Go with the Flow

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by KaJaiyaiu Hopkins, COL ’19

As an undergraduate sociology major, the chance to participate extensively in qualitative research does not come along often. When the opportunity presented itself to not only gain valuable, marketable skills in my preferred field but to also engage in the type of work that I love, I was more than ready to accept the offer. With the help of funding from Career Services, I was able to do just that.

My research assistantship at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kakuma, Turkana County, Kenya was an invigorating experience. The time and effort expended for practicing qualitative and quantitative methods of sociological research has made me a better (amateur) sociologist; working with people from all walks of life and all over the world has made me a better professional and person. It is difficult to compact such an adventure into bullet points, but I’ve decided to anyway:

1-Learning to “go with the flow”

Academic life for students at Penn is, more or less, carefully orchestrated. Professors and staff are dedicated and try to create an environment that facilitates learning and development. While admirable and often quite helpful, this model isn’t adequate as the sole preparer for professional life—especially as a qualitative sociologist. There is nothing like real-world and consequential work that challenges you to manage the surprises, ups and downs, and curveballs that professional life that are surely coming in the professional world. Kakuma certainly had more than enough twists and turns to figure out (with some help of course).

2-Cooperation and Social Navigation

Kakuma is a complex web of refugees, international organizations and NGOs, independent researchers, the local population and so on who all live and work in the same place together and must somehow figure out how to coexist. Poverty, geographical isolation, disease, water shortage, etc. are terrible realities of life there, yet refugees every day find a way to get things done, to be savvy and find a way by working together and taking advantage of the opportunities they have. The struggles in my life are in no way comparable to those of the refugees I met and worked with, but I learned valuable lessons about collaborating in and navigating social and professional networks to make the most of a situation. They taught me to take advantage of the resources that I have and to do what it takes to get to where I need to be.

The immersive experience I had this summer can’t be replicated in a classroom or possibly anywhere else than exactly where I was. I had the guidance of advisors to help me with building critical skills for my field and I learned to how to manage myself and my work in fluid situations and come out mostly unscathed. My journey as a research assistant in a situation foreign to anything I’d ever done before is undoubtedly an essential building block in my professional and personal development.

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