Today, August 26, marks the date I was originally slated to COS (close service) from my third year extension with Peace Corps Moldova. Seems like a good time for a quick update!
At the beginning of June, three years to the day from when I reported for Peace Corps staging in Philadelphia, I said goodbye to Moldova, rang the COS bell, and boarded a plane for Zambia to take an exciting position evaluating a USAID education project supporting early childhood literacy. I walked out of the office that had been my central grounding point of three years – and for the last year, my daily workplace – on a Friday, and on the following Monday morning was sitting in front of a Ministry of Education provincial head on a different continent, all of a sudden representing a $30 million project.
The decision to leave Moldova a bit early was a difficult one, but ultimately, this position was too good an opportunity to pass up. I decided a while ago that program evaluation is a good fit for me within the broader sphere of development, and there is nothing I’d rather be evaluating than an education project. At the same time, my employer EnCompass LLC is a great cultural fit – it’s filled with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, is small and very mission driven for a private company, and is well known for promoting mixed methods and appreciative evaluation (two methodological commitments that are important to me). The opportunity to work on a new continent was an exciting prospect and a smart career move too in a field where people are expected to have global experience. And finally, this position offered a challenging technical role that makes use of my background in econometrics/statistics to measure the effectiveness of a very large and challenging project that is ultimately aiming to improve the literacy of half a million Zambian children. Strictly speaking, the position is a fellowship, but it is very much a professional fellowship (as compared to an educational one). In practice, what that means is that my employers get somebody at entry-level salary, and I get a level of responsibility a few years senior to what I would otherwise expect at this stage. It’s win-win.
This job is not something I was planning on or for that matter, even necessarily looking for. In fact, it’s only after a couple of other more academic fellowships fell through that I even started looking for other things. But once I came across this position, things moved quickly. I only applied in early May, and was on a plane to Zambia just over a month later. This made leaving Moldova all the more hectic, but I benefited from the fullest support of my colleagues at Peace Corps and in particular my program manager, who worked hard to give me a good reference despite the fact that taking this position left her without my help for the June intake of new volunteers and summer training period. Still, everybody who knew me in Moldova was unequivocal that this job was as close to a perfect fit as things come, and it was their support that made the quick turnaround possible.
At the same time this has all been progressing, last week, USAID officially invited Bill to join the agency as a Foreign Service Officer, where he will serve as a financial manager. His training begins September 23 in Washington, D.C., where we expect him to remain for about a year before receiving his first assignment in the field. Field assignments are typically 2 years with option to extend for a total of 4 years, and short stints in D.C. in between tours.
In an ironic twist, Bill is currently in Zambia (having followed me there in late June) and I am currently in the States, but I’ll soon be back in Zambia and we will have a couple short weeks together before we swap continents and he returns to the States to report for training. My contract is through next June, which is around when we are expecting Bill to get his field assignment. When he does, I’ll follow him to wherever he’s posted. In the meantime, we’ll do what we hope will be one last long distance stint. If given the chance, we’d love to stay in Zambia, but those decisions are still a bit of a way off and for the time being we have no idea what our location options will even be.
In short, what this all means is that we’re finally off and fully on our way. That may sound strange to friends and family who have followed my global treks and travails for the past 5 years, but while identifying as a development professional for many years now, all of a sudden others are paying me to do so. Many of my college classmates have spent years doing grad school and fellowships and entry level jobs, and I’m noticing that a number of them are just now also entering the “real” paid work world. So too, Peace Corps and grad school (and for Bill Fulbright and Global Sustainability and grad school) have been investments, and they’re finally paying off. At five years out from college and four from grad school, it’s been a lengthy investment. And totally worth it. That bears repeating: totally worth it. Looking at my classmates, it seems the nature of our generation that 5 years or so and another degree is about what it takes to break into the working world after college these days. They’re fun years, and the experiences have been fascinating, but until all that investment converts itself into a career opportunity, one is never certain. An older friend from Peace Corps astutely remarked to me recently that that first job is always the hardest to get. Nowhere is that more true than the difficult-to-break-into world of international development. So that feeling of finally being “off and on our way” is with a good deal of exhilaration – and more than a little relief.
I plan to continue the blog (why stop now?), and in the coming weeks, I hope to fill in some of its major gaps – reflections on finishing Peace Corps and leaving Moldova, the path that has brought me to evaluation over the past few years, and first impressions on Zambia and my new job. But for the time being, international moves leave quite a bit to do logistically, so for now, I’m off!