In the Summer 2014, Allison Stanford was a work-study student in Dr. Katja Weber’s inaugural study-abroad program in Southeast Asia. Shortly after returning, Allison spent her Junior year studying and researching in Germany. She is now pursuing her Master’s degree in International Affairs and talked with Dr. Weber about how that first study abroad experience opened a whole new world for her.
Allison: I came in to college just like every other freshman thinking, “Oh, I’m going to do this, this, and this. I’m going to change the world, I’m going to study this, and then one day end up working for the government. This is going to be my set path.”
Weber: Mm. The classic thing that—
Allison: The classic, you know you—
Weber: international affairs student would say, but—
Allison: Exactly, we’re either going to be—
Weber: You’ll be a diplomat.
Allison: Right. A diplomat or Secretary of State. So from the beginning I did have an idea that, I wanted to do something in the field of international development. But I wasn’t really sure okay, how does one study international development in the classroom. So I had only really traveled in Europe for the most part, and going to Southeast Asia, and going somewhere that is completely different than anything that I had ever experienced in my life. I remember arriving in Laos which was our first place, like after this 20-something travel journey, completely worn out. We get to the hotel. The electricity cuts off for the first time like within one hour of getting there. And I’m just thinking to myself, “Where am I, you know?” Just being able to go to these places and to see the people there, and to see how they live and the different challenges that they face. And we did different site visits, and we had the briefings from various NGOs.
Weber: Anyone you recall specifically that was particularly interesting, important for you?
Allison: So for me NGO we went to in Phnom Penh, and Cambodia. when we met with the, workers who work with the former um, sex slave individuals who had been trapped in the sex industry in Cambodia. And you know, you see documentaries and you hear stories of how bad it is. And going and hearing how people—they’re on the ground there in Phnom Penh working with these women and men and children. And just hearing, just about the amazing work that they’re doing. And that was like a real moment for me. It was no longer something you’re just hearing about on the news but you’re seeing how these individuals at the NGO are trying to help these people, so that they’re pulled out of the industry. And they can move on and start their lives anew.
Weber: I think in a sense gave you a flavor for the kinds of jobs that you could see yourself in. I also seem to recall that when you returned from Germany, you did some work for the Carter Center, but I don’t really remember the specifics, can you just say a little bit about that?
Allison: I worked in the democracy program, and I can honestly tell you that without my experiences in Southeast Asia, and my experiences in Germany, and the research I did, I never would have gotten that internship. Because during the interview process, it was all about, “Okay, well where have you studied abroad, and what research have you done?" So during my time at the Carter Center, I was put on a project with Uganda. That was pretty much my main focus. And I was actually able to go on a Carter Center mission to Uganda and Mozambique.
Allison: It was a huge surprise. And it was kind of stressful because it was my final semester here at Georgia Tech, so—
Weber: Uh huh, but what an opportunity, how can you pass that up?
Allison: Right, it’s like okay, you know I could sit in class for a week—which is amazing anyways, or I could do like, on the ground work in my field of something I would actually want to do as a career maybe. So, it was absolutely amazing. We spent a week in Uganda, and then a couple days in Mozambique. And it was really funny, because kind of all my experiences tied together at this point,
Weber: How so?
Allison: It was um, so Uganda’s a developing country, so it wasn’t my first time because of having gone on the Southeast Asia program. You know, I was a lot more flexible, so it’s okay if the bus is late, it’s okay if the electricity goes out, it’s all going to be fine, right?
Weber: Yeah you can handle it, you had your experience.
Allison: I can handle it, it’s, it’s all good. It really hit home and it was just so funny—like I said, everything kind of came together. I’m in a developing country coming from the US, yet I end up speaking German in Uganda to the deputy ambassador to Uganda from Germany, and—
Weber: Small world.
Allison: Small world! And for me it was like you know what, if I had not had all of these previous experiences through Georgia Tech, this would not have been possibly. And I’m just extremely thankful for everything, how it’s all kind of tied in together. So I’m really excited what the future is going to hold.