Saturday, February 20, 2010
One month and still going strong! My first couple of weeks in DC went by like molasses, but now that I’ve established a routine and have settled into day-to-day life, time is flying.
So what is day-to-day life like for Kayla you may ask? Well here’s a little glimpse:
A typical day starts when my alarm goes off and I either have the motivation to go for a run in the snow, or decide to forgo the run and begin getting ready for work. Megan and Jill leave at around 8:30am, but since I don’t need to be into work until 9:30, we are able to stagger as we share the same kitchen, bathroom and living room. One by one we bundle up and head out the door. It’s about a 25-minute walk from our place to work and I enjoy every minute of it as I catch up on the headlines through the BBC’s global podcast for the day.
When I walk through the door at the corner of L and 14th street, I say hello to Lasso (the receptionist for the building) and we engage in brief conversation before I take the elevator to the 11th floor- Headquarters for FINCA International. Now that I have a key to my office I enjoy getting to work a little before 9:30 so that I can have the office to myself for a few minutes. This is partly so that I can get a head start on some emails before Jean-Amiel comes in with new assignments for the day, but there’s another reason. It just so happens that the office I work in is a corner office and my desk, right by the window, has a lovely view. I know its silly, but getting there early, I sometimes imagine that I have my own office with a view and that I’m not a lowly intern without any money.
Day to day tasks in the human resources department includes answering emails from applicants that are having trouble with the website, scheduling interviews for staff, and other administrative tasks such as posting jobs on the web, proof reading and filing expense reports (all very exciting- I know). This past week I had a couple of interesting assignments that really broke up the train-train quotidian (daily grind), but I’ll get back to that later.
Somewhere between 12 and 2 I take a 30-40 min lunch. There is a small break room where I go to eat my PB and J. I would normally enjoy leaving the building for a while, but with the weather the way it is and to avoid the temptation to spend money on food, I rarely venture out. Plus, I’ve found that eating in the break room has proven the most effective way of interacting with other staff and making new friends.
Depending on what I’m working on that day, I leave between 5 and 6pm, walk back home and make myself a little dinner with my roommates. Evenings vary from day to day and week to week, but are usually pretty laid back. Often, I’m searching for jobs and internships online or writing cover letters for applications.
So that’s the most typical day, but typically my day is not so typical. This is especially true at work, where Jean-Amiel has done a wonderful job of making my position as informational and interesting as possible. This week for example, I had a few assignments that really have helped me to increase my understanding of Microfinance and non-profit management.
One assignment was a seminar that I attended for Jean-Amiel. The seminar was hosted by USAID, but the lecturer was a French economist, known for her influential studies of Microfinance. Her name is Esther Duflo, and the study, The Microfinance Miracle? A Randomized Evaluation of the Evidence, has already shed some light on the most popular debate in Microfinance, concerning whether or not Microfinance is helping the poor. If you are interested in my notes on the lecture, I have attached the Executive summary (which I completed for work).
Friday of this week, Jean-Amiel asked if I would like to go with him to a recruiting event at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) career fair. I of course said yes (even before he had a chance to tell me that lunch would be provided). At the fair I mostly answered general questions about FINCA and what we do, then Jean-Amiel manned the more specific questions relating to employment. Most of the students that approached our table were at the end of their master’s degree in international studies, and well versed in Microfinance. Speaking with students gave me an opportunity to see how well I really understood MF. I was pleasantly surprised when I could easily answer questions and explain FINCA’s mission and work in the field. In addition to playing the recruiter, I also got to ask students about their own experiences, which gave me an idea of where I may want to be in a few years when I’m applying for Grad school and employment.
This week I also invested quite a few evenings getting to know Augustana Lutheran Church. Last Sunday, I attended their 10:30 service for the first time. It was a wonderfully traditional Lutheran service, and after it was over, several members of the church greeted me and welcomed me to stay for lunch. The congregation is fairly small, but the church itself, with stone walls and wood vaulted ceiling is gorgeous. I ended up coming back on Tuesday night for the Mardi Gras Jambalaya dinner, Wednesday for Ash Wednesday, and again on Thursday for Choir practice. The Choir director just happened to receive his Master’s in Music and Organ performance at the University of Iowa and played the Casavant organ for a few years at Gloria Die in the late 70s. How’s that for the Lutheran network in action?
Just a quick update on my living situation; we move out of our Dupont residence in a week! I can’t believe its already almost over. March first I’ll be moving in with Hanne and her room mate and taking over Hanne’s room for the middle of March while she’s working in Geneva. She lives in Arlington VA near the Courthouse Metro. Its not within walking distance from work, but still just a 15min metro ride away. To give you a preview of the area I’ll be living in, please watch the video at this link!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
In our neighborhood there are several embassies. Just a block away is the White washed embassy of Morocco, and across the street from there is the beautiful embassy of Indonesia. We made a slight detour on the way downtown to visit a cute little Creperie called “crepes a-go-go”. It is truly an authentic French Crepe stand. I even got to speak a little French with the cashier who is originally from Cameroon!
