Wait, where are you?

Some of you reading my blog may have ended up here after I surprised you with the news that I am no longer in the U.S.! After working for a year back close to home, I accepted a fellowship position with Princeton in Asia, a non-profit that facilitates around 140 year-long “posts” from Kazakhstan, to Sri Lanka, to Japan, and most places in between. About half of the positions involve teaching English, and another half span a wide range of service-oriented roles international business, journalism agencies, and non-profit organizations. After one year, some fellows may choose to extend for another year, or gain other employment in Asia.

In my post, I am working for a local organization in Timor-Leste called Fundasaun Mahein. FM functions as a watchdog for the police and the military by monitoring their actions, researching existing policy, and then publicizing issues of concern in a manner that is accessible to the public. Additionally, they conduct educational programming throughout the country that is meant to facilitate more peaceful and constructive relationships between civilians and their security forces.

Within the office, my title is “International Advisor.” My primary purpose is to cultivate operational, financial, linguistic, and analytical skills within the local staff to a point where they will ultimately be able to run all aspects of the organization independently. While moving towards that goal, myself and one other international volunteer assist with financial planning, public relations, English translation, and grant writing. The office runs almost exclusively in the local language, Tetun, and the value of my contributions depend heavily on my ability to speak it. It feels great to be working in a place where so much is expected of me. Studying hard….

Still too tired to avoid clichés, so I’ll say this – I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this opportunity. Working on security issues in South-East Asia truly is the realization of a goal that I’ve been pursuing for several years. Many people reading may have heard me talk about a desire to get into political risk consulting, which sounded pretty ridiculous while I was living in Ohio. I had been seeking a position that was going to provide personal and professional development in a challenging environment. Oh, and it needed to be an entry-level role in an international setting. And yet,18 months and countless applications later, it doesn’t seem far-fetched at all.

Living in Dili is also fascinating because of the exposure to key decision makers and historical figures. Given that the capital is around 250,000 people, it isn’t uncommon to run into diplomats, UN directors, presidential cabinet staff, or local legends from the revolution days while walking down the street, grabbing a bite to eat, or running errands at the mall (or to house-sit for them, or go to the beach with them). The opportunity to live in a small community with such interesting people, to get to know them personally, and to pick their brain about their hopes and dreams for the country is something that I don’t think I would have found anywhere else.

For the first time in a while, I feel like I am in the right place, and all that I need to do is to focus on the present. There are plenty of challenges to be found here in Timor, but I’m happy to tackle them, because they’re the types of challenges that I was looking for all along.

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Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading to Cova Lima on the southwest side of the country to assist with some programming addressing youth violence. The drive is only 200km, but on Timorese roads, that’s about a 6 hour drive. Can’t wait to get up into the mountains. Will be sure to post some more photos soon.

To hold myself accountable – I also need to make a post just listing off some of the pleasant oddities of life in Timor-Leste. I’m worried that if I wait too long, they’ll be harder to spot because it all feels so normal!

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