Monday, February 28, 2011

3 Months until Guatemala!

Over the past two months, the pieces for my Nest Summer Fellowship have slowly been falling together, first with being selected for the amazing opportunity of serving as a Nest Summer Fellow in Panajachel, Guatemala, then with receiving a grant from UC Berkeley’s Global Poverty and Practice program covering the costs of nearly the entire Fellowship, and finally with extensive research about the site, health and safety measures, and position requirements. At this point, with three months remaining until I embark on my Summer Fellowship to Guatemala, I am both excited and anxious to learn more about the position and begin preparing for what is sure to be a life-changing experience.
As a student in the Global Poverty and Practice minor at UC Berkeley, I am currently enrolled in a course called “The Ethics, Methods, and Pragmatics of Global Practice,” along with 40 other students who will each be embarking on their own unique Global Poverty Practice Experience this coming summer. In addition to serving as a forum for each of us to share our thoughts, qualms, and excitements about each of our upcoming experiences, this course has challenged me to learn about (and practice!) a variety of research methods – including taking fieldnotes, conducting interviews and surveys, and taking visual documentation – all of which I’m sure will be incredibly beneficial to my experience as a Nest Fellow. I have also been working on an extensive literature review, exploring a vast mountain of literature related to the highlands of Guatemala, microfinance (and the context behind Nest’s unique microbarter model), and the effects of globalization and increased access to the global market on the indigenous communities that I will be working with in Guatemala. My research has been fascinating so far, and through preparing my literature review I hope to arrive in Guatemala will a rich background on the communities that I will be working with and on the context behind the work that I will be doing.

What most excites me about being selected as a Nest Summer Fellow is the opportunity to experience microfinance work firsthand, in the field, after nearly a year of researching and discussing microfinance and its role in international development in a classroom setting. I’ve learned that despite its immense promise, microfinance is not a panacea for development, and I am excited to work with an organization with such a unique and innovative form of microfinance that seeks to avoid the high interest rates, predatory lending practices, and exploitation that have been seen to characterize many traditional forms of microfinance.

I can’t claim to be completely worry-free about this experience, however. Though I have traveled extensively and spent entire summers in both Ecuador and Spain on language immersion programs, I have never traveled or lived independently for such an extended period of time in a completely foreign country. I am thrilled to be joined on my Fellowship by another Nest Summer Fellow, but I know that the two of us will have to take extra precautions traveling as two, young, American women in a foreign country, and I know that my Spanish language skills could definitely use some brushing-up before I leave in June! Nonetheless, I can’t wait to book my flights, pack my bags for Guatemala, and begin what is sure to be an incredibly fulfilling summer!

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