Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Most annoying assumptions and statements about International Development....

1. Why can't you help Americans? First of all, what are you doing to help Americans? I hope those asking this question are working with underprivileged youth, calling attention to issues of hunger, unemployment and gun violence and working to clean up the environment.  Second, we don't believe in a zero-sum game. While we spend our own energy helping the poor overseas-who, coincidentally, are worse off than the poor in the U.S.-that does not mean we don't care about the poor in our own country or advocate for more progress. Finally, if you're a Christian and saying this, shame on you.  The Good Samaritan parable should remind you that everyone is your neighbor and ties to a nation-state shouldn't matter.

2. So, are you going to be like Angelina Jolie?  Many of us have conflicting views about celebrities in development. Yes, they probably have good hearts, they have time and resources most of us don't have and they have the attention of the media.  The problem is, they're not trained in international development-a field, that requires a foundational understanding of complex cultures, economic situations, and politics. Most of us who enter prepare to spend our lives there and we end up aware of situations that celebrities are not.  For example, while they fundraised extensively for the tsunami and for Haiti, because they lack the understanding of local customs and politics, most of the money did not go to the people who needed it most.

3. So, what are you going to do with that degree, anyway? College education is supposed to teach you how to think, not necessarily prepare you for a career.  International development consists of many different professionals, as there are multiple facets of international development. Some get involved with health efforts, others get involved with business and finance, others with education, others with governance and civil society, others with human rights, still others with engineering and infrastructure. Before we figure out which sector of ID to enter, we take the time to gain an understanding of economic theory, U.S. and world politics, language proficiency, research and writing skills and world cultures.  We also intern and study abroad to get a practical taste of the field we're about to enter. For some of us, it takes years of service and advanced degrees to figure out which sector to enter.  Some of us enter something completely different.  As I said, college teaches you how to think, not necessarily what to do.

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