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Education or experience?

December 22, 2015

Q. Nick,
Very interested in getting a hold of your book, this site has been a good eye opener for me and it is nice to get a look at both the good and bad of international aid work. I do have a few questions for you though!
I currently am preparing to start my undergrad at the University of Alberta (In the Human Ecology bachelor program.. I would be majoring in Family Ecology and my minor would be in International Development) with the intent of getting into international aid work. I have done a few humanitarian trips throughout high school/my time off afterwards and it is something I am very passionate about.

I guess what I would like to know is would there be any benefits to focusing my studies on anything in particular throughout my four years? (Languages, economics, policy making, etc.?) Also, would it be wise to try and do a semester abroad? Should I try and do volunteer trips during my time off (summers)? Or use that time to save my money and create less debt in the long run? I would really just like your opinion on what the best path to start preparing myself to try and get into the field would be.

A. Jamie – Thanks – I’m glad you like the site, although I’m a little surprised that you don’t already know what I’m going to tell you!

  1. I don’t think it matters what you study. International related topics certainly doesn’t hurt, and picking up a relevant language is somewhat of an asset, particularly if you want to work in the Spanish, French, Russian or Arabic speaking world.
  2. Get as much experience as you possibly can living and working in the developing world.
  3. Don’t go to graduate school until you have a very clear understanding of what you need a graduate degree for.
  4. Consider the Peace Corps if you don’t end up with a decent chunk of field experience.

Good luck, and let us know how you do!


If this site is as useful to you as a book you might have paid for please consider buying my Kindle eBook, which contains much of the content from this site, thoughtfully formatted for off-line reading on a Kindle, iPad, laptop, or other e-reader. It’s $7.99, and honestly, what can you get for that these days? Get it here.

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