25 April 2006

ah, africa

Okay, here it goes: How I Became Interested in Africa.

Actually, it's a pretty simple story. When I was three months old, my parents moved to Africa. Liberia, specifically. I was approximately the size of a loaf of bread, so I can't take any of the credit, but the result was that my first memories are in Liberia: I learned to walk in Liberia, started school in Liberia, lost my first tooth, well okay, in Nigeria, and basically called Liberia home for 10 years.

After that, it would've been pretty hard not to be interested in Africa, although I do know some people who have managed.

We left in 1990, which is an auspicious year for anyone who knows Liberian history. I spent the next several years trying to figure out this place they call the United States, and now I'm forever trapped between the two continents. Hopefully not in a bad way. It means, essentially, that I call more places home. Sometimes it is a bit like having amnesia. I forget that I know what I know, like which little plants will shrivel when you touch them, or where the back road next to the railroad tracks goes, until I am there and it works.

And somehow from this, I have managed to pull the beginnings of a career. I still don't know where it's going, but I studied international development in undergrad, worked for two years in Rwanda, and now I'm trying to find a way to use law school to work for justice. Somehow.

Now, for just one moment, I am going to rant about higher education. If you happen upon this blog, and you are interested in working overseas, in development or human rights or anything, really, please, go work or live or volunteer overseas first, for at least one year. At least.

Do not get a masters degree before you have worked overseas.

Just don't. No one believes me when I tell them this, but trust me. I know that it's hard to get a job with only a bachelor's degree. I know that it looks easier to continue on with higher education while your parents are still paying. But let me tell you when I have seen. I have seen many students come straight from undergrad. I have listened to them asking me, "How do you get these amazing jobs and go to such exciting places?" I'll tell you how: I have already worked there. It is much harder to get a great job with a great organization in Africa if you have never worked in Africa - or somewhere outside of your country - before. There is a great deal of competition for these jobs, and if you've never worked overseas, you just do not have the skills or experience to get the job. Your degree is too specialized for your qualifications.

Also, you need to know why you are here in grad school, lest you should go crazy. And you don't really know, unless you've done the work or at least been close to it, that you really do want to do it. Your safari in Kenya is not enough. Visiting your brother in the Peace Corps in Namibia is not enough. Even your semester in South Africa is just not enough. You have to work, and reasonably independently. Even if you volunteer, even if you have to pay to be there, you must get at least one year of experience before you go on to grad school.

I have spoken.

2 comments:

Joy said...

Marie,

You might want to check out International Justice Mission in Washington DC. They need lawyers to fight for justice all over the world. They do amazing work.

www.ijm.org

Joy

Nerina said...

Pretty amazaing story, I'm quite jealous. I never knew much about Africa until I started to work with Somali refugees here in the US. Needless to say, they stole my heart. After that I basically got thrown into anything and everything related to Africa. I'm an undergrad now - Public Service, Public Administration and I can't wait until the day things are, well, better and right in Africa.

Thanks for your story,
nerina