One Nutella-filled crepe later we were on our way to visit Ab Lincoln. We weren’t actually able to climb the stairs of the monument (they were blocked off due to the icy conditions), but our focus quickly turned to the other visitors who had begun to step onto the frozen reflection pool! Once the first few people had ventured onto the ice, like lemmings, many more followed, including us! The edges of the pool were the weakest, and as I stepped onto the ice my boot went right through into the icy water. Luckily I made a quick recovery and had my Moscow boots on (the boots given to me by Jordan’s host family who lived in Moscow for about 5 years), so my foot was warm again in no time. We all had fun skating from Lincoln to the WWII memorial, hearts racing every time we heard a slight cracking of ice. It was an adventure, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to take these pictures from the middle of the pool!
We lost some of our momentum after our expedition across the ice. Toes were getting cold and energy was fading, so we started making our way home.
A lot has happened since I last took the time to write, but its really only been about a week. A few bigger events include; starting work at FINCA, applying for jobs, looking for housing and Jill arriving in DC.
Working at FINCA has been going very well. Last week I worked Monday-Wednesday and then in the morning on Friday. Monday I settled into the office with Jean-Amiel, Tuesday I participated all morning in an orientation with a few other interns and on Wednesday I went to a brown bag discussion led by Paul Robinson (FINCA’s Chief Financial Officer in Haiti) and then Jean-Amiel took me out for lunch. While in the office most of what I do is organizing, posting jobs on the web and filing expense reports. I guess its not the most interesting work, but I’m glad to get this opportunity to learn about the intricacies of a large International organization. Hiring can be a huge part of an organizations efficiency, and Jean-Amiel is very adamant about responding to resumes and releasing accurate and complete information to several websites and schools. I have to say that after all the resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out, its kind of interesting to be on the receiving end. There has been some drama lately at FINCA because of the tremendous financial difficulties they are experiencing. My internship exists in part because there used to be two paid full time employees working for Jean-Amiel that were let go in the down-sizing. This is something I’ll just have to get used to in the field of Non-profit work. The money comes and goes with out assurance or commitment, and microfinance especially had a difficult time because they thrive on self-sufficiency. Anyways, I’m meeting lots of cool people at FINCA and I really think that this experience will be well worth the few days of unpaid labor I provide.
Speaking of getting paid…I’m hunting for a job. Any job will do (though I did stop short of asking for an application from McDonalds). On Saturday I went to a small building near Howard university called the Emergence Center for the Arts (or something close to that) to take my test for employment as a 2010 Census taker. I’m applying for one of their temp positions because the pay really well ($20 and hour) and they need people to work in the evenings and on weekends. I know this is temporary, but I’m just so anxious to start earning some money. I find out next week sometime if I’ll be hired.
One thing that’s made it difficult to really envision working somewhere has been that I don’t know where we’ll be living in a few weeks. Luckily, Megan has been able to find us a great deal for the end of March till the beginning of June. It’s a wonderful apartment in a complex with a pool on the roof, and exercise room, media room and free coffee! I love it and I can’t wait to move in. This month we are all three staying in a former Bed and Breakfast. It’s tight but we’re all happy to be in the same room with one another. I hope that doesn’t change.
I’ve already lost track of how many day’s I’ve been here in DC, but it feels like it’s been a week at least. In real time it’s only been a few days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday). So much has happened since I’ve arrived, but I’ll try to cover the basics.
My arrival was fairly uneventful. Besides a delayed flight in Chicago, things went very smoothly. I made it to Hanne’s apartment at around 11pm and after chatting for a while I slipped into her room mates bed (she was out for the evening) and went to bed so that I would be rested for my interview in the morning.
The next day (Friday the 22nd of January) I woke up at about 6:30am so that I would have ample time to get in the game, calm my nerves and prepare myself for a knock down interview. My former conversation on the phone with Jean-Ameil Jourdan had gone very well, but it was not enough to assure that anything was guaranteed. My nerves had started to get the better of me the night before until I read an email from Jean-Ameil inviting me to dress casually for the interview (apparently Friday is “Casual day” at FINCA).
Hanne introduced me to an amazing website for Washington Transit called, WMATA. I planned my route and time of departure so that I would arrive with plenty of time to account for missed trains and a few wrong turns. As it turned out, I had no unforeseen difficulties in my navigation and I arrived at the building by 9:45am (the interview was at 10:00). The FINCA office is on the 11th floor of a tall gray building on the corner of L street and 14th, near the McPhearson metro stop. When I entered the office I was greeted with warm tan and maroon shaded walls, which immediately calmed my growing anxiety. Jean-Ameil came to greet me at the receptionist desk and then led me back to his office.
