Thank you, Bangkok

Thank you, to the sweet van driver who made sure I got on the 7:20AM and 5PM van every day. Thank you, to the two ladies who greeted me with a friendly “Sawat-dee-ka Prae” and knew my order of fried chicken and sticky rice each morning (yes, I had fried chicken & sticky rice every, single, day). Thank you, to fruit stand ahjushi who cut my pineapples and watermelon and warmly said “Sawat-dee-krap Jani” each afternoon. Thank you, to my colleagues who welcomed me so warmly into the office. Thank you, to my sassy manager who morphed into an older brother and friend during our four months together. Thank you, to this project for giving me the opportunity to travel across five countries and twelve cities, and allowing me to have the experience of a lifetime. And thank you, to EDC for offering me a remote consultancy position with this project and future EDC projects. Yay for finally getting paid!

Thank you, to the friends, both old and new, who’ve made my time in Bangkok so much more worthwhile. To Dr. GK who opened up this opportunity for me; to my IEDP/Penn folk who’ve explored the city/country with me; to the Thai friends who’ve helped me navigate life in this country; to the State-side friends who made sure I didn’t get too homesick; to the ever-loving and steadfast boyfriend who virtually went on this experience with me #thankgodfortechnology; and most of all, to my parents, for their unwavering support and belief in their daughter.

These past four months have been challenging in many ways, but rewarding in so many more ways. I’m sad to part with this city, but I am beyond excited for the adventures that await me in Seoul.

Thank you, and I’ll be back for you, Bangkok!

‘Ko’ means ‘Island’

Thailand has hundreds of islands surrounding the mainland, and no trip to Thailand is complete without ample time on the beach! With a little less than a month left of my four-month stint in Bangkok, I’ve realized I have only a few more weekends left to enjoy this country. That said, a friend and I set off to a weekend adventure on an island just under 4 hours away from Bangkok. We went to Ko Samed and had such a relaxing, albeit short, getaway. It was raining a ton all week long, so I was worried that our weekend would be filled with rain. Also, on the morning of our trip, it started raining – no, pouring – and so I was really setting myself up for disappointment. But, lets talk about miracles! The rain stopped and the sun was a-shining the minute we got off of our four hour bus-ride. There was a nice breeze on the ferry ride into the island, and for the next 48 hours, we had perfect, breezy, and sun-shiney weather.

We lounged in the water all day long, had lots of cocktails and wine, enjoyed good music, and caught up on reading. Currently, I’m re-reading The Alchemist; with the constant changes that are going on in my life these days (graduating from grad school, moving across the globe, etc.), I think re-reading this book will help me gain new insights into my life that I hadn’t gleaned when I read it previously! For dinner, we watched an incredible fire show. I was too busy snap-chatting it away to J and other friends, so I wasn’t able to capture too many permanent photos, but I’ll upload pictures I was able to capture below. #snapchat #truemillennial :’3

The weekend flew by too quickly and as I’m sitting in my cold, cold office, I can’t help but wish I were still on the beach… 🙂

Quant vs. Qual? I’m so confused!

We are an efficient, results-driven society. We like to say we understand things by being able to babble off a few statistics and cite a few studies; we like to boil down a large study into a handful of short, colorful, easily comprehensible info-graphics; we like data; we like results. But – how are these results captured? How is data provided? How can a quantitative data-set accurately depict the true happenings of a vast project?

After implementing similar versions of the same survey questions, focus group conversations, etc., to 12 different groups of people, I feel like I can role play the entire 4 hour conversation by myself – in my head. I know what questions will feed into others, how to encourage more responses from my less vocal participants, how to probe; to an extent, I even can anticipate the types of answers I will be hearing. Yet, now that I have completed my month-long trip and am back in the office, I am nervous. Why? Because I wonder how we will quantify the rich data we’ve amassed throughout our field visits. Each university is a complex organization with layers of history, culture, and other external factors that play into the way the project is implemented within their context. I’ve always been one to champion quantitative data analysis, because I felt that it was the best and most efficient way to capture a large amount of data but now I’m starting to doubt that – qualitative data captures so much more depth, and I can’t quite grasp yet how a set of quantitative results will provide that layer of complexity I wish to show in my analyses…

It’s a good thing I’m an intern, and not the M&E Manager, since I have tons to learn.

