Since I arrived in Abidjan, Ivory Coast last September, I have been reminded over and over again how many aspects of Ivoirian life and work have been affected by the post-electoral crisis of 2011. Ivoirians, no matter what their political affiliation, are very ready for stability and peace in their country. Many of my conversations with colleagues and friends have revealed their personal experiences with violence, but mostly focus on weddings, births, and other life events. With the U.S. Presidential elections in 2012, we discussed how peaceful transfers of power are important in creating lasting development and stability. Walking around the National Public Health Institute (INSP) where I work, the destruction from the crisis is visible and permeates every aspect of the functioning of the institute: many researchers are camped out around the conference table, as their offices have yet to be refurbished; the laboratories are a mess of shattered glass and dusty, broken furniture; and the library is full of dusty, ripped and mildewed books, as the windows were smashed, thus leaving it open to the elements. Compared with the conditions and resources that I had while doing my public health training, I am even more amazed by the dedication and high quality of work done here at the institute.
I am working with the INSP as a Fulbright-Clinton Fellow. The fellowship places young American professionals as special assistants within foreign government ministries or institutions to gain hands-on public sector experience while simultaneously carrying out an academic study/research project. As a member of the inaugural cohort of 19 fellows, it has been a great opportunity to see how foreign ministries work. My projects have included writing a grant proposal to rehabilitate the library, helping to establish a research ethics committee, evaluating patient retention for HIV services provided during antenatal care, and helping to prepare for strategic planning workshops. It is a dynamic time to be in the Ivory Coast since it is recovering and rebuilding from a decade of war and recent post-electoral violence.
My Fulbright experience has allowed me to improve my French speaking skills in a professional milieu so that I feel comfortable interacting with high level officials in French. When I first arrived in Abidjan, I felt comfortable speaking French in the market, taking public transportation, and in general social interactions. But every time I opened my mouth to describe why an evaluation framework should be rearranged, or how proportional sampling should take place, my tongue tripped over itself. Even though I knew what I was talking about, I was frustrated that I was unable to express my ideas in a way that reflected my education and experience. With help from my tutor, constant corrections and encouragement from colleagues, who often reassured me with, “Ça va aller!” or “It will be o.k.!” I feel much more confident when presenting and writing in French in technical settings. I am also confident that my behind-the-scenes experiences in the Ministry of Health and my relative ease in using French in a professional setting will serve me well in my future endeavors.
My advice for Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship applicants: Patience and persistence! Both are required in putting an application together and once you’ve been awarded a grant. If you’ve received a grant and are in-country, be diligent about networking and meeting people. I’ve found that facilitating new connections between agencies to link resources with needs has been an important, frequent activity during my time in the Ivory Coast.
The 2014-2015 J. William Fulbright – Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellowship competition is now open until January 10, 2014, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To learn more about how you can apply, please click here.