30 May 2012

Guest Post: Swatting Mosquitoes? Sign Me Up!

It's Guest Post time again! Here's my lovely sister writing about the road ahead for 2012 graduates:

I’m not a Mama…thank goodness. And I don’t plan on being a Congo Mama. Especially after reading most of the stuff on this blog. But Sarah and Jill have asked me to write something, so here’s what I’m thinking about these days.

I graduated from college a mere 20 days ago and unlike most of my friends, I’m not looking for a job. Nope, not me. I was even interviewed by a radio station because I’m such a novelty.

I have my goals set on something more fascinating, more prestigious, and more sought-after. Living in one of those “Third World" countries. Or really, a “developing” country as the post-Cold War world has taught us to say.

Developing world.

Okay, so maybe it’s neither more prestigious nor more sought-after than a full time job complete with salary, benefits, and job security. But who wants that anyway? Well, most everyone I know.

Most of my friends think I’m one-of-a-kind. I’m the only one they know who is satisfied with a part time job (that’s relevant to my degree, I might add), who wants to go to graduate school in Africa, live there indefinitely and in the interim make my bridesmaids wear crazy pagne in my wedding.

(Don't worry, not the final product.)

The secret is, I’m not very original. My friends who have been in my life more than seven years (which coincidentally is the same amount of years Sarah has been MIA from the States) know this trajectory is more genetic than imaginative.

My part time job? Yep, Sarah did the same thing, at the same place, with the same job title. Grad school in Africa? Yep, Sarah went to the American University of Cairo. Live and work in Africa someday? Yep, Sarah’s clearly been there, done that. Have crazy looking bridesmaids dresses? Well, thankfully Sarah didn’t put me through that for her wedding, but the African fabric for my bridesmaids was definitely her idea.

Sarah & Charlotte

But the good news is, Sarah is pretty much the only person I know who has done those things. So while I may not be the first Sensa-something to move to Africa, it’s the last place most people want to go. So while everyone else is scurrying to find a full time job, I’m trying to find the fastest avenue to Africa. And there shouldn't be much competition, right?

Not so fast. While I wish I could just go on a travel visa, and then somehow magically turn that into a work visa, or a student visa, or any other kind of visa that will let me stay more than a month, that’s not the most realistic thing in the world.

So I’ve spent hundreds of hours applying for scholarships to work, study, and do research in Africa. I’ve even applied for the Fulbright Scholarship. If you've never ventured into the Fulbright process, don’t. It requires a full 9-month-long research proposal, three letters of recommendation, and an intense interview where Africana scholars poke holes in your research proposal. Oh and then I have to establish an affiliation with a university in Africa.

As it turns out, connecting with someone in Africa and convincing them to write a letter saying they’d be happy to host you for a year and cater to all your needs, isn’t so easy. Even though I check my email 27 times a day, it seems folks on the other side of the world don’t. Or they’re ignoring me. Who knows.

After months of staring at an empty in-box, I eventually found an awesome professor willing to write an affiliation letter. But he was two weeks late. Don’t worry, I convinced the Fulbright committee to extend the application deadline that was set over a year ago.

At the end of all this, I ask myself, why do I need to spend months and months trying to get to the one continent most don’t want to visit?

Because I’d still rather be in that proverbial “Third World” country facing weird diseases, apocalyptic downpours, and pet-sized insects, than applying for jobs in the States that I probably wouldn’t get, and sitting in a cubical for the rest of my life. And since most people I know are focusing on the latter, I’m still going to consider myself original. And hope someone else agrees enough to help me get there.

Anyone? Anyone?


  1. This is awesome, Katie! I too was interviewed because I had trouble finding work following graduation this year (http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fetruth.com%2Farticle%2F20120519%2FNEWS01%2F705199957%2F0%2FFRONTPAGE&h=iAQHaq7Xi). My near-future plan is short-term service in the US, which is awesome, but I'm very jealous of your Africa ambitions and your toughing out the Fulbright process. Maybe I'll do it myself if I begin grad school in the US. Anyway, I thoroughly appreciated this post!


  2. Aww...Guest Posters Unite!

  3. Katie! Africa is so NOT the last place that everyone wants to go! Ok, maybe most people think we're either crazy or somehow sacrificing our happiness... (which would inevitably consist of a cubicle).

    Just come live with me.


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