Finals Week, Job Hunting, and Cape Town, South Africa

Well, it’s been a record-breakingly long time since I posted in here. For all of you out there who may have been reading, I apologize! Life now finds me at the end (as in, in the throes of Finals week) of Winter Quarter, feverishly writing a paper on human rights and foreign aid trends in Zimbabwe for Professor Kaplan’s “Human Rights and Foreign Policy” class. Monday also brings a lovely presentation of a team development project proposal for “International Project Analysis” and on Friday, I will sit for my Stats II final exam. Gotta love Finals week! But I must say I’m quite used to it at this point in my grad school career–finals never get more fun, but they do get easier in terms of managing the stress and time associated with them.

I have only one quarter left until I graduate in June, and that’s SCARY!! Exciting, but scary. My feeling is that I’ll be ready to be done with the actual school (aka, homework) part of grad school by the time June rolls around, but getting a job–the task that now lies before me–is definitely a daunting process. At this point I think I’m looking for something at the nexus of program coordination/organizational capacity-building/international education (if such a nexus exists), and to boot I’m looking to stay here in the Denver area for awhile. I love it here and don’t want to leave, and being from Vermont I’ve never been a big city girl and cannot picture myself in DC or New York, even though internationally-focused jobs abound in those cities. So Denver it is for the foreseeable future. I do, though, feel confident that my time at Korbel has given me some really marketable skills that I can put to use in the job market. I just need to figure out how to properly communicate all of that to potential employers.

BUT, as admitted or prospective students are probably reading this, that all is way down the line for you. How about I talk about South Africa for a bit? On November 25th 2013-December 23rd 2013, I participated in an international service learning program through DU that took 12 other students and myself to Cape Town, South Africa. The group was comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students from lots of different disciplines, and it was led by a professor from the Forensic Psychology department and his wife (who were FABULOUS). We took a five-week class on South African history and on current social/economic/political issues in the country prior to our departure, and then before we knew it we were on a plane (well, several) headed down to the tip of the continent. It was a looooong flight to be sure, but the excitement of going somewhere that I had never been (and on a continent I had never visited, no less) far eclipsed the monotony of spending 30 hours in transit. The first area of South Africa that we stayed in was called Hout Bay, a peaceful, quiet little nook of Cape Town that is characterized by a slow pace of life, harbors, and really strong winds:


View from our lodge in Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

From here, we were assigned to our field placements, which were basically short-term internships in organizations in the nearby townships of Khayelitsha and Langa. My field placement was with an organization called Siyakhathala (which means “We Care” in the native Xhosa), and its mission was to provide support and services and to advocate for the rights of orphans and vulnerable children in the Khayelitsha area:


The site of my field placement, Siyakhathala, in Khayelitsha, South Africa

In a word, I loved my field placement. I got to do some really cool organizational development stuff like making business cards, creating pamphlets, coming up with a strategic plan, and writing grants, but more importantly, I got to know the amazing woman, Nontsasa, who was behind it all:


Nontsasa (far left) with some of the children that her organization serves

Khayelitsha is a tough place to live. It’s only 25 minutes outside of Cape Town, yet the two worlds could not be more different. It just goes to show how damaging Apartheid-era policies were, and how far-reaching the inequalities those policies created really are (even now, a decade and a half after Apartheid officially ended). True systemic change really is slow to occur, and in my opinion, the South African government could be doing more to provide adequate housing and services to township residents, the vast majority of whom are currently living in shacks. Severe weather becomes a huge hazard when one is not housed in a stable structure, and one problem that Khayelitsha residents in particular have had to deal with are fires. They start either via a lightning strike or (more commonly) are cooking fires, and because this part of South Africa is so windy and quite dry, the fire spreads rapidly throughout the township, uncontained. The way Nontsasa (who has lived in Khayelitsha for most of her life) tells it, the fire department is typically very slow to respond, which can have devastating results for the residents and their homes. If you are interested in reading more, there is a good article on the subject here.

