When I applied for the Johnson Opportunity Grant I was hoping to get an internship with the United Nations Development Program in Bucharest, Romania. I am originally from Romania, but I live in a different city. The inhabitants of the capital city of Bucharest scornfully call the rest of the country "the province". The thought of working for a development organization while trying to break the stereotypes associated with "the provincials" greatly appealed to me. But, to my disappointment, I hadn't heard anything about my application as I was leaving campus in June.
In the meantime, however, Prof. Kramer in the German Department told me about the opportunity to register for a German-intensive internship program in the former capital of Western Germany, the city of Bonn. And so I did. I got in touch with the program coordinator in Bonn, who helped me pick out a couple of organizations to apply to and then all I had to do was wait. Towards the end of June I still had no answer from either, I almost resigned to the thought that the summer I had envisioned was not going to happen. And then I got an e-mail from the program coordinator in Bonn asking me how soon I could come to Germany because I was being offered a six-week internship to work in the Financial Department at Church Development Service (Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst). EED is a non-profit organization that funds development projects all around the world, but mostly in Africa and Asia. I booked my flight and in about a week I found myself in my German dorm room as it finally dawned on me that, starting the next day, I would have to only speak in German for the next couple of weeks. Slightly scary, to say the least. (Fun fact: my first day of work, I got off at the wrong bus stop because I couldn't understand what the driver was saying, and so, despite waking up three hours before I had to get to work, I managed to be 15 minutes late.) I met my supervisor the next day, as well as some other colleagues I was going to work with and I found them all very welcoming and friendly. This proved to be very helpful especially in the beginning when I wasn't completely confident of my German speaking abilities. My first week I had the chance to read more about the organization, including information on where it gets its funds from, how are they allocated, who makes these decisions and so on. To complement this, I accompanied my supervisor at staff meetings, whose dynamics was very interesting to observe.
The next week I started working on a project he had assigned for me, which consisted of compiling a database of all the evaluation reports EED received in 2008 from their partner organizations. There were about 90 such reports in total. In order to do this I first had to go around the organization to find all these reports and then make a brief summary of their content and add other details of interest for EED. At the same time, as part of the Germany Hands-On Program, I also wrote journals every week in which I would discuss topics such as atmosphere at work, relations with colleagues and superiors and the nature of my work. At the end of my internship I submitted a research paper written in German that looked at the role these evaluation reports play within global development work.
If I was in the least bit hesitant before this internship about my desire to go into development work, this experience has definitely helped me realize that this is the path I want to take in the future. As an Economics major, I know my experience this summer will help me make a meaningful contribution to class discussions. I also believe that the hands-on experience I got this summer will influence my choices for classes at W&L: for one, I plan to get more involved in the Shepherd Poverty program at W&L. As this summer proved to me, you can never know which door will open for you next but such wonderful programs as the Johnson Opportunity Grants make sure that they will open.