Behind the Instagram Photos…

As most of you know, I’m on a major South East Asia “tour” to conduct tons of focus groups and interviews with all of our partner universities. So far, I’ve been to

– Phnom Penh, Cambodia
– Vientiane, Lao PDR
– Hanoi, Vietnam
– Hue, Vietnam
– Danang, Vietnam

Next week, I’ll be traveling to the South of Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City. Then to Siem Reap, Cambodia and finally Mandalay, Myanmar. Throughout my nearly two weeks of travel so far, I’ve taken tons of photos and shared them with many of you via social media. South East Asia is truly a beautiful region.

It is also astonishingly resilient, as so much of its recent history is filled with violence. If you wish to read a few articles of the truly terrifying and gruesome events that took place in the last half of the 1900s, particularly in Cambodia and Laos, click the following links:

S-21 Prison in Cambodia
Lao PDR: the Most Heavily Bombed Country in the World

After going to “popular tourist destinations” such as the S-21 Prison, the Killing Fields, and the COPE Center, I leave with such a heavy and shameful heart – where was this information during history class in my middle and high schools? Being educated in the US has made me blissfully oblivious of the other half of the world, and it’s only now that I’m learning more about what has happened in one of the world’s most overlooked regions. I know I can’t put the total blame on my education, since it’s also my own responsibility to educate myself. So, if there are any readings you all suggest for me regarding this region, feel free to drop me a private message and share!

On another note, my travels have been fairly smooth, logistically. As a USAID sponsored project, our per diem and travel allowances allow us to travel rather lavishly. I am reminded of Dr. GK’s own words of working as a consultant in her home country and getting paid a high hourly rate due to her position. If I’m benefiting so much from this system as an unpaid intern, I can’t even begin to imagine how much more money is being spent on those with senior positions.

This trip has definitely given me a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to share more with you all in the coming weeks! Talk soon.

One month in.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I have really been focusing on settling in and trying to keep up at work, and I’m proud to say that one month later, I kind of, almost, sort of get this project! Here’s a quick tid-bit about the focus of my work last week:

Last week, I went to two partner universities in Thailand to conduct my first set of focus groups and interviews with professors (starting next week, I’ll be traveling to countries throughout South East Asia to conduct these site visits). The focus of these visits is to create a series of surveys that will be used to measure the progress of our project for the next few years. What’s pretty neat about this process is that the survey will be created through a totally bottom-up, instead of top-down, process. What I mean by this is that many of the tools used to measure progress of this project is created by the DC office, or adapted from other projects, etc. etc. This time, though, my manager and I are going to visit each university and having in-depth conversations with each of the professors/senior staff, to understand what they need, how this project is helping (or not helping!) them and their students in the long-term, and more. Through these conversations (we’ll be visiting 12 universities), my manager, W, and I are hoping to get a clear understanding of how we should be quantifying impact, how we should be measuring progress, and what change can look like in the future.

What I’m interested in, is this particular aspect of the conversation we are calling “Institutionalization”. Basically, it’s just a fancy word for sustainability. We are really interested in how sustainable this project will be, after USAID COMET is no longer operating – would there be a widespread push in instruction to be more participatory and student-centered? Would students be graduating with more of the necessary skillsets needed to succeed in the workplace? Would the work we are doing here positively impact the way schools and industries partner up to employ students? Each university throughout our five partner countries will obviously have different successes and challenges, and I’m excited to delve into what kind of impact this project is having on different institutions across the Lower Mekong sub-region.

I’ll be traveling back to back, to 4 different countries and 9 cities throughout the next 4 weeks, so I’ll be sure to keep y’all posted here!

USAID COMET @EDC

Summers are typically slower months for organizations all around the globe – people are on vacation, the atmosphere is more relaxed…but not here at EDC Bangkok. In July alone, we have a plethora of deliverables that are keeping all of us here on staff super busy! And then in August, we have even more deadlines to meet, so we need to prepare for those deadlines on top of meeting our July deliverables! Needless to say, it’s been pretty hectic here.

