One of the best realizations I’ve had during my Duke MBA career is just how much my Peace Corps service has benefited me in my studies and career recruiting. Although it may not seem like the obvious precursor to business school, I’ve found that being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) at Fuqua has greatly enhanced my experience, specifically in the following ways:
Gave me sensitivity towards being an international student
One thing I love about Fuqua is that our current student body is made up of about 40 percent international students, which has been typical in recent years. Meeting so many international classmates made me think back to what it was like for me to move to Madagascar without knowing a soul and trying to learn the language and acclimate to the culture. Of course, I wasn’t doing all that on top of studying for an MBA, so my experience has given me a greater appreciation for how hard my international classmates work.
One of the greatest compliments I’ve received was from an Asian classmate who thanked me for speaking English very clearly to him, because it made it much easier for him to understand. I remembered being in those exact same shoes and appreciating it greatly when people would recognize my situation and speak Malagasy more slowly to me.
Imparted the ability to talk to anyone
Something I experienced a lot in Madagascar was being thrust into social situations with people I’d never met. If you’re sitting next to a woman for 22 hours on an overnight bus ride, it’s a lot more pleasant for you both if you strike up a conversation. If you’re waiting for said bus to finally depart like it was supposed to have done an hour ago—and you don’t have a smartphone to stare at like we all seem to in more developed countries—you might as well joke around with the funny guy working at the bus office.
I didn’t realize it until I came to Fuqua, but having so much practice with random conversations has helped me tremendously when it comes to recruiting and networking. When you find yourself in a ‘sip circle’ with recruiters at a corporate event, you’ll be much better off having something to say instead of staring into your wine glass.
Added unique international context to my learning
Part of the reason why I did Peace Corps is that I wanted to get real, on-the-ground international work experience that was more than what a traditional expat job might provide. I am so glad I made that decision, because it has dramatically broadened my worldview and expanded my understanding of the truly global nature of business today.
My Peace Corps project was to implement a sustainability program for spice farmers who sold their cloves to Unilever. I realize now that this opportunity to see the very beginning of the supply chain is something that most people never get. Now, in classes like Emerging Markets Strategy or Supply Chain Management, I can talk knowledgeably about rural value chains and market access for smallholder farmers.
Strengthened my skills overall and gave me lots of stories to talk about in interviews
Initially I found it challenging to translate my Madagascar work experiences for people who may not be familiar with Peace Corps. However, after receiving guidance from the Career Management Center and practicing with my career fellow and other second-year students, I have been able to show that many of the unique challenges I worked through in Madagascar will have direct application to my skills in the workplace.
For example, an answer to the interview prompt “describe a situation where you’ve had to overcome an obstacle to achieve success,” could come from the time that I had to bike 56 km on muddy dirt roads to visit my project site, only to find out the farmer meeting had been cancelled. Or the time that the bus full of local girls heading to the summer camp we’d spent months organizing for them was blocked from leaving because the driver was demanding more money. They may not be examples from the corporate world, but they certainly demonstrate quick problem-solving and thinking on your feet.
Now that I’m heading into my second year at Fuqua and have passed the one-year mark since finishing Peace Corps, I still find myself missing Madagascar every day, and I’m hoping to go back and visit for spring break 2016. However, I find myself amazingly fortunate to be studying at Duke, home of the world-famous Duke Lemur Center (DLC). The lemur center gives me a priceless bit of connection to my former island home, and I’ll be volunteering there as a tour guide starting in the fall. I’m also working with them to help create a social enterprise program with Fuqua students to support the DLC’s conservation work in Madagascar. This is just another way that I’m able to bridge my experience in the Peace Corps and my MBA studies at Fuqua.
Both of them are life-changing, transformative, two-year adventures, and I couldn’t be more grateful for both of these opportunities.