Peace Corps: West Africa
Jessica Bruce '08 Economics and International Political Economy Majors
Life in the Peace Corps
Puget Sound experience
CES: What attracted you to economics and what has been your career path?
JB: My interest in economics developed by chance. I signed up for my first economics course without any thought of pursuing it as a major. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the field of study. This experience helped me realize the importance of remaining flexible in all areas of life. You don’t know what will inspire you or develop into a passion unless you remain open to new experiences and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
When looking for ways to pursue my economic interests as well as gain international experience after graduation, the Peace Corps surfaced as an option. I recognized that taking this path would include a drastic change in lifestyle, and was a decision not to be made lightly. So, I began researching.
I read as many books about the Peace Corps as I could find. The Peace Corps Journals website provides links to volunteer blogs, which were extremely useful. I also identified alumni and friends who had spent time abroad with Peace Corps to learn from their first-hand knowledge and perspective.
My information gathering enabled me to make a well-informed decision. It also helped with my application because I understood the organization and possessed an intrinsic desire to join, not out of uncertainty regarding what to do next with my life. The research paid off again during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer because it established realistic expectations of living in a developing country.
CES: Can you tell us a little more about your Peace Corps assignment?
JB: I spent two years as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer in Benin, West Africa, where I lived in a large village of about 11,000 people.
While volunteers are trained in a specific work sector, like Small Enterprise Development or Rural Community Health, the role of a volunteer is really to engage with the community to understand their needs and collaborate on small development projects in any sector.
I was able to experience a wide variety of development projects, ranging from teaching computer skills to helping illiterate women form village savings and loan groups, to organizing the country’s largest empowerment camp for girls. I also had the opportunity to become fluent in French and learn the basics of a few locally-spoken indigenous languages.
The Peace Corps is also very personally challenging, and the experience really enhanced my confidence, resilience, and patience.
CES: How did your Peace Corp experience lead to the next leg of your career?
JB: My experience in the Peace Corps led to a deeper appreciation of economics and solidified that it was a field I wanted to pursue further.
With my long-term goal of landing the type of economics-focused positions often advertised in The Economist, I recognized the need to develop a more concrete skill set in economics. This steered me towards pursuit of a Masters in Economics degree, which I completed at the University of Nottingham on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.
Having completed my Masters degree, but still being in the beginning years of my career, I believe it is the right time to broaden my experience base. I learned a lot from working in development, and am now interested in further expanding my knowledge through work in a developed country’s private sector.
CES: What types of experiences at the University of Puget Sound helped prepare you for your career?
JB: As a student I recognized the importance of taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to broaden my exposure and develop my resume. For me that included experiences beyond the world of academics through participation in:
Internships: I interned for two summers in Washington DC with the Census Bureau and State Department.
Work Study: My work-study positions (both on and off campus) helped increase my exposure to the field of economics and development.
My time as the office assistant for the Economics department, allowed me the opportunity to see economics at a deeper level, build relationships with the professors, and helped lower my inhibitions in asking questions.
I also worked for the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, a non-profit that does investment in the community, which allowed me to do something outside of the campus community, broaden my resume and a see a non-profit in action.
On-Campus Employment (beyond work-study): I enhanced my writing skills working for the Trail (started as a writer, and graduated as the news editor). Journalism is not my main interest, but the experience taught me not only how to write for varying audiences, but also how to host an interview with varying constituents.
I also worked my senior year as the programmer for the IPE department, and I worked as a research assistant to professors in the Economics and IPE departments.
CES: What advice do you have for current students?
JB: Regarding job search, start by thinking broadly. Identify job descriptions for your dream job(s). These will provide insight as to the skill set necessary to be a strong applicant. Look at the qualifications and strategically identify how to eventually get there.
When applying for jobs, figure out how to relate the skills and experience you possess to the job requirements for which you are applying. For example, if a position requires experience writing technical reports, and you don’t have that specifically, identify others skills or instances of writing that you have done that are transferable. This could include writing for the Trail, performing a grant writing internship, or working as a writing tutor.
Also, regarding resumes and cover letters, put in the effort to personalize each application. This includes reading outside of class to be knowledgeable of the field and understanding what it is the company does. This will allow you to include a few specific sentences in your cover letter, and shows that you are passionate about the field and serious about the opportunity.
Get your resume and cover letters proofread by Career and Employment Services and friends—I’m still sending my job applications to fellow alumni to review, three years after graduation!
Last, network! I’m happy to answer questions and provide advice.