The last few years have been dotted with various short-term trips, ranging from one week to one month (Dominican Republic, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico), but nothing long-term since 2011. Thus…I’m overdue to get the heck outta here!
For just over a year, I have been working as a counselor for university students doing internships abroad, mostly in the community development and global health fields in Latin America, Africa, and southeast Asia. Working with students and helping them have their own transformative international experiences has been incredibly rewarding. I never had a day that I dreaded coming to work, because it is an amazing feeling to know that every day I am helping students to participate in this new, exciting (and at times a little scary!) part of their journey, one that will change their understanding of the world for the rest of their lives. I have also learned a great deal from my amazing team and boss who handle really tough situations with tact, wisdom, and most importantly of all, kindness and compassion.
However, I knew from the start that higher education was not where I wanted to be forever. Though I think getting experience outside of the US is one of the most important and influential things a college student can do, when I asked myself what was the population I wanted to serve in the long run, the answer was never students at a private university. I also learned that I did not like one of the few unpleasant aspects of working with college students: you must also deal with the joys of working within the hierarchical bureaucracy of a large higher ed institution! 😛
So I set myself a timeline to get out. Routine can be comfortable, and if there is any time of my life to be uncomfortable, it is definitely now when I am not responsible for nearly anything besides feeding myself (and I have proved myself to be quite successful at this so far–anyone who knows me knows that I do indeed feed myself, quite liberally and quite often). Though I enjoyed my job, the idea of suddenly waking up in a few years and finding myself sitting at the same desk in the same 9 to 5 made me want to scream. So when my apartment lease was up in September, I got a four month sublet for the fall, thus effectively kicking myself out of Boston at the end of December, whether I liked it or not. Screaming averted.
I then applied for the Monterey Institute of International Studies‘ Frontier Market Scouts fellowship in social entrepreneurship and impact investing. I wholeheartedly hoped I’d get it, because it would be a great transition into what I really want to do, but if I didn’t get accepted–well, that would simply mean it wasn’t in the cards right now, and I planned on shipping myself down to South America regardless. I might travel, volunteer, network myself into an internship, work at a hostel, build a blog, backpack southern Brazil, move to Buenos Aires, join a traveling troupe of circus gymnasts–it didn’t matter. I just knew I had to be there, not here. A part of me was actually enamored by the idea of having no direction, and thus endless possibilities. How many times in life are we actually able to say that we can do whatever we want??
But I was even more thrilled to find out that I had been accepted!
On a short but serious list of promises I had made to myself for the upcoming year, I had also sworn that I would not spend another full winter in Boston anytime soon, after being traumatized by the brutality of the previous one, so I was quite excited to find out that I would be spending most of January in Monterey, California, completing a two-week certificate program in impact investing and social entrepreneurship management at MIIS as part of the fellowship. My inner nerd was also grinning gleefully after learning about the lineup for the program courses, including the likes of Alex Bashian of Invested Development, Ross Baird and Rob Lalka of Village Capital, Paul Breloff of the Accion Venture Lab, and Yuwei Shi, Amit Sharma, and Kent Glenzer of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, teaching modules including “Intro to Social Enterprise and Impact Investing”, “Scaling High-Impact Social Enterprise”, “Due Diligence Process and Decision-Making in Impact Investment”, “Designing an Innovative Business Model”, “Profiling Ventures for Impact Investing”, and “Cross-Cultural Competence and Survival”.
My fellow Monterey ’15 cohort members (about 32 of us) include a wide range of recent graduates, young professionals, career changers, and other folks in between, coming from diverse sectors including finance, nonprofit management, and more. It will be fascinating to see the different perspectives that each person brings to the table.
Now let’s get to the good stuff: Colombia!
Having traveled only (though thoroughly) in Central America and the Caribbean, South America has been on my “next” list for a while–Colombia being at the top. Why Colombia? Well, somewhere between my Colombian friends in Boston, my personal transformation from uncoordinated soccer player who wasn’t exactly sure what “rhythm” even was into a reborn salsera who impresses mostly myself but I would imagine the occasional other person as well, and several years of reading blogs, articles, and other anecdotes about Colombia, I slowly developed the very secure conviction that I had to go there next, and probably live there, at least for a few months.
It just so happens that Colombia is also a very exciting place for social enterprise and entrepreneurship and innovation in general, with one of the most quickly and impressively burgeoning sectors in Latin America, so it seemed increasingly like not just a personal interest but also quite possibly the best place to complete my 2-12 month field placement for my fellowship (mine will be about six months).
Beyond that, at this point I don’t have much secured. My goal is to work with a start-up or early-stage social enterprise with a small team where I can wear multiple hats and learn intimately about many aspects of the business and how they operate. In terms of sector, my interests revolve around the use of mobile technology in the development setting, especially around small business development and agriculture. I’ve been working with the fellowship placement team as well as doing a lot of research and outreach on my own, and hopefully will soon have a better idea of where I’ll end up. Location-wise, I’m pretty sure it will most likely be Medellin or Bogota, since those are the major economic and entrepreneurial hubs in the country and where most of the best opportunities will be…though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes fantasizing about living on the coast for six or so months…*sigh*.