, and Northeast Asia that I otherwise would not have had if I were IDS focusing on Southeast Asia. These classes have all been  beneficial for contextualizing Indonesia in the region. I am very happy with the decision to approach development from the outside.

OID: Where are you this summer and what are you doing? How did you find this position/opportunity?
Brian Kraft: For any of you who have ever tossed an application into the great abyss of USA Jobs, then you know what a miracle it is that I am currently living in Jakarta over the summer interning in the Public Affair section at the U.S. Embassy. I had given up on USA jobs but this opportunity perfectly relevant to the direction I plan to aim my career and because it is unpaid it was one of the few government internships that did not get sequestered. It was frustrating and inefficient but USA Jobs can actually be helpful.

OID How long have you been there? You’ve been to Indonesia before, so how is this time different? (ie do you feel like GWU coursework has shaped how you view things, or helped/hurt you in doing your job?)
Brian Kraft: There are major differences in my Indonesian experience this time around. Firstly, I am living in the massive capital of Jakarta rather than a barely populated remote eastern island. My last paper that I finished before hopping on a flight out of D.C. was loosely about mass violence in Indonesia. I had known that these horrors had occurred, but the depth with which I had studied these killings has given me a different lens with which to view the Indonesian world around me. I often wonder now what these older people around me in Jakarta have seen and directly experienced.

OID: Will this experience change the coursework you take next year, or the types of opportunities you pursue in the future?
Brian Kraft: I plan to focus more on economics classes next semester. This gritty massive city is an economic hotbed. I want to understand the financial engines that drive Jakarta. Economics permeates every realm. Rapid development is an obsession. Corrupters risk everything for it, policy makers think of little else but it. The more I know about basic economics the more valuable I will be to nearly every industry related to Southeast Asia—including of course development.

OID: What has been the most challenging this about your work this summer?
Brian Kraft: The opportunity cost of being away from loved ones back home in DC and Seattle is very real. I miss them very dearly.

Brian, pictured with several Elliott School friends enjoying kickball and life in DC

Brian, pictured with several Elliott School friends enjoying kickball and life in DC

Reflections of the First Years

Lincoln Memorial on a rainy night

Lincoln Memorial on a rainy night

By Rachel Clement

There are several programs at The Elliott School (and other graduate institutions) which do not operate on a cohort system. For those of you who don’t know, the IDS program enrolls a certain number of students each year (typically 30-40) who move through at least one core class together each semester over the 2 year program.  In addition, they work closely together their second year to complete a Capstone project. (For a great example of Capstone work see last week’s blog post!)

I sat down with other members of my cohort to see how they felt about being part of such a tight-knit group, and about their respective moves to DC.  This year’s IDS group  consists of 34-students. I know that I was somewhat nervous when starting grad school this fall with regards to meeting my cohort. Choosing the right program is a hard enough decision but being stuck with 30 some-odd people for two years made it harder. I, for one, am happy with my decision. More than happy, in fact. From the first OID mixer in August to the camaraderie I felt during finals this past winter, my fellow IDSers have been supportive, engaging, and enlightening. When I read the biographies of the incoming class this summer from my home in Colorado I was amazed: my classmates comes from all over the world including: US, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Venezuela, Mexico, India, Saudi Arabia. Our cohort has worked and lived in over 15 developing nations and speaks over 2o different languages.

The White House

The White House

On Living in Washington, DC: Several people mentioned how exciting it was to be here this year, particularly with Inauguration. The IDS cohort includes people from diverse political affiliations – including Republicans (check out this picture of someone running into John McCain on the GWU campus!), Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, and everything in between.  Regardless of party affiliation or nationality, there was a common sense of excitement regarding Inauguration activities and being in the center of it all.

Starting in May,the Sculpture Garden hosts Jazz in the Garden. When it’s too cold for music or movies al fresco, the Sculpture Garden is open for ice skating.  Beyond the many historical, cultural, and artistic things to see and do in the nation’s capitol, GWU students are always adding the latest information from development to their knowledge base. “I love going to all the conferences and talks with high level players in the field,” said Allison DeMaio.

Inauguration 2013

Inauguration 2013

Other interviews expressed enjoyment in studying at the Library of Congress, walking past the White House, and visiting the many Smithsonian Museums (for FREE!) during their leisure time.  Ashley McEvoy said, “all of the organizations  and places you might want to work are right here.” In addition there are weekly lectures and conferences at GWU and other institutions. During the summer, the city hosts Screen on the Green, where you can cozy up with friends and watch movies on the National Mall. Sometimes it seems like there is too much to do and too little time. We think this isn’t a bad problem to have.

On being in a cohort: “It’s nice to have a group that gets you,” stated Carmina Villa-Garcia. “Yeah,” agreed Ashley McEvoy, “at the end of the day you’re all there for the same reason. We all have this group we can come back to. We share classes and all care about other people, are adventurous, and friendly. We all have our own friends and interests but it’s nice to be able to count on the cohort. It’s really nice to be a part of a group that does things outside of school, too.” Allisson DeMaio put it this way, “We all have our own areas of concentration, and different ideas about how to do things, but we can talk through things and bring different perspectives to the table. We all have the same end goal.” Allison is taking a class at Georgetown right now, through the consortium system GWU is a part of. She says, “I love my consortium class. GWU has most of what I want to study but I love that I can pick up a specific skill elsewhere. Different schools specialize in different things and I love that I can go there and meet new people in the field.”

Although being in a cohort doesn’t make us pod-people, sometimes great minds do think alike (at least in terms of fashion):

Morgan Simon & Rachel Clement at a networking event

Morgan Simon & Rachel Clement at a networking event

Zahra Khan, Hillary Hartley, Kevin Robinson, & Simon Böhler after class

Zahra Khan, Hillary Hartley, Kevin Robbins, & Simon Böhler after class

What are your thoughts? Want to see more about a specific topic or interest? Email us at oid@gwu.edu!