Most of his questions were just about my experiences at different employments and with different organizations. I felt like my tongue was going a mile a minute and my brain was running even faster. I couldn’t stop thinking and analyzing each sentence. Searching for signs and his responses to my answers. I was a little intimidated by his French nationality and kept wondering if he was going to test my speaking ability (thank goodness he didn’t). Anyways, after I had gone on and on about my experiences at outdoor adventures and insulted the French education system (in a nice way…) he offered me the job as back office intern (sigh of relief). Long story short I think we will get along well and I look forward to seeing him at work tomorrow.
So by 11am (12 hours after arriving at Hanne’s) I had an internship. It’s unpaid and to quote Jean-Ameil, “has .01% chance of turning into a job at FINCA”, but it was just the encouragement I needed to push forward. So I walked downtown to regroup and get a bite for lunch. My next goal was to start looking for a paid employment of some sort. I used the free wifi in the National Portrait Gallery’s courtyard (a place I envision myself visiting often) and tracked down some addresses and ideas to pursue that afternoon. I started to make my way over to the Smithsonian human resources building just south of the mall when I literally ran into a massive roadblock. The streets were filled to the brim with protestors holding signs and speaking out against abortion. As I tried to push through the crowd, I quickly realized that I had greatly underestimated its size. There was absolutely no way that I could get past the mall without a major detour. As I took in the scene I started to become aware of how strange it is to see so many ‘individuals’ acting as one body. It was quite powerful.
When I left the Smithsonian office the streets had cleared up considerably and I made my way over to Pennsylvania Avenue to look for MIX (microfinance information exchange). I thought I could get there just to pop in and say hello before calling it a day and meeting Jordan outside the White House at 4:30. I felt there was some symbolism in the way I passed the World Bank and the IMF before arriving. The MIX is just one floor in another tall building, so to get to the office I lied to the doorman saying that I had an appointment with MIX and he let me ride up to the 3rd floor. When I entered and saw that there was no receptionist desk- just rooms with desks and men at computers- I almost ran out the door. I stopped myself (thank goodness) and introduced myself with as much friendly boldness as I could muster, walked into the first room and introduced myself to Chris. He was the web designer and kindly listened to me babble on about my appreciation of the organization and how I would love to be involved in any way. When I stopped to take a breath he suggested that I write down my name and email so that someone could get in contact with me. He also gave me the email of the director so that I could let him know I dropped by. I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back from them, and to be honest I don’t even know for sure what sort of involvement I was looking for, but I’m so glad I did it!
That evening I went grocery shopping with Hanne and Heather, met up with Megan, Jordan and some of her intern friends at Bus Boys and Poets (a chill sort of bohemian bar) on U Street. It was so nice to finally see my friends- I felt like the luckiest person in the world, moving to a city where not only did I know Hanne, who invited me to stay at her apartment, but also had my best friends waiting for me! It definitely makes moving to a new city without a job or a place to live that much easier.
I think I’ll be better off if I leave a little more to the imagination- otherwise I’ll never be able to get through this first week. So the abridged version of Saturday January 23rd goes something like this.
Hanne, Heather, Hanne’s boyfriend Wally, her other friend Becca and I went for brunch to Old Ebbitts just across from the White House. I had the Strata which was a delicious meal of egg custerd, some sort of cheese, and spinach and mushrooms. It was absolutely delicious, but because it’s a little pricey I don’t expect to be back there too often. Then we all wandered around in the Sun – I forgot to mention how beautifully sunny and warm it was! We went into the Post Office Building and then made our way to the Mall for some monument viewing and to find the National African Art Museum. The exibit was very interesting and the museum itself was very nice. The featured artist was Shambare who was born in Nigeria, but trained in Europe. His work was a modern form of African art that encorporated the theme of high class western culture with the bright vibrance of African clothing appeal. Using mostly maniquins (all without head which we later learned was a subtle reference to the French Revolution) that were draped in European clothing made from brightly colored african fabrics. The scenes were a depiction of the clash between two cultures and the impact of colonization.
After the museum we walked to Foggy bottom along the monuments. It was a tiring and wonderful day. That night I stayed home and caught up on some much needed sleep.
Sunday, January 23rd: This will be an easy day to record. All I did all day was look at places to live.
I’m temped to just leave it at that, but I’ll say a few more things. First Megan and I met at the hostel where we mutually decided that living there for a month was unnecessary, so we canceled our reservations on the spot (full refund was given because it was still 7 days out from our reservation).
The best part of the day was not looking for housing, but catching up with Megan. It was so nice to have some "one on one" time with her! We did however find a pretty good place to live in Eastern Market for the month of February. I think it would be a great idea to go for it, but we’re going to wait till Monday afternoon to decide.