Going into spring break this year, Zoey Brown (SFS’22) was preparing for a move to New York City. The International Politics major had secured an internship with NYC-based Pencils of Promise and she was excited about spending her summer contributing to the nonprofit organization’s work supporting education in countries around the world.
Then the pandemic hit, and, like so many of her classmates, Brown had to adapt her plans to the realities of lockdown. She returned home, completing the school year and her internship from Atlanta, Georgia.
“As I’m sure most of my peers have learned, it can be difficult adjusting to life at home once you have become accustomed to a greater measure of independence afforded to you by life on campus,” she says.
“I’ve done my best to capitalize on the benefits of living at home rather than focusing on what I’m missing out on—I’m aware that I’m very privileged to have a stable and comfortable home to which I can return,” she continues.
Now, the junior has completed her first classes of the fall semester, which is being conducted online to protect the health of the Georgetown community. She is excited about getting into her coursework but is looking forward to the moment when she can return to the buzz and energy of life on The Hilltop.
Gaining Meaningful Experience in the Nonprofit Sector
When applying for internships, Brown knew that she wanted to get experience working with an international nonprofit organization and Pencils of Promise stood out to her immediately.
“When I started researching positions, I was struck by the organization’s values of transparency and sustainability as well as its commitment to supporting entire communities,” she says.
The organization develops educational programming in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos, building schools, providing teacher support, creating digital learning opportunities and delivering hygiene training to establish academic environments where students can thrive.
Working with two supervisors, Brown worked on Pencil of Promise’s annual budget, developed expansion plans and best practices for the organization’s programmatic growth and helped to create a framework for global partnerships. Brown says that the experience she gained will benefit her, whatever her future career might be.
“I was exposed to a number of new skill sets that will benefit me for years to come,” she explains. “My in-depth understanding of budgeting will serve me well in any line of work, and my time working on the partnership framework introduced me to a new brand of writing.”
“I also gained experience working in a highly collaborative and open workplace, which I hope will benefit me in future teamwork,” she adds.
Responding to the Pandemic
At Pencils of Promise, Brown was required to adapt her work to the urgent and fluctuating circumstances created by COVID—19.
“COVID massively impacted programming at Pencils of Promise, as the pandemic has affected schools in all three partner countries,” she explains. “As a result, a great deal of our work this summer included emergency planning and adjusting existing policy and practice to fit new conditions in each country.”
But the difficulties presented by the global pandemic did not diminish the satisfaction Brown derived from her internship. On the contrary, she says, “Despite the challenges presented by working remotely, this internship proved deeply fulfilling.”
Brown has also tried to make the most of lockdown conditions in her personal life. “I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot more time on self-improvement and self-care this summer,” she says.
She enjoyed decompressing from her spring semester—which was interrupted by COVID and conducted partially online—by hiking, running and doing barre and kickboxing workouts.
“I’ve also taken some time to rediscover my hobbies from high school that I hadn’t had time for at school,” she continues. “In particular, I’ve been doing a lot of cross stitch, which is much more fun than it looks!”
She has also been reflecting on how the events of this year will impact international affairs going forward.
“I know I will remember this summer for its monumental upending of our norms. From the pandemic to mass protests to a deeply divisive presidential campaign, this summer has subverted our expectations and challenged our thinking on a number of fundamental questions,” she says.
“Government responses to both the pandemic and mass social movements reflect the value that the state places on its citizens, and I think that the past few months have been very telling in that regard,” she continues. “States will be remembered for and defined by their treatment of their people during this critical point for years to come.”
Adjusting to Virtual Student Life
Reflecting on the big questions of global affairs is what brought Brown to Georgetown in the first place. While she is still able to explore these intellectual ideas through online classes, the junior admits that it’s not quite the same as being at the heart of events on campus in Washington, D.C. Indeed, Georgetown’s campus atmosphere is what made Brown feel so at home on The Hilltop.
“I knew going into my college search that I wanted to pursue a degree in international affairs, and, from the beginning, SFS stood out as a uniquely specialized undergraduate program,” she says. “I made the decision to attend Georgetown shortly after my admitted students’ weekend. I felt so at ease on the campus with the other prospective students that I committed less than a week later.”
Pursuing her degree online has been difficult in other ways, she continues.
“The pandemic forced me to completely reassess and rework my academic process. I never anticipated attending online classes, and I was totally unprepared for the toll it would take on me just over those two months,” she explains.
To get more out of her online classes this semester, Brown will take a new approach to her studies. “I recognize that heading into a virtual fall semester, I will need to establish a regimented schedule and hold myself to a very high standard in order to stay engaged and on track,” she says.
Nonetheless, she is hopeful that she can explore new ideas this semester and develop the skills she will need for a future career in international relations. And the prospect of returning to the campus life she loves so much gives her something to look forward to.
“I hope to take courses that engage me and encourage me to open my mind to new perspectives and I hope to engage in meaningful research that pushes me to grow as a writer,” she says. “Most of all, I hope to be back on campus as soon as I can!”