More than 50 Middlebury Institute students are gaining valuable professional experience through domestic and international immersive learning programs offered as part of their degree requirements. Charlotte Grant MAIEM/MPA ’17 is completing her practicum working for Save the Children in Laos. She shared her experience with classmate Miranda Meyer MAIEM/MPA ’18 in the following interview, edited for space from the full conversation published on the Graduate School of International Policy and Management blog. Says Grant:
I expected to be working on design and evaluation planning components of a new project. But I’ve actually been able to work a lot on the new global Every Last Girl campaign and International Day of the Girl events. I’ve created two videos, one of which will be shown at the event as well as at a regional conference in Bangkok. I was also sent into the field to photograph young mothers in everyday life. Many of my photos will be printed and displayed at a gallery for International Day of the Girl and others will be used for the global campaign. I’ve always loved photography so getting to combine my passion for development and photography has literally been a dream come true. I spend my days at work creating frameworks for situational analyses and editing photos and videos. If I was getting paid I would probably never leave.
Outside of work I’ve been surprised with how friendly and happy everyone is here. Having previously visited communist countries I half expected the same demeanor. However, Laotians are nothing but friendly, helpful and caring. The people I rent my apartment from lived in France for many years so we actually communicate in French instead of English or Lao. On Wednesday nights I play board games with their son and his friends from France. Learning to play new games in a language I’m still learning has been a challenge but really fun!
What is one thing you hope to gain from your experience abroad?
I hope I don’t just gain one thing! Overall, I would like to feel confident about going to work in an international development office in the field. I think there a lot of things I need in order for that to happen but so far, I’m gaining all of that and more here in Laos.
Which class or classes have helped you the most so far in your new position?
Language! I know it’s a prerequisite for the Institute, but honestly doing SILP (Summer Intensive Language Program) and learning French has been incredible. Not only has it given me a circle of friends here I never would have known previously, it’s also opened work opportunities and allowed me to communicate with locals who speak French.
Also: Data and Policy Analysis. Laos is a communist country; that’s no secret. But because of that there is very limited data and research done on touchy subjects. The skills I have learned in class have actually allowed me to be able to pull UN data and run my own analysis which I’ve then been able to use in reports and even in the video I created.
Do you have any tips for people who are apprehensive about taking an unpaid internship?
Just do it! I cannot say this enough. The flexibility my office has given me with deliverables is incredible. They’ve been so open and accommodating and are grateful for everything that I produce. They’ve been impressed with what I’ve been able to do after my 3 semesters at the Institute.
Yesterday I had dinner with staff from Save the Children Norway and they mentioned jobs they had available. My resume has been pushed into the hands of CRS, UNICEF, and USAID chiefs of party and country directors. The connections you make while in the field are incredible.