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Develop Your Skills, Be Open to Opportunity, and Find Your Career

February 17, 2015

Smith.NicholasToday’s guest blog comes to us from AmeriCorps alum Nick Smith (Citizen Action AmeriCorps program, 2004 and 2005). He previously also worked as a Case Manager for the United Way’s Hurricane Katrina Response Program, received his M.A. in International Affairs from The New School, and became a Municipal Development Volunteer in Peace Corps Guatemala.

Most recently he worked as both a Technical Advisor and Regional Coordinator for the South Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program administered by the South Sudan Ministry of Health and supported by The Carter Center. This blog is the seventh and final in our International Careers Series sponsored by IPSL that profiles leading alumni of AmeriCorps working in international and intercultural careers.

While I have always been interested in working abroad, I never really envisioned myself working in public health. I definitely never expected to be working for the South Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program without any prior education or specific experience in public health.

Nick dancing at a community meeting in South Sudan

Nick dancing at a community meeting in the South Sudan

Yet from my work in the South Sudan, I have realized that international public health is a large sector. A variety of people with different educational backgrounds and professional experience work together in programs that treat, prevent and eradicate a myriad of diseases and promote the overall health and well-being of everyone.

Not only did I discover that I could find a place in public health, I realized AmeriCorps had already laid the groundwork for my international work.

I always knew I wanted a career in international development (in the broadest sense possible). However, I could not justify immediately shipping myself overseas to work on programs aimed at addressing issues such as inequality, poverty, or hunger when all of those same problems were clearly still present in my home city of Atlanta.

Nick with children at the inauguration of a school supported by Hug It Forward and Peace Corps Guatemala in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Nick with children at the inauguration of a school supported by Hug It Forward and Peace Corps Guatemala in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

That’s why I began working in development first though the Citizen Action AmeriCorps program at Hands On Atlanta. The Citizen Action AmeriCorps program worked with various non-profit community development corporations in communities throughout Atlanta. Together, we primarily helped provide affordable housing to first-time home-buyers and mitigate the negative effects of gentrification on long-term residents. We also developed other projects including services for homeless populations and those struggling with addiction while others worked to increase civic engagement of local residents.

It was during this period that I learned three basic skills that have helped further my career internationally and make me a more effective practitioner of international development.

  • Be creative and help in the design, management and evaluation of a variety of programs.
  • Stay open to new ideas and opportunities outside of my specific area of study or expertise.
  • Use the network of people I meet along the way to provide guidance and support in finding new opportunities that were not only beneficial to others but to myself as well.

Be Creative

My AmeriCorps experience helped me understand that all programs and projects have a planning and design phase. Then, there is a period where the actual work has to be initiated, managed, and continuously evaluated until completed. While I was an AmeriCorps member, we conducted a Community Leadership Workshop series in which residents and community leaders were trained on specific program and project management skills with the idea that they would then choose a project to implement in their respective neighborhoods.

As AmeriCorps alums, we all know that empowering the people we work with is one of the keys to achieving sustainable development. Just as important though is training. If we don’t train those we serve, the work essentially stops when our time working with them is over.

Nick at a community training in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

Nick at a community training in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala

For example, to empower those we served during Hurricane Katrina, we not only helped people evacuate, but also gave evacuees training to navigate a new city and seek employment. Similarly, when I later served in Guatemala and South Sudan, the organizations I served with made the training and capacity building of local leaders and residents as much a priority as the community development work we completed.

Stay Open to Opportunities

At the inaguaration of a safe water delivery project, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

At the inauguration of a safe water delivery project in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

My AmeriCorps experience not only shaped my views on the importance of building up capacity in the areas I serve. It also encouraged me to stay open to opportunities outside of my specific area of expertise. I believe that many of the skills we learn as AmeriCorps members translate to and become immensely valuable in many other sectors. Even though I served in urban communities of Atlanta which later influenced my decision to study International Affairs with a concentration in Cities and Urbanization, I was also excited to work with rural communities in Guatemala and see how their development needs were similar and different to their counterparts in urban areas.

Working on public health programs with semi-nomadic populations in South Sudan was also even further outside of my area of expertise than what I studied in graduate school. But, I find many of the skills I acquired during my AmeriCorps service, such as the training of community members, made me highly qualified to fit into those positions as well.

Use Your Network

Finally, I think that the networks that we create in our professional lives are the most important ways to find new career opportunities. Even though I served as an AmeriCorps Service Leader and Team Leader 10 years ago, I am still in contact with many of my fellow Alums that I served with. We continue to help each other find new career opportunities even to this day.

I believe that organizations like AmeriCorps Alums are a great asset. I hope to continue reaping the benefits of the alumni network and also provide guidance and support to other AmeriCorps alums whenever possible. I encourage you to connect with the AmeriCorps Alums network today!

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 8, 2015 12:13 pm

    Well done Nick! I had the pleasure of knowing Nick in high school, he is a good guy and its good to see people doing things like this.

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