Rachel Phipps: Day in the Life as an IEDPer

Hi! My name is Rachel Phipps and I am a first-year International Educational Development Program (IEDP) student here at Penn GSE. Today I’ll be blogging about “a day in the life” as an IEDP’er. I wouldn’t trade my experience as an IEDP student for anything. I’m learning so much and my world is largely expanding in ways it wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

First, I thought I’d share a little bit about myself. Then, I’ll take you through what a normal day looks like for me😊. I was born in California (USA), moved to Arizona and grew up there, and then eventually moved to Utah for my undergraduate schooling and work. I attended Brigham Young University and earned my Bachelor of Arts in English Teaching in 2018. During my time at BYU, I volunteered with various organizations, worked at a philanthropic center, and was an Executive Director for the Student Service Association on campus. Around this time in my life, I also taught English and participated in developmental work in the Dominican Republic. Upon graduating, I landed a job at a public high school as an English Language Arts Teacher. I’m now in my 4th year of teaching (this year I am teaching online for my district!) and have taught all grades 9-12 and Creative Writing.

When I was accepted to UPenn, my original intent was to move to Philadelphia. The pandemic threw a few wrenches in that plan–so, I’ve been working and doing school mostly from Utah for now. As I entered this school year, I still wanted to be involved with campus life as much as I could and also further support myself. Since August, I have been working as the Graduate Assistant for Penn Violence Prevention (@penn_pvp on social media). In terms of development, I’m especially interested in equitable access to quality education globally, girl’s education, education for refugees and displaced people, comparative secondary education, human rights work, and work by the UN. I also teach English-language learning classes to some adorable students who live in China through a company called VIPKid. My VIPKid students are usually 5 or 6 years old, and I teach them pretty early in the morning because of the time zone difference. Some random fun facts about me: I’m married, I love to ski, hike, and run, I love to play with my dog, I can’t pass up buying a good hat, and my comfort food is french fries. My current quarter-life crisis is taking electric guitar lessons. I’m happy to take you along this journey with me and I hope this blog post can be a helpful resource for those who may need it!

Day in the Life: (Please note all times are on MST, which is 2 hours behind EST)


On this fine Thursday (2/25/21), I started off my day with teaching three VIPKid classes. These classes are each 25 minutes long and are a live lesson. The lessons typically cover English speaking, grammar, and reading skills. The classes are engaging and interactive, and it’s fun to break it up and teach an age group that’s so different from my high-schoolers. I can open or close my schedule throughout the month as a please, which is a great perk as a grad student.


After teaching, depending on the time of my classes, I usually am fortunate enough to be able to go back to sleep for an hour or two. After officially waking up for the day, I usually eat fruit, yogurt, and/or a bagel for breakfast. I then shower and get ready for the day while listening to one of my favorite podcasts. I used to have a bad habit of not eating breakfast, but work-from-home life has changed that and it gives me SO much more energy throughout the day.


After eating, I usually settle into my office and try to straighten up my work space to make sure I have clarity for a productive day. I also like to sit down and review readings/any prep work I have done for my classes before they start. On Thursdays, I have one class from 7:15am to 9:15am (Global Citizenship EDUC 503), and one class from 9:30am to 11:30am (Proseminar EDUC 734). I like that I get to finish off my classes for the day with Proseminar, where I get to see all of my friends in my cohort! After a week of elective courses, it is fun to reconnect with all of my fellow IEDP’ers, and of course hear all of Dr. Gershberg’s jokes. Even though my peers and I have mostly only been on Zoom together, it’s a comfortable and friendly environment and at times can truly feel like we’re all in a room with one another. However, online work and school poses difficult, painful challenges for many. It’s important that that is acknowledged. The pandemic is tough, and some days can feel defeating. I feel supported when I see my cohort members relying on each other for help when things get hard.


After two classes back to back, my brain is usually a little spent. On this day, I took my dog Alta outside for a bit and we both got some fresh air. After a few minutes of outside, I came back in and reviewed my tasks for the day. Buying a planner for this school year has been a GAME CHANGER. In the past I always went back and forth with how I wanted to organize myself (apps on my phone, iCalendar, smaller pocket size planners, etc.). This planner is a good fit for me because it’s huge, has a built in calendar, and I even bought myself some fancy pens to color code it. It’s nerdy–but it truly has been a life saver for my mental health and overall organization.

After looking at my “to-do’s,” I usually mentally map out how I want my day to go. After getting a good grasp on my plan, I took a break for lunch. On this day, I made myself some lemon pepper zucchini pasta and a protein shake. I also made space for myself to have a mental break and spent a few minutes painting. I was gifted a massive paint-by-number set for Christmas. Progress is slow–but it’s been super fun.


As I mentioned in my intro, I’m teaching English 9 online this year. Around 12:40, I had a meeting with my principal to go over a new plagiarism mini lesson we’ve implemented, discuss a student we’ve been working to accommodate together, and our upcoming professional development day. She’s a great mentor, hard working, and so kind. When you find a good mentor or supervisor–hold on to them tight! Building a successful working relationship with her has made a big difference for me professionally this year.


After meeting with my principal, for the remainder of my day I did a conglomerate of work tasks and homework tasks. This included grading assignments for my English 9 students, answering both personal and work emails, working on my Multimodal Field Notes assignment for EDUC 682 (Quantitative Methods of Inquiry), sending a thank you email to a Penn Professor who had introduced me to some D.C. based development organizations and personnel, working on my I-589 assignment for LAW 606 (Refugee Law), writing and sending out a Book Club survey for my PVP job, and figuring out a few issues with my car and a medical bill. I did most of this work from my home office, but on days like this I sometimes will change location (couch, kitchen table, etc.) to change things up and not get stuck in a mental rut. Somewhere in there, I also ate dinner! Working from home can be SO nice in so many ways, but it can also feel very isolating and mentally restrictive in other ways. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned for myself personally is the importance of being mentally disciplined in order to stay healthy and happy throughout the weeks. This Thursday in particular was a really good day, and I felt really satisfied with everything I had accomplished that day. I even searched these exact words on Spotify to find a playlist that matched my mood: “good job you did it.” 😂 Then, I remembered our wonderful GA’s had put together a few IEDP playlist’s together for us last semester! I pulled those up to listen to, and they were great mood-boosters and provided another sense of connection.


This is the time of night I usually finish my “tasks” for the day. Some days it’s much earlier, some days it’s much later. Ending my to-do’s later in the evening is a huge difference in my day-to-day life from last year, where I would finish work around 4:30pm, drive home, and could totally mentally “check out.” I have to remind myself that working full time and being a student full time is something I’ve done before, and working until 8pm or so is just how it’s going to be for the next little bit. To wind down, I usually read a book, watch a favorite TV show, or do some night-time yoga via YouTube. Afterwards I get ready for bed, and on a typical night I usually fall asleep anywhere in between 10pm and 11pm. I’m glad I’ve found ways to make my day meaningful and fun throughout this quarantine process. I’m grateful for my health, my happiness, my AMAZING cohort members, my professors, my jobs that support my livelihood, my family, and everything in between. I’m grateful for this season of my life and the opportunity to reflect. I ended this work day snapping a photo of the sunset outside of my office window, and it was a peaceful and reassuring way to end my day.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in reaching out about the IEDP Program, UPenn in general, education, the development space, or anything else please don’t hesitate. Email: rphipps@upenn.edu

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