The Journey to IEDP series was created to give readers an understanding of the myriad experiences that have led us to the IEDP. For prospective students, we hope to answer questions of how and why we decided to come to the IEDP, what the decision-making process of applying to and deciding among offers was like, and how the IEDP has aligned with our goals and expectations since we’ve matriculated into the program. This blog series will show how some of our cohort-mates have navigated these questions and more.
When I studied at the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a double major in neuroscience and Russian, I had a few different ideas about the type of career I wanted. A career in education was not on the list. Yet, somehow without intending to, I managed to work exclusively in education for several years after I graduated.
My first job after undergrad was with the U.S. Department of Defense, where I supported international colonels and generals studying at the National Defense University. I left that job to pursue a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Batumi, Georgia. When my Fulbright ended, I spent 4 months traveling around Ukraine and Kazakhstan to recruit high school students for a U.S. Government scholarship program. I then returned to the States for a job in international student services at a small college in New York State. I also spent a summer leading a group of high school students on a cultural immersion program in Mongolia.
The Grad School Search
While I loved working in international education, it somehow still didn’t occur to me that I could build a career in the field. When I decided it was time to attend graduate school, I created obsessive spreadsheets comparing programs in global public health, international affairs, and Eastern European and Central Asian studies in an attempt to find “the one” program that was perfect for me. Although neither development nor international education programs were on my radar, somehow the International Educational Development Program at Penn popped up during my research.
I generally don’t believe in “signs”, but I swear the universe was speaking to me that day. As I read about IEDP, I knew it was what I was looking for. I scrapped my original spreadsheet and applied exclusively to programs in international education. Penn remained my top choice, and I was so anxious about being accepted that I put off submitting the application for months after I had completed it. When I received my acceptance, I cried.
Graduate school is not cheap, so before I made my decision, I wanted to be absolutely sure that IEDP was right for me. I saved up so that I could visit three schools on their accepted student days to learn as much as I could about the programs. During these visits, I sought out conversations with current students away from professors and administrators in order to ask tough questions and get honest answers. In the end, my choice was easy.
While it may sound trite, the best advice I can give to someone considering graduate school options is to consider fit. It’s easy to get caught up in rankings or perceived prestige, but the grad school experience is so much more than that. Here are some of the reasons I decided IEDP was the best fit for me.
1.) The Curriculum
While international education may already seem pretty specific, there’s a fair amount of diversity among programs. Some prepare students for careers in study abroad or international student services. Others focus on education policy or on comparing the education systems of different countries. There are also international development master’s programs, though many of these approach development from a primarily economic perspective.
IEDP’s focus on international development through education, with the flexibility to pursue individual interests within the field, is part of what drew me to the program. This year, I am taking courses on multilingual education, monitoring and evaluation, GIS mapping, and curriculum development. My peers are taking other electives in a wide range of subjects, including public health, early childhood development, higher education, and policy.
2.) The Critical Lens
The history (and present) of international development is ugly in a lot of ways, and IEDP doesn’t shy away from this. We spend a lot of time in the first semester unpacking issues of colonialism, White saviorism, globalization, etc. Many days I leave class with more questions than answers. More than once I have questioned whether it is even ethical for me to pursue work in this field.
My assumptions about the world are challenged in important and uncomfortable ways in IEDP. This is a crucial part of my graduate experience, and I am confident that I will be a better development professional (and person) because of it.
3.) The Cohort Culture
When I visited Penn on accepted students day, several current students talked to me about how IEDP’s leadership works to foster a supportive cohort culture. I have definitely found this to be true.
A few days ago, we got news that the entire university is moving to online classes until the end of the semester because of coronavirus concerns. Some students are being asked to leave their university apartments. Some are making the difficult decision of whether or not to return to their home countries. Many are worried about parents, grandparents, and other loved ones with compromised immune systems.
Although I am currently away from Philadelphia and do not know when I will be able to return, the amount of support and love I have felt from my cohort-mates over the past few days has been incredible. We have been in touch every day, offering one another whatever kind of support we can, whether it’s a place to sleep for those who may have to leave their apartments, a ride to JFK airport for those going home, or simply space to vent about our anxieties. I am incredibly moved by the love and support of this community, and grateful to the IEDP leadership for promoting this culture of support from the very beginning.
I am definitely not excited about transitioning to online learning, but I take comfort in knowing that my peers (and professors!) are all ready to support me.
Choosing a master’s program is a big decision that can involve significant financial and personal sacrifice. I am happy to say that through obsessive research, valuable conversations with students and alumni, and a bit of serendipity, I was able to find “the one.”