I recently spoke with Brandon, a 2021 IEDP graduate who is now working full-time at UNESCO Bangkok, where he completed a remote internship during spring semester 2021. Brandon was raised in Tennessee, and — prior to IEDP — worked in Bangkok as an English teacher.
Brandon has shared his experiences on the blog before — You can read more about his decision to apply to IEDP here, approach to course selection here, and experiences throughout the 2019-20 school year here!
Let’s start with your time as a student. What surprised you about the IEDP experience?
I think what surprised me the most was that everyone came from such different backgrounds — where they were from geographically, what their career experiences were before IEDP, what their experiences were with development, their areas of interest — That really surprised me.
Going in, I thought, I’m not going to be able to keep up with these people. I’m a teacher — My background is in linguistics, but I don’t have any experience with development or even with working in a ‘traditional’ office.
Teaching is just so different from most jobs — My classroom was my office. I hadn’t been writing what I thought of as traditional reports or anything like that in my career. I just thought that everyone would be so ahead of me.
But I found that everyone brings something to the cohort, and everyone’s perspectives, skills, and backgrounds were so helpful to understand international educational development.
What are some of the skills that you developed through the program that you’ve found especially helpful in your work?
Going through the process of working together with other people was really important. When working, you always have to collaborate with other people. And in so many jobs, you end up doing a lot of work that appears out of nowhere in a really short amount of time — and it needs to be done really well. So I think that the technical proposal experience was a great real-life application for the work that we’d be doing in the future.
I developed another important skill through Dr. Wagner’s class (Introduction to Education in Developing Countries; an IEDP requirement). I remember that the class had assignments that were, I thought, surprisingly short. But actually, it’s really, really hard to be able to write something that is both short and effective. That’s something that, even in my job now, I still struggle with. When you’re dealing with education stakeholders, they don’t always have time to read a lot of information. This requires you to be really to-the-point and to be strong and effective.
So in the class, you might think at first, I’m in grad school – Why am I writing something that’s 500 words? But actually, that’s one of the most effective things you can do if it’s done well.
Tell me about your internship assignment.
I interned remotely with UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education in Bangkok, Thailand under the Inclusive Basic Education Team – which is the team that I’m working with now. My IEDP internship was technically from January – May 2021, because I graduated in May, but I continued to intern with the team for another two months after that.
For some context, UNESCO Bangkok is both a cluster office (which means we work with a few countries, such as Thailand) and a regional bureau for education. This means that we cover 46 countries in all of Asia-Pacific. The Inclusive Basic Education Team, the team I worked under, is split into two areas: early childhood and inclusive education (which includes many areas of inclusion such as disability-inclusive education and multilingual education).
My tasks as an intern included writing a lot of concept notes and preparing for presentations, drafting reports, and compiling resources…a lot of the work really helped me to understand the organization itself and the team. Those were my day-to-day tasks, but I also worked on an independent task conducting language policy mapping, which is one of my main responsibilities now.
Since you were part of the 2019-20 cohort, you’d have expected when you applied to IEDP that your internship would take place in person. What was it like to navigate that unexpected shift to a remote internship?
Right – I think that, no matter the situation, whether you’re in-person or remote, it’s important to have an open dialogue with your supervisor, your team, and anyone you work with directly, about your working style remotely and, especially during the heightened remoteness of the pandemic, how that may affect you personally.
For building connections, you may be the type of person who likes to send emails to people and network intensely. I’m not really like that: I just like to talk with people and chat more organically. I wanted to close a bit of the distance in working remotely, so I set up a meeting early with my supervisor and shared my goals and interests. That way, whenever things would come up outside of my tasks, my supervisor could say, OK, I know that Brandon is interested in this.
This allowed me to be looped into what was happening on the team for my own knowledge and learning. If a project seemed interesting, I would ask if I could learn more about it or contribute in some way. For example, I asked if I could support reviewing teacher training modules to bring in perspectives from my time as a teacher and taking Dr. GK’s curriculum class.