Once I got into the office, my manager had scheduled people the project team to meet with me individually and go through an overview of the project and what their role is. Through these series of meetings, I was able to piece together the many facets of this project and understand how they all come together to achieve our main Goal. Our goal is to strengthen the employability of youth in the Lower Mekong partner countries by increasing skillsets of workers in the STEM+AT fields. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math + accounting and tourism). To do this, EDC has cultivated a number of partnerships with universities across the 5 Lower Mekong countries (Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar), and is currently working with their administrators and professors to bring more targeted learnings to their students. This entire project is called the COMET (Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training) project, funded by USAID and carried out by EDC, the Education Development Center. Lots of acronyms, right? Development really is full of acronyms. So, so many acronyms.

Anywho, one thing that EDC supports professors on is backwards design! After a semester of taking a course through IEDP that focuses specifically on curriculum mapping, backwards design, and developing objectives, reading about this terminology made me feel so much more at ease, knowing that I at least knew something on my first week here! Thank you, Dr. GK, for that :). While I’m not on the training team (they are the ones who work with professors and conduct workshops), I did express my interest in learning more about how they train their professors on these concepts. Hopefully, I will be able to go on some classroom observations in the future and see first-hand how EDC supports university professors. I’d love to use that opportunity to connect what I learned in the classroom to practical and real-time application of those concepts.

Another aspect of EDC’s work in this region is evaluating students, employers, and professors to understand what the skill gaps are in employability and create solutions to fill those gaps. Currently, 80% of businesses are looking to hire college graduates. However, only 16% of employers believe that students are graduating with the skills they are looking for. More can be read about this issue here. And here. This evaluation piece, through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and more, is where the M&E team comes in (currently a whopping total of 2 people: myself, and my manager, W). The main purpose of the M&E team is to make sure that our project activities align with our goal (mentioned earlier), that our programs are making a positive impact on the students and universities we are supporting, and that we are meeting our target goals. Right now, we are only in the beginning half of the project, and so we are still putting together all of the baseline surveys, etc. that will guide our future activities. This is so exciting for me because I’m able to take part in the actual creation of the tools that will be tracking our project for the next 3-5 years.

I still have so much to learn, and I definitely have to turn back to my notes from IEDP’s 622 class to keep up with W and the rest of the team, but I am sure I’ll get familiar with it all in no time.

On another note, I’ve had a 5 day weekend because it was a national holiday for the past 3 days. Murni and I went to Pattaya and enjoyed the beach for 2 days. It was really nice to get out of the city and lounge on an island (Koh Larn) over the weekend. We had a great time exploring the island and eating yummy food! I’m so thankful that I have a great classmate and friend to share my Bangkok experience with and I can’t wait for the other two IEDP-ers to join us in a few short weeks! Below are some photos.

The Kindness of Strangers.

Last semester, upon finding out that I will be going to Bangkok for the summer, a fellow classmate of mine exclaimed that being nice and smiling a lot in Thailand will get me very far, and that Thai people are some of the nicest people. I didn’t realize just how accurate her words were until I got here one week ago!

I’ve gotten through my very first week in Bangkok relying 150% on the sheer kindness and generosity of the strangers I’ve met here. From the two young men who held the crowd at bay while I desperately tried to exit the super crowded subway (so that I could get to work!), to the woman who gave me an extra-large coffee after seeing my tired and swollen jet-lagged eyes without charging me, to the security guard who spent 20 minutes helping my lost self locate the correct bus station and trying to understand my English/broken Thai/hand gestures, and many more, I couldn’t have made it this week without these folks.

Other than getting myself lost and looking helpless and tired more often than I’d like, I’ve settled into Bangkok quite nicely! I have a set routine of waking up at 6:30am, catching the 7:20am shuttle to the metro stop (the closest one is only 15 minutes away on foot – I’m a huge fan of walking everywhere but with this Bangkok heat and humidity, walking anywhere for over 5 minutes is an absolute no-no!), getting to work by 7:45/8am, indulging in a strong cup of delicious Thai coffee, and settling into work at the office. I am really enjoying the relationships that I’m building with the team and I can’t wait to share more about my work in a future post!

For now, it’s 9pm here and bed-time for me. Before I leave, I’ll leave a picture of my night/day city views 🙂

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