With the last day of class on Monday and the last day of the semester on Wednesday, Fall 2018 is officially over! I remember, before starting the program, wondering what kind of changes I would go through after my first semester at IEDP. Would I change in any sense at all? If so, by how much? Short answers to those questions would be, yes and quite a lot! Since August, so much has happened and at times, it did become difficult to keep close track of where I am and where I am heading. Sometimes, immediate tasks lying in front preoccupied me, hindering me from seeing things in the context of greater scheme of life goal and the world. Breaks are a precious time in that they allow us to step out for a minute and contextualize ourselves once again. And that’s what I’m going to try to do in this post. What did I learn at IEDP? How did IEDP change me in the way that is relevant to the international education development work I want to do in the future?
Acquiring and refining concrete skill sets
To be very honest, one of the greatest concerns that I had about the program before starting was “would I be able to learn practical, concrete skills that I will need to have as a development worker?” Yes, the program website does explicitly mention that this program does focus on praxis but you know – you never really know till you actually arrive here! For those out there who might have the same anxiety as I do, from my experience, I can confidently tell you “yes! You will learn the concrete skill sets that will be applicable in development work.”
Proseminar was the key course in that. In Prosem, I learned how to write concept notes, a brief document explaining why your development project will best achieve the goals of the funders/donors. You can think of it as a prequel of technical proposal, an abbreviated version that conveys the very gist of your project. Most donor/funding organizations will first take a look at this document to decide whether they will look at your full proposal, which puts lots of pressure on the writer. It might be a bit precocious for me to say that I have mastered the art of concept note but I did have an experience of writing individually AND as a group, so I definitely feel more ready than I would have been without coming to this program. Not only concept notes but we also wrote a full technical proposal as a group, problem tress and learned to utilize a few of the participatory model activities. For those of us who were in Principles of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), we learned how to draft logic models, come up with indicators that can best gauge a certain program’s effectiveness and use STATA to analyze data.
Personally, the fact that I was able to acquire these skills is one of the most rewarding and accomplishing aspect of this program as I felt like concrete skills is what I lack the most as an aspiring professional in international education development.
Stepping out of intellectual comfort zone
My previous post on my experience with Education 514 course describes more in detail about how IEDP has shattered my worldview on development multiple times. I would say it felt like a lot of breaking, demystifying and challenging at first but really, fear not because you will have time to ponder and reflect to reconstruct your own values and standards in the field of development. After this semester, I notice more things when I read publications from international organizations: I now can identify what kind of perspective on development a certain project is based on. I will admit: I do now have developed more pet peeves and cringe more often when reading project reports. I no longer see everything as rosy and fluffy. Then, is it emotionally draining and disheartening? I don’t think so. It can be a bit frustrating at times but I see those more as a room for improvement, a room that I would like to contribute to to make it better.
If acquiring new skills was the most accomplishing experience of first semester at IEDP, I would say rediscovering Philly was the most pleasant surprise, an eye-opening experience that I am forever grateful to have! First few weeks in Philly, I did subscribe to the perception of Philadelphia that most outsiders put forth: a dangerous city. I know that the same concern could have crossed a few people’s minds when they consider IEDP. I of course cannot speak for the entire cohort but personally, a several efforts I have engaged into get to know the city better outside the campus have really changed the way I see the city beyond its dilapidated façade. If you look closely, west Philadelphia is full of vibrant cultures. There are a lot of people with great minds who work hard to make this city a better place for more people. Just like anywhere else in the world, Philly is a home for many people where they find comfort. I did not know if Philly could be that place for me as well but I think it has begun to become that. Various community services activities that we participated as IEDP really helped me discover more human sides of the city. People come together to cultivate crops to provide more wholesome grocery options and an affordable cost to the Philly community. People cook starting 7 am in the morning to serve food to those in need. Aside from volunteer work, just exploring the city in general with the cohort opened my eyes as well. Local restaurants and vendors introduce their interpretations of cultures around the world, often times so refreshing and pleasant that going to those places wakes up the right side of your brain that felt like to have been in dormant with all the school work. Rediscovering Philly was a humble moment in which I realized how I also was bogged down with stereotypes and preconceived notions.
All this happened over the span of only 4 months – can you believe it? This makes me realize once again how going to school and becoming a student once again can open doors to diverse learning experiences. After having started to work, it was difficult to remember what it was like to be in challenging yet encouraging environment in which I can solely focus on development and improvement of myself. Enrolling in graduate school did entail some pressure, both time-wise and financially, but I have to say, IEDP thus far provided me with the learning experiences that made me feel like all the hassle to get here was worth it. I’m already looking forward to what I will be able to say at the end of this school year!
But for the meantime, I will take a break from school so I can once again make the most out of what IEDP can provide in spring semester. Happy holidays, and the blog will resume in January once the spring semester starts!