In spite of their hardships, though, all of the people I met in Khayelitsha were warm, honest, open, and amazing people with a zest for life and an appreciation of the human connection: family and friendship. I was lucky to celebrate along with them in some cases:


Some of Siyakhathala’s children celebrating at the Khayelitsha Christmas Party, 2013

And mourn along with them in others. We happened to be in Cape Town when Nelson Mandela passed away, which definitely sparked some complex emotions. I won’t go into them in detail now, but if you’d like to read more on my thoughts on the matter you can click here (a post I wrote for WorldDenver, the organization with which I have interned for the past ten months). South Africans were deeply sad to learn of Mandela’s passing, but they also richly celebrated his legacy and were grateful for everything he did for the country. From some of them, I also heard expressions of hope: the African National Congress (ANC) is the long-term ruling political party in South Africa, and it was originally Nelson Mandela’s party. Since the end of Apartheid, however, many South African feel that the ANC has become too corrupt and has strayed too far from its values as Mandela’s political party. So many hoped that, in light of Mandela’s passing, ANC supporters would remember what their party was really supposed to be about and would oust Jacob Zuma (the current president, who is very unpopular) from power. As I understand it, Zuma will be elected for another term (since in South Africa the ANC is too popular to be voted out and one essentially votes for a political party and not a candidate), but he will not sit out his next term completely–he will be democratically replaced by a special committee vote within the ANC. Below are some photos of a gathering that took place in Cape Town in honor of Nelson Mandela’s life. Hundreds of Cape Town residents gathered in front of the City Hall to watch the televised memorial that was taking place in Pretoria:


Memorial for Nelson Mandela, Cape Town


Memorial for Nelson Mandela, Cape Town

That’s as far as I’ll go with this post right now, as my final paper (and breakfast) beckon. Suffice it to say, the trip was really incredible and eye-opening in a lot of ways, and it complemented by studies in human rights and international development very well. I left with a lot more questions than answers, but that’s the way of things in this field we’re in, eh? 🙂


November Update

Many apologies for the long delay in posting! I need to be better about keeping up with this one-entry-per-month thing. I guess that is a testament to how involved and busy I have been thus far my second year. Besides my classes, have been keeping on with my internship one day per week, plus working in the Student Affairs office and doing a bunch of babysitting on the side. DU has a really great off-campus employment board for students that I have been perusing quite a bit to find jobs to make some extra money (babysitting, tutoring, other odd jobs). Fortunately, I have also managed to work in some time for fun Colorado excursions such as the one depicted in this photo: a trip to Royal Gorge, home to the world’s highest suspension bridge in the United States, which spans the Arkansas River thousands of feet below.


Royal Gorge, Cañon City, Colorado

Royal Gorge, Cañon City, Colorado

It was a pretty beautiful sight. I went with my boyfriend and a couple of friends. The one thing we forgot, though, was that an enormous wildfire had passed through the park early this summer, effectively shutting down park operations for the foreseeable future. The carnage that the fire left in its wake was astonishing.

Aftermath of the Royal Gorge Canyon fire, which destroyed nearly 3,000 acres of land.

Aftermath of the Royal Gorge Canyon fire, which destroyed nearly 3,000 acres of land.

I had never seen anything like it before–acres upon acres of charred land and black, skeleton-like trees. Yet another reminder that I really and truly no longer live on the East Coast!

Other highlights of grad school life lately: Trivia Tuesdays at my neighborhood bar, delicious crock pot chili, finishing a long and grueling group project for good, learning more and writing papers about Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar that I have not previously been much exposed to…oh yeah, and anticipating the upcoming trip to Cape Town that I will be embarking on in approximately three weeks! It’s a trip through DU’s International Service Learning program, which focuses on transitional justice in South Africa. It’s a month-long trip consisting of a few weeks of voluntary internship placements in-country, followed by a safari north of Durban, in the KwaZulu-Natal area. We’ve also been taking class for five weeks leading up to the trip, learning about the history of Apartheid and the kind of social and economic stratification that it bred. I just learned what my field placement will be a couple of days ago: I will be volunteering at a community-based organization in one of the townships, about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, working with a child protection, HIV/AIDS education, and sexual abuse prevention program. There’s always a little bit of apprehension before a period of travel, but as sure as we are International Studies students, the excitement far outweighs the nervousness 🙂 This will be my first time going to Africa, and I cannot wait. I’ll be sure to update along the way.

