Hi all! 

For the blog this week, I interviewed Lena Novak, one of the first IEDP students I talked to! Throughout the summer we chatted a little bit about our interests and her adventurous road trip from California to Pennsylvania. Lena is also the Graduate Assistant (GA) in charge of the IEDP facebook and twitter pages so be sure to follow them to stay updated on weekly events, educational posts, and to learn more about what the cohort members are up to! 

Lena’s hometown: Los Angeles (South Pasadena), California 

Lena’s current location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!

Main highlights of our interview*

Leslie: Where did you go to college and what did you major in?

Lena: I went to Lewis and Clark College, in Portland, Oregon. Initially, I thought I wanted to study psychology and go into counseling. Then, I took an introduction to sociology class and I enjoyed learning about structural racism and the impact it has on communities. I also took an ethnography class and I fell in love with the process of coming into a space and observing a community while knowing your own assumptions and biases. In the end, I majored in Sociology and Anthropology, a dual major program.

Leslie: Yeah! In undergrad, I took classes in different departments like Sociology and Latin American studies. I think that through exploration, whether it is through classes, personal or professional experiences, we are able to see what we are passionate about, which brings me to my next question…What made you interested in the international educational development field?

Lena: In my junior year of college, I studied “abroad” in Tucson, Arizona, through the Border Studies Program. Our classes focused on the U.S-Mexico border and the journey of the migrant community. I worked at a bilingual school in Tucson, but we also made trips to Mexico and went to shelters and talked to people making the journey up north. This made me interested in international development in general. I continued this interest by interning with the Migrant Education Program back in Portland, and I became more interested in education. I worked with the migrant community there to give kids access to summer school education that they may not have received because they constantly move from place to place due to their parents’ jobs.

Leslie: Those are great experiences and I am sure you learned a lot about migrant communities and also the educational problems they face. What did you do after graduation?

Lena: I spent a year in Honduras with BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America). I worked with second graders in a children’s shelter. I taught English, Math, Science, Computers, PE, and Art. Half of the kids I taught lived in the shelter and the rest came from a nearby community. It was like a big campus. I also lived there, so I became part of this big community. During that time, I learned a lot about the children’s lives and their resilience. It was interesting to see how much value, care, and support the community and students felt for the teachers.

Leslie: Yes, I understand exactly what you mean. I had a similar experience working with a small community and developing strong bonds with the people there through education. Another thing you and I have in common is that we have both lived in Texas. Can you talk to me about your work there? 

Lena: I worked in Dallas for two years, at a literacy non-profit organization that works alongside the city’s public schools. We had programs during the day and after school. I felt like the curriculum we were following was not made specifically for the group of children that I was working with. During my time there, I tried my best to alter the curriculum in different capacities to fit the needs of the kids, but this is challenging because there are certain expectations in place.  

Lena in Dallas, Texas

Leslie: I agree, which is something we talk about in our classes: the importance of working with the communities when designing new programs or implementing policies that impacts them. Based on your experiences and what we have learned so far in the program, do you know what you want to focus within international educational development or where you want to work?

Lena: I am in the process of trying to figure that out now. I know I’m interested in curriculum development, but I am not sure exactly where or how. I am trying to figure out if I want to continue research in Mexico or Honduras, or if I am interested in a different area. Or what kind of curriculum development. Like… am I interested in a bilingual program? Those sorts of questions.

Leslie: Right, I feel the same way. I am sure we will have a better understanding as we go through our classes, talk to our professors, and learn from other classmates. Now tell me about your experience in Philly. I loved the city when I visited in 2018, how is it now with the pandemic? 

Lena: I feel really safe and comfortable in Philly. Most people are wearing masks outside all the time. I honestly really like Philly as a city in general.

Leslie: Had you been before?

Lena: No, I had not been here before but people are really friendly. I have had great interactions with strangers, walking down the street or at the store, which you wouldn’t think would happen during a pandemic. I live a mile away from campus and there are a lot of outdoors spaces, so I have been a couple of times which has been nice. There are other people in the cohort here and we have been able to interact in person while taking precautions. I think this is really important, when moving to a new city, that you know other people, especially during these times, which is why I am really lucky to have this cohort model at the IEDP.

*This transcript has been edited for clarity and concision