So, with the unexpected shift to remote internships, I was creating opportunities for myself to connect and have a presence throughout the whole internship. This process worked for me with a remote internship, but it can apply to in-person internships as well when you may want to discuss your experiences, positive or negative, with your supervisor, and what can be done, and how you can make the most of your time. It also helped that I had a really supportive team that found ways to include me, even from the other side of the world.
Can you tell me about what happened after your internship that led you to this full-time role?
After my internship ended, a consultancy post became available to continue the language policy mapping I worked on as an intern, as well as provide support to activities on inclusive education, primarily focusing on multilingual education.
So I applied for it and then got the role. As an intern, I was surprised that something I began to work on as an intern – the language policy mapping – would become a big part of the work that I do now.
Can you share more about your current responsibilities in this role?
My full-time role is supporting the activities of the Asia-Pacific Multilingual Education Working Group. Under the Learning and Education 2030+ Networking Group, there are many collaborative groups working on specific areas of education that work towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on inclusive and quality education for all. The MLE Working Group works toward promoting multilingual education and reducing language barriers in education throughout the region.
For much of last year, a lot of my work involved planning webinars around specific themes for multilingual education. For example, in December, we had a webinar about designing different assessment instruments and gathering data to capture the learning outcomes of multilingual learners.
So I work on webinars, develop project proposals, support different projects — That’s mostly what I work on, but I also give general support for inclusive education as well. For example, we just recently finished supporting the 2nd Asia-Pacific Education Minister’s Conference (APREMC-II) for ministers of the 46 Member States of the region and other education stakeholders to take stock of the progress made towards SDG 4, along with the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and determine priority actions and strategies for addressing learning recovery and transformative education systems.
For the transition from my internship to now, I don’t support all activities for the team in my day-to-day tasks, including early childhood, as much as I did during my internship. I stay in the loop through our weekly meetings but I don’t provide as much support in this role.
Can you share a bit more about your work with language policy mapping?
The language policy mapping provides an understanding for different stakeholders about the different language policies in the countries — specifically regarding the use of these policies in education. What languages are recognized and given status in government documents? What languages can be used as language of instruction, as subjects? Is it only national languages, or also non-dominant languages and languages spoken by ethnic minority children?
For the mapping, we not only look at what the policy says — We also look at what happens in practice. There may be times when there are gaps in the information and a lack of data available, or policies and practices don’t align. In these situations, I try to look at well-documented case studies from experts or reports that show what the MLE situation is like. Then, the policy mapping can be used as evidence-based research that may inform policymaking and policy advocacy for mother tongue-based multilingual education.
Through the policy mapping process, you realize that you have to really take in all of the information you can from different perspectives, understand the positions, and then think, OK, what is actually happening here? I’m definitely using those same skills that you’re currently learning in Proseminar!
Anything that I missed, or any last thoughts you’d like to share?
As you begin your internship, think about what your goals were for coming into this graduate program. What can you get out of the internship that aligns with those goals?
For example, do you want to learn a new skill? Are you looking for a career transition? Do you want to be in an environment that is very practice-focused — where you’re producing and implementing content — or do you want to move into a more managerial role?
From there, you can think about what sort of tasks you want to take on during the internship that will either really hone your existing skills or help you learn completely new ones, or maybe a combination of both.
Or maybe you can even figure out if you don’t want to do something. For example, with UNESCO, you may not always physically see something that you’ve worked on come to fruition, but you just have to know that it’s out there and people are using it. On the other hand, with a different organization, you might be implementing: You might be the person running teacher trainings or doing school visits all the time. This also depends on many factors like the role and level within an organization, but interning can help you learn these things.
You really have to think about what sounds like you – and through the internship experience, it also helps to make sure that some things are not for you.
For me, my background was in the classroom — so I was used to doing a lot of implementing. I thought that I wanted to transition away from that, but the only way that I could be sure of this was to try the complete opposite of implementing firsthand.
I really encourage everyone to think about questions like that so that you can really get the most out of the internship.