On another note–and to close this entry for now–I’ve started volunteering as an Admissions Ambassador for the Korbel Office of Admissions, which basically means that I get to participate in communication and outreach to prospective students. My personal page can be found here. Feel free to email me or any of my fellow ambassadors if you have questions about what life/academics/anything is like at Korbel!



The Transition

The transition from summer to the busy-all-the-time, insane grad school schedule has not, folks, been an easy one! It’s finally Saturday, I’ve finished Week 2, and I’m feeling pretty tired. But, it’s the final year–time to put my nose to the grindstone. I do think that this quarter will be manageable homework-wise, so that’s reassuring. I just have to manage my time well and get enough sleep (SO important). I also just ate a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs with goat cheese, toast, and turkey bacon–I love weekend breakfasts. 

What can I tell you so far about being in my second year. Well, for one, it definitely strikes a sharp contrast with last year. Last year at this time I was brand-new to the area and to grad school, and it’s nice this time around to feel like I am truly established here and that I’m coming back to something familiar. It feels nice. There’s definitely more panic about getting a job–I can feel it crackling beneath the surface of the second year class. It’s always at the back of our minds: this is it; it’s time. I have dealt with this anxiety by going through the entire Employer Directory for the Denver area on the OCPD website and bookmarking every single company or organization around here that I would want to work for. In a way, I think the fact that I will be staying in Denver makes my life easier: I have limited myself to one geographic area, and, already having done a couple of internships around here, I have gotten a head start on my networking. But it’s also a much smaller pool of jobs to consider, which could be problematic if Spring rolls around and not many employers are hiring. It’s one of those things that you just don’t want to think about but can’t help but toss around in your head at least a couple of times a week anyway. 

There are also a couple of cool new things going on at Korbel: there will be an International Law certificate up and running soon, and there is also a new Korbel in Geneva program, which will allow students to spend 6 months taking class and interning for various organizations à Genève. I won’t get to benefit from it (not to mention that I deeefinitely lack the kind of money that living in Geneva for six months would require), but it sounds awesome. 

So that’s that for now–time to…do more homework? (Or perhaps watch The West Wing on Netflix…) Cheerio! 

Back for Year Numero Dos!

After a long summer of blogging radio silence, I am back! I apologize for such a long absence. My summer (which has sadly flown by, as time seems to do), was all in all a good one. I interned 15-20 hours per week at WorldDenver, which I loved, doing programming for the International Visitor Leadership Program (a professional exchange and cultural immersion initiative sponsored by the State Department). I got to meet visitors from Yemen, France, Turkey, Nigeria…the list goes on. I also visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time, went white water rafting on the Upper Colorado River, hiked the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, had several friends visit me, and did lot of babysitting. August was the best month. I have always been partial to August, probably because it is my month of birth and I have always enjoyed my birthday. But this time it was more about seeing old friends from high school and college and showing them around my new home here in Denver. Which actually, come to think of it, doesn’t feel so new anymore. I’ve officially lived here for a year and a week today, and returning to Colorado from my recent trip home to Vermont felt very nice and natural. It’s fun to have a crowd of people from Korbel that I’m excited to see again, and to reunite with my roommate who was gone to India all summer, and to revel in what I’m sure will be the last month of summer here in Denver. Bring on the Fall!

My courses for this quarter (which begins in two short days) include Project Management, Stats I (yup), Global Poverty & Human Rights, and my ISL South Africa class, which only meets five times throughout the quarter. That’s another thing I’m excited for–the upcoming Service Learning trip to Cape Town in late November! That will truly be an experience, as I have never been to Africa before and will be traveling with a group from DU that is a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students. We have our kickoff retreat this coming weekend and I am excited to get to know them all better before we begin class and depart for our trip. I also just applied for another scholarship that would help me fund the trip…fingers crossed on that one!!

I will of course also be returning to my Work Study job in the Student Affairs Office, and will be doing some babysitting on the side to make some extra money. I’m going to continue to intern at WorldDenver one day per week, and the rest of my free time will be homework and class. It is shaping up to be a busy quarter indeed, but I only have one more year of school, possibly for the rest of my life, so I want to take full advantage and enjoy the experience completely. SO, that being said—welcome to Year 2, fellow Second Years, and welcome to Korbel for the Firsties! 

