Peace Corps: Kazakhstan
Mika Yasuo '06 Business Major
Life in the Peace Corps
CES: Mika, please describe your work with the Peace Corps, your career path, and key influences in your career decision-making process.
MY: I work at a small non-governmental organization in Kazakhstan called the Legal Center for Women's Initiatives, "Sana Sezim" that focuses on issues such as human trafficking, labor migration, domestic violence, gender equality, and women's and children's rights. My role as an Organization and Community Assistance Program (OCAP) Volunteer was to first, learn the Russian language to help with my organization's needs and to assist them in reaching out to their target groups. My responsibilities really run the gamut and include grant writing, communicating with international organizations, helping my staff with their English, transferring technical skills, etc. My goal is to ensure that all of my work was sustainable so that they could maintain results for the long run.
Actually, my career path of human trafficking issues began as a side hobby of researching human trafficking after a professor/mentor from UPS told me that I should apply to a bilateral student conference called Japan America Student Conference for summer 2004. By chance and luck, I was selected as one of the 40 delegates from the United States who would join the other 40 delegates from Japan to go to various universities across the States for about a month to discuss bilateral relations with professors and listen to lectures from experts about current and future Japan-America affairs.
At the U.S. State Department panel discussion in Washington D.C., one of the topics was international human trafficking, which sparked my interest and I began my individual research that continued through the time I studied abroad at Waseda University (2004-2005) and founded a club at UPS called F.I.G.H.T. (Fight the Illicit Gains of Human Trafficking) that was a chapter of Polaris Project, a leading NGO on domestic commercialized sex trafficking in the States, located in Washington, D.C. I guess that Polaris Project liked my work, so I became one of their Fellows during summer 2006 and worked on their national programs. Basically, Peace Corps saw that I had a background on human trafficking issues, so they placed me at NGO "Sana Sezim" in Kazakhstan. I have to add that I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to continue within my area of interest because Peace Corps usually gives you an assignment and you just have to take it. However, I think my case demonstrates that if you follow what you truly enjoy, a path will clear itself for you. If I could give a tip, I would say that there are many ways of beginning your career and it doesn't have to start after you've graduated. You can enter through the back door by starting now by becoming active in your interests; if it doesn't work out, at least you tried, right?
CES: What do you like most about your work? What are some of the limitations/frustrations?
MY: Limitations? External factors would probably include things such as electricity and heating shutting out sometimes, not having internet for days on end, or people being late to meetings because they don't have the same sense of punctuality as Americans; just the daily deal in a developing country, I'd say.
Internal factors would be that it is challenging to work in Russian and I make lots of little mistakes in my speaking and understanding every day. I am tough on myself when it comes to language because I know that the better I understand the language, the more efficient I can become at work. At the end of the day, my supportive work colleagues and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers outweigh all of these limitations/frustrations because they understand that this is just life in Kazakhstan. Plus, we have a good time when we're all together.
Frustrations? Haha, getting awful haircuts, maybe? People seem to not understand me when I say cut only a "little bit."
CES: What skills/qualities/characteristics do you believe are most important in this career field?
MY: For Peace Corps, I would say, flexibility, understanding, and patience. What you will learn in Peace Corps is not only job-related, but interpersonal and personal. Doing a Peace Corps service in a lot of ways is like a normal job because you have duties and responsibilities, but in my other ways, it is its own unique experience because you are working as a representative from the United States. You need to be aware that people are watching you, but it's also great because they are excited to learn about your culture and to teach you about theirs. Finally, you can learn about your self a lot in the process, and how you can improve.
For work on human trafficking or human rights, I think that it is important to have experiences that you can draw upon for future reference. I am certainly learning many things about human trafficking in Kazakhstan, such as how it is a source, destination and transit country, how human traffickers operate, which existing legislations and legal mechanisms we have to improve, and how we are currently addressing this international problem. I believe that having such "on the ground" experience is useful in any field because it helps you to understand the context of your work better.
CES: What types of entry-level positions are available in your field? Do you have any suggestions for finding these opportunities?
MY: Peace Corps really only requires that you are in good health and have a college degree. It offers many opportunities to teach English, work in agriculture, health, business, organizations, etc. If you'd like to become a volunteer, I would suggest going to their website, www.peacecorps.gov then talking to a representative at one of the UPS career fairs or directly contacting the Seattle Peace Corps office.
CES: Can you recommend tips for finding a job or internship in your field?
MY: I would recommend networking with people in your field of interest that you meet at school and other places, keeping in contact with them, and when you are at a comfortable level with them, ask them if they know about jobs or internships in these fields.
CES: Is there anything else you think a student should know about getting into your field?
MY: Just follow your intuition about what you feel is right for you and what you believe you love; the rest should follow. Also, ask for advice from your mentors and others because the more input you have based on their experiences, the more considerations you will have in order to carefully shape your career. Of course, I've only been out of college for a couple of years and I still have a few more decades of working, so I'm not much for advice. Anyways, I'm very happy with where I am at and it can only be attributed to opportunities that popped up and the good advice of others.