I first became interested in working internationally when I discovered that I share a birthday with Nelson Mandela. After studying about his life and what he did to end apartheid, I was inspired to get involved with international development work. I studied organizational communication for my undergraduate studies and received a Master’s in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management. I learned about FSD while I was working in Uganda. At the time, I was working for an organization that had limited sustainability and I was frustrated by the voluntourism aspect of a lot of organizations and I wanted to work for an organization that infused sustainability with international volunteering.
Did you study international development in college (if not, what were your majors)? How did you first become interested in the field, and when did you first learn of FSD?
As Senior International Program Officer, what are your responsibilities? Tell us what a typical day might look like for you.
As an IPO, I spend a lot of my time working with our international teams to make sure our programs are running effectively. I also work with our applicants to help them through the application process, and I work a lot with our university partners as they place students with our host organizations. I also work closely with our Group Service Trips in helping to plan and execute group trips throughout the year.
What are the greatest challenges of directing seven different international sites, and how do you meet them?
My greatest challenge is time. While working with seven different sites is fun and dynamic, it is also time-consuming. I wish I had an additional 40 hours in my work week so I could get everything done.
What brings you the most joy in the work that you do?
I really love working with our international teams. They are amazing individuals and really bring life to the work FSD does in the field. I also love hearing from our alumni. There are a lot of cool projects that have been completed by our alumni and I love hearing about the impact they were able to have in a short amount of time in the field.
What projects best illustrate the work that FSD interns do?
Jade, an intern at our Salta, Argentina site, created an urban garden with our local partner organization, as means of providing nutritious vegetables and fruits for children there. Early on, however, she realized that many of the parents were unfamiliar with the produce she was growing, so she created a booklet that explained how best to prepare and cook each one. Some community members were hesitant, but the enthusiasm of the children trickled up to their parents!
Best of all, a local resident with whom Jade had established a strong relationship, helped carry on her work after she had returned home. I love this example, because is illustrates the true sustainability of FSD’s work.
What kind of student are FSD's internships intended for?
The community partners we work with around the world are looking for diversity among our applicants. We have placements for students studying engineering, public health, business, special education, international relations, and everything in between.
What is the single biggest lesson you've learned as an IPO?
While working in a cross-cultural setting, it is important to have patience and understand that relationships are oftentimes more important than deadlines.
What is your favorite part of working with students who volunteer abroad?
Students are creative problem solvers. I have seen a lot of students go into a new community/country and learn from their community partner and help develop cool sustainable solutions to the issues facing the community.
Great interns are those who come into the experience without any expectations of what they are going to accomplish. When someone is open minded and willing to learn, they can see solutions to community needs that will work and become sustainable.