Alumni Spotlight: Charles Tocci

Charlie Tocci is a professor and father of four living in Chicago.

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Why did you choose this program?

It sparked my imagination. InterFuture sent me a letter (yes, I'm that old) that didn't talk about how much fun I'd have and show pictures of young Americans on beaches or in front of landmarks.

Instead, the letter laid out that I could design my own research project and carry out independently in two of twenty countries around the world. That was the thing I wanted - to go off exploring questions I had that went way beyond the classroom. I wanted to create something by pushing myself to new experiences.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

InterFuture provides the bare bones. There are three training conferences to design a research project and get ready for intercultural living.

Once abroad, they arrange a homestay and connect you with a national coordinator to advise your research. The national coordinator might recruit a project coordinator that is related to your research field, or the national coordinator might play that role him/herself. Then there are two short follow up conferences - one in Amsterdam and one in Boston - after completing the program.

That's really it. You truly are independent as an InterFuture Scholar. There are no classes to attend, no organized group outings. You are a researcher living with a local family, networking like mad to complete a project in three months (one semester) in locale. You truly have the opportunity to become part of a place.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Disconnect from social media. Stay in touch with loved ones, but be present where you are. If you're in Accra, don't be on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat involving yourself in the day-to-day minor events back home.

Be in Accra or Monduli or Prague or Asuncion or Kathmandu. Blog about it once a week, embedding great photos, so you can reflect on your experience and let your friends and family stay up to date on your adventures. But really focus on being in place and learning to live in a new culture, building friendships with people that have very different world views and experiences.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

It completely varies scholar to scholar because everyone has different projects to pursue. I did my project on how the history of the slave trade is commemorated in Ghana and in Tanzania.

In Ghana, I lived in Accra and could travel easily to key historical sites and universities to do my research while also exploring the city. In Tanzania, I lived Monduli, a small town on the Maasai steppe far from where I need to do my research. I spent a month traveling to do my fieldwork but spent my two months in Monduli doing background research, making close friends, and hiking.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I grew up near Boston, and by age 19 I had only once been outside of New England (a trip to DC). I knew I wanted to get out into the world, and Ghana seemed like such a far-away exotic place. I was so eager and so afraid. I was also so dumb. It was January in Boston. I wore my winter coat onto the plane.

I was lucky to have a national coordinator who doubled as my host. Ernesto brought me out into the city, took me to his church, introduced me to his family and friends, showed me how to get around, made appointments for my research. He was amazing and made me feel confident. I'm lucky to still call Ernesto a friend.