A Penn Road Less Travelled By: A Career in International Development

By Hannah Peterson (C ’12)

“Wow, that’s so amazing. I wish I could do something like that!”

“I’m so jealous of you. You’re actually going to be helping people, while I’m sitting stuck at my desk all day”.

“That’s such a great decision, I wish I had decided to travel while I was young.”

These were the responses I heard over and over again by my friends, classmates and family when telling them my decision to move to Nicaragua to work for a community development non-profit after graduation.  There were feelings of jealousy, regret and paralysis, and I couldn’t understand it, because there was absolutely nothing stopping them from making my same decision.

As I was starting my final year at Penn I was stuck in the age-old dilemma of coming to terms with my future. I put on that pants suit I had spent treacherous hours searching for in the mall the summer before.  I bought myself one of those fancy leather Penn folders and I pasted a smile on my face.  I walked around the OCR career fairs pretending like I was enjoying what I was seeing.  I went through all the motions as I thought I needed to, yet I kept having the feeling that I was choosing the best of the worst option.  Their pen design is better, so I must fit in there.  That recruiter gave me a ping pong ball with the company’s logo on it, they must have a fun work environment.  When trying to write my cover letters it was painful to find reasons I wanted to work at each firm.  In fact, what I found myself searching for on each of their websites was their charity work they in order to convey any genuine interest in my statement.

One day, I saw a post for an international career fair at George Washington University.  I didn’t really have time in my schedule to drive to D.C, but I was curious, so I went.  First there was a panel of professionals that work in the development field. I found something in common with each of them, whether it was their love of languages or their curiosity of the world.  As I entered the career fair, I started talking with different organizations and upon being asked the question “and what experience do you have?” where I normally choke up and start stretching the truth, I realized that all of my experience fit perfectly.  I had to force myself to leave one booth and move on to the next.  I started up conversations with graduate students who had all worked abroad and had such amazing life stories.  I had never connected with so many people in one room. It was an overwhelmingly satisfying feeling. I hadn’t actually ever sat down and looked at my resume to find a pattern of what I was interested in.  I just assumed my path had to follow everyone else’s.  It was such a relief!

Once I got home, I did a lot of research on international career opportunities and in particular international development.  Soon after, I received an email from Career Services notifying me of an upcoming online international career fair.  I stalked that web page for a solid week, clicking on every link and finding out about amazing international experiences that were out there. Each one seemed appealing, but they were either too constricting, too expensive or in places I wasn’t particularly interested in.  That was until I clicked the link for Manna Project International. I had never heard of this organization, but it was located in Latin America, which is my area of interest.  I started watching the video for their Nicaragua site and could picture myself doing what the current volunteers were involved in.  I wanted to throw down my books and get on a plane to Managua to meet the amazing faces I had just watched.  I couldn’t get my mind off of that video.

I immediately applied and was asked for an interview soon after. I couldn’t sleep the night before, not because I was nervous, but because I was so excited to talk to people in the organization who had such similar passions as me.  I got the job a few weeks later and the rest is history.  There is not one day that goes by that I regret my decision.  I am living my dream right now and that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t really think about my own happiness and how I want to spend my life. Additionally, I am now exposed to the growing career field of international development, and the opportunities are endless!

Author: Guest Perspective

Our guest perspective account includes views from Penn alumni, current students and employers, writing exclusively for Penn & Beyond!