My name is Naria and I am a Program Assistant with Dexis Consulting Group as a U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) Contractor. I work in USAID’s Asia Bureau on the Strategic Planning and Operations team in Washington, D.C.
When I finished my senior year of undergrad I knew I was on a slightly different path than originally planned. I studied business in undergrad and was fortunate to be apart of the honors business program which exposed me to different opportunities and career paths. Our sophomore business honors trip was to Washington D.C. where we met with an alumnus who worked at the World Bank. That was the first time I was ever exposed to the field of international development and it interested me right away. It was the first time I considered the fact that majoring in international business didn’t mean I had to work for an international corporation. It opened up the idea of working for an international bank or with international governments. The work the World Bank was doing just clicked with me right away. By the time I was a senior I spoke with another alum who had Peace Corps experience, formerly worked at USAID, and was a Foreign Service Officer. That was the first time I heard of USAID. This alum suggested I intern with an organization of interest.
Unfortunately, getting an internship at the World Bank without a master’s is very difficult so I pursued an internship at USAID. As I learned more about international development, it became apparent that I needed a master’s degree. I had always planned on getting my master’s but I had never considered doing anything besides an MBA. I spent my senior year of undergrad researching and applying to various International Relations (IR) and Business programs. I also applied for various jobs and internships.
When I found American University’s International Communication and Intercultural Relations program I pursued IR. Getting a job was my back up plan to not getting into graduate school. But, after being accepted into my top three programs (including AU, where I ended up), I landed an internship at USAID.
I spent the summer post-undergrad and before the start of the graduate program interning at USAID in the Legislative Public Affairs Office. From there, I learned the ins and outs of the organization and what type of jobs might be available to me in the future. I knew that getting into the organization would be very difficult without a master’s degree. This solidified my decision to go to graduate school right away. Just one month after I graduated from my master’s program, the stars aligned for me, and I ended up back at USAID. [This was due to previously] interning at USAID and having an M.A. from American University’s School of International Service. I also accepted a full-time job at an organization that worked with USAID during my second year of graduate school. Having professional experience, a USAID internship, and my master’s made me a competitive candidate for my current job as a USAID contractor.
When I was in undergrad, studying business, my dream job was doing marketing at Twitter or working for another Fortune 500 company/organization. Being exposed to the work that organizations like USAID and the World Bank were doing really piqued my interest in International Development. I saw a way I could combine both the public sector and public service with my private sector background. It made for a happy medium where I could pursue a job that did both.
I typically work 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. with an hour lunch.
I received a B.S. in International Business with a concentration in Marketing and a B.A. in Spanish at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After graduating undergrad, I pursued a master’s right away in International Communication and Intercultural Relations with a focus in Social Enterprise and International Development. A lot of people discouraged me from pursuing a master’s right out of college, but I had spoken to enough people in the field to know that an entry-level job in International Development, especially in Washington D.C., meant having a master’s degree. Ultimately, having that degree made a huge difference in getting my current position. Without my master’s, I wouldn’t have met the job qualifications for my current position.
My high school classes weren’t specialized or technical enough to have any real weight in my current position. What does help from high school classes are soft skills like teamwork, organization, and above all else, learning how to write. [Learning to write] is important in almost any position. My college classes were mostly the same. Apart from professional writing, the classes I took weren’t practical enough to aid me in my current position.
My graduate degree studies are what really helped me understand the ethos of my current organization and the work being done. But the skills you learn in school like analytical thinking, problem-solving, writing, communication, leadership, organization – those are always useful.
A bachelor’s degree is definitely required. Whether a master’s degree is required for IR type jobs is really dependent on the organization and city that you are in.
For me, I would say yes, a master’s is required. The city that I’m in, Washington, D.C., is so competitive that you really need a master’s to get your foot in the door at a big organization. I believe you can get away with only having a bachelor’s for a little bit, but having a master’s will get you to where you want to be faster. In the long-run, having the knowledge that a master’s or PhD brings is important to make any real progress in the field. I wouldn’t have my current job now if I didn’t have a master’s degree.
There’s so much to learn and so much that you’re exposed to working at USAID. It truly gives you a global perspective and opens your eyes to how much there is to know about the world, other countries, and other cultures.
My favorite part about this job is also the most challenging part: there is so much to learn! There is also so much technical knowledge and in-field experience that you need to understand some of the nuances of international development. Gaining that experience takes time.
Network! This is the best advice to give no matter what field you are going to, and it is the best way to learn about a particular job or field. If a job or organization interests you, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask someone to grab a coffee with you. People are always willing to help and impart knowledge. Also, read! It is so important to have knowledge of what’s going on in the world.
My favorite country that I’ve been to is Spain. I spent five months studying there and fell in love. My dream destination, however, is Seoul, S. Korea.
When it comes to your professional path, it’s important to trust yourself and your decisions. Everyone’s path is unique and there are so many paths to get where you want to be so it’s okay if sometimes you veer off the path. Your path may also change entirely, which is okay. You just have to trust yourself.
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The stars aligned when I came across your blog post!
I am entering my last semester in undergrad and I am looking to apply to IR programs in the spring to pursue a career in international communications– specifically, American University’s Intercultural Communication program. I would love to connect with you and learn more about your experience in graduate school. I’ve provided my name and email in the comments. Looking forward to hearing from you!