Reflections on Year One of Grad School

I had a conversation with a friend and fellow intern of mine the other day about how much more we feel we’ve learned in graduate school (two years) already than in undergraduate school (four years). I’m nearing the end of my first year, and I am amazed at the arc of my own understanding and progress within the broader International Studies field. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I attended a private liberal arts school for undergrad and that I primarily studied English, French, and Spanish. I had a certificate in International Studies, which taught me a great deal, but my exposure to the current discourses–in Human Rights, in Development, in Security, and in International Affairs more generally–was pretty limited. After being at Korbel for just one year, I’m astounded at how much more I feel I know. I think back to last Fall and how nervous I was to speak up in class, and how (in some ways) unqualified I felt to make assertions or predictions or any kind of definitive statement about politics, the global economy, Africa, food security, anything, and I am really proud of how much more confident and assured I feel about what I know at this point. And I have felt the effects of my education not only on an intellectual or academic level, but on a deeply personal level as well. I’m sure I speak for many more of my fellow students when I say that studying this field impacts the choices you make in your everyday life and shapes how you interact with others. I am more aware of my purchasing power, and try to consciously avoid buying products manufactured or distributed by companies that I know have been involved in human rights abuses. For example, I won’t eat at Chick-fil-a (or however the hell you spell it) and I won’t buy Chiquita bananas because of the way they treat their laborers. I try to bike or walk whenever I can because it’s better for the environment, and I know that as global warming continues to escalate, the world’s poor are going to be the most affected–they will be the ones paying for our mistakes. It sounds silly, actually, as a laundry list of “good Samaritan” duties, but the broader point of how these things I’m learning are bleeding into my personal life is the one I am trying to make. It’s a good thing.

This upcoming week is Week 8, meaning it’s go time for real…Spring quarter is a little longer than Fall and Winter, so we actually technically have eleven weeks, ten of which are classes and one of which is finals. So I have three weeks to finish everything I need to do, and I am going to try REALLY hard to get it all done in two weeks so that I can have a week of vacation before my new internship, etc. begins. Things to do: 10-15 page paper on food security and nutrition in Ethiopia for my Health and Development class (already have about 5 pages). Subsequent presentation. Edit my section of the group paper for East African Development and Human Rights, and do a group presentation. Edit my draft of a paper on human rights regimes in India for Human Rights Research and Design, and write ten more annotations. 25 page paper on a TBD topic for International Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict. Last bout of readings for class. I can TOTALLY do this. Thanks for reading, folks…happy almost summer!

Week 4-5 Update

Just made it through Week 4, which actually felt more like Week 9 in terms of workload…I had a paper and major project due consecutively for my two most difficult classes, plus a ton of reading that had been assigned for that week. So needless to say, I was very happy when Friday rolled around. I spent the weekend sleeping and making pesto (fun green goodness!) and doing homework assignments for the coming week. Weirdly enough, it snowed Monday through Wednesday of last week, and is supposed to be snowing again tomorrow and possibly Tuesday. That is definitely one marked difference between Denver and the East Coast…it snows a LOT during the winter back East, but it’s pretty much done by April. Here, it snows periodically during the winter and is nice most of the time, but we apparently get random one or two-day snowstorms well into the Spring. Beeee-czar. Bizarre.

Other than that, not too much to report…..except these really awesome events going on at Korbel, which I am determined to attend in the next few weeks: 1) A screening of Freshwater Project International’s “Water First,” which is an award-winning documentary the talks about the WASH sector in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, and 2) A visit by the Ambassador of Kenya to the United States Elkanah Odembo! This one I am particularly excited about, given my interest in Kenya, the recent elections, and the class I am taking on East Africa. This is a good example of the kind of high-profile, really interesting speakers and practitioners Korbel is able to attract. There are events going on allllll of the time at Korbel (usually during lunchtime or after 5 pm), and a lot of the lunchtime ones come with delicious catered lunch (a definite consideration for those of us on a budget). Truth be told, I am terrible at attending events. I am somewhat of a homebody and by the time 5 pm rolls around and I’ve been at Korbel since 9 am, I’m usually ready to hit the pavement. That being said, I have gone to a handful of talks and all of them have been super informative, current, and interesting. And these particular ones look too good to miss.

