Amy’s Adventures: A Community Health Volunteer’s Journey into Ed

Hi everyone! For today’s blog post, I had the opportunity to ask Amy Liang a couple of questions about her journey to the IEDP. Amy is the Graduate Assistant in charge of the IEDP’s Instagram (follow it!) and the monthly newsletter.

Leslie: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Amy: I’m a born and raised New York City native, and I went to college in an “upstate” NY state school called SUNY Geneseo. I switched majors quite a few times, and was even a Geology major at one point,  but ended up settling on Psychology with a minor in Anthropology, as I found the study of people really fascinating. A lot of my anthropology courses were development-related, and they ended up being my favorite courses. Wanting to find out more about what I had studied, and to see if fieldwork was for me,  I joined the Peace Corps (PC) after undergrad and served in Mozambique as a health volunteer. My experiences there eventually left me wanting to learn more, so graduate school was the natural next step. My jump from health to education isn’t entirely out of the blue though, as I worked in an education setting in some capacity or another for most of my jobs during undergrad.

Leslie: Can you tell me more about your experience in international educational development?

Amy: I actually started out in the international development field in the health sector. After college, I served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique as a community health facilitator. While I enjoyed my work, I found that most of my activities tied into education. It got to the point where I was working with the local primary school more often than I was at the health center! The whole time I figured that I would go into a Master of Public Health program, like so many health volunteers do. It wasn’t until one of the education volunteers talked about her international education grad program that I realized that the education path was something I was more interested in. It is important for me to find the intersection between both health and education in my future work, but in my experience, education is where the domino effect starts.

Leslie: In ways have you seen the health and education sectors intersect in the development field?

Amy: In my experience as a health volunteer, many of the health-related issues that people faced would be exacerbated if they did not have a strong education background. This was especially true for girls and young women. My work was mainly in community health education, and I found that interventions with students (especially young ones, and especially girls) were most impactful. Adults were much harder to reach. In general, it was easier for you to access health if you were well educated, and you were more likely to go to school if you were healthy and well-nourished. In this way, health and education are inseparable, and I hope to be able to work in the area where they overlap.

Leslie: How did you end up at the IEDP?

Amy: I knew I wanted to do graduate school because my experience in Peace Corps showed me that there was so much I did not understand and so much I wanted to learn. At that time, my training was still limited. I wanted to be of better use in the field, and after talking to peers and hearing their experiences, I decided that grad school was the best way to achieve that. A fun serendipitous little story of how I landed on UPenn: Two of my PC peers had done the Harvard International Ed Policy program, so the day after my plane landed, I hopped on a bus to Boston to attend their open house. It was there that I learned that there was a similar program at UPenn! I did some research and realized that UPenn’s IEDP was a far better fit for me. (I even found another PC Mozambique person here too! We’re everywhere!) A visit for the open house PennGSE open house confirmed that the IEDP was where I wanted to be. (A big thank you to everyone whom I annoyed in the decision making process!)

Leslie: Is there a specific component of the IEDP that made you choose this program over others?

Amy: I got the sense that the IEDP had “something for everyone”. Since I come from a mixed background of multiple disciplines and want to incorporate them into my future work, I knew I needed a program that would allow flexibility.  I have enjoyed that aspect of IEDP as it has allowed me to branch out and engage all my interests. Having a small class size was also important to me. A sense of community within your academic life is more important now than ever, and one of my favorite parts of grad school so far has been getting to know my peers.

Leslie: Thank you so much for sharing. One last question…do you have any advice for students applying to this program?

Amy: My biggest hurdle as an applicant was choosing between schools. The best piece of advice I heard was “There is no right answer. But there is the right answer for YOU.” I picked IEDP because, all factors  considered, this program was the best fit for me. It was a really difficult choice, but I followed my gut and I know I made the right decision. So prioritize fit over all else. Your education is truly what you make of it, so make sure you are choosing the place that provides you with what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. Another good piece of advice I got was “If you don’t apply, you won’t get in.” All of my classmates come from different backgrounds of all kinds. Some are fresh out of undergrad, others are returning to school after a long time. Some have ample field experience, others have none. Some know exactly what job they want, others are still exploring. But what we all have in common is that we all have something valuable to offer, and you do too. (And to be honest, all of us struggle with imposter syndrome too; welcome to the club!)

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