Alrighty then…back to the homework drawing board for now. Bonne chance at bon courage à tous et à toutes. A très bientôt!

Updates Y’all

That is why escape day-trips like the ones these pictures issued from must be taken the weekend after Week 1, before all the work begins in earnest. My boyfriend Bryce and I day-tripped down to Colorado Springs (about an hour drive from here) to see one of my oldest friends, Julia. She took us for a really beautiful walk at Garden of the Gods, showed us around downtown, and took us to dinner at one of the local breweries. All in all, a really, really enjoyable way to spend a Friday:

A l'approche--Colorado Springs

     A l’approche–Colorado Springs

On top of the world at Garden of the Gods

       On top of the world at Garden of the Gods      

But aside from gallivanting around Colorado, I have actually been busy being a serious student (…no, really). Le voilà: an overview of the four courses I am taking this Spring Quarter at Korbel.

International Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict: As a Human Rights student, I do not spend much time sitting in a classroom discussing war tactics. This, I imagine, is left to the International Security cohort. But because armed conflicts are so prevalent in the world, and because human rights violations so frequently occur during times of armed conflict, and because the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law govern more actors than just the military, I thought it pertinent to take this course. Turns out I was right on the money–it is, in my opinion, a very interesting and well-taught course. We learn about things like cyber warfare, and the changing nature of war (turns out we no longer really have wars–only armed conflicts), and the ICRC. Final paper: 20-25 pages in length. This is the only major assignment in the course.

Human Rights Research and Design: Annotated bibliographies! Global governance! Getting PUBLISHED at the end of the course! These are all things we look at, talk about, and (mostly) write about in this class, which I have so conveniently dubbed “HRRD.” It’s classified as a Skills/Methodology course in the MA Handbook, and aptly so. The assignment is for each of us to write a three-page paper with thirty (yup, thirty) annotated sources, which will then be published in Korbel’s Human Rights and Human Welfare Journal at the end of the quarter. It’s a three-credit course, so it meets once a week for 1.5 hours. I’m learning lots about annotations, human rights regimes in India, and peer editing in this class, and it will definitely look great to put this on my resume for future employers.

Health and Development: It’s official: I have decided to concentrate in International Development. So this is the first of a series of development courses I will be taking for the remainder of my time at Korbel. It is unequivocally the most challenging course of the quarter, but definitely very interesting. Topical areas surrounding health represent somewhat uncharted waters for me: morbidity, dual burden of disease, and WHO-led initiatives are terms previously unknown. But I am learning on the weekly, and I expect to come out of this class a whole lot more informed about health and the ways in which it relates to/facilitates/presents challenges for development. (Sidebar: I have to make TABLES and GRAPHS in this course. Can’t help it–strong aversion to numbers here. This is not uncommon for grad students. But I know it’s helpful, and will potentially be useful in my future career, so I am ultimately grateful for the professor’s thorough approach to the course).

And, finally…

East African Development and Human Rights: Love this class already. I’ve written a few papers on Africa so far during my grad school days, but this class is exclusively and intensively focused on East Africa, a region I have been wanting to learn more about. The refugees I worked with last summer were primarily from the DRC and Eritrea, and my current internship (which you’ve heard about already) focuses on Kenya. So the experience is (indirectly) there–now I need the history and the concrete context. Thus far, the readings for this class have been really compelling and nicely varied. We have a 5-page brief due next week for which I haven’t chosen a topic, so I need to go ahead and do that. We also have a group project/paper/presentation that spans the entire Quarter, for which my group is thinking of writing about social justice and sexual violence in Tanzania in some capacity.

These, folks, are the best four classes I’ve taken at Korbel thus far. I’m definitely having a homework-heavy quarter (in contrast to last quarter, which was homework-light), but the things I’m learning really do make it worth it. Now: to weather the blizzard here in Denver and go to sleep early(ish). Hasta luego a todos!