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The Intersection of Education and Global Development

January 26, 2017


Kate Griffith

MAAIS student John Simpson spent a year teaching in Côte d'Ivoire.

John Simpson received his bachelor’s degree in enthnomusicology and then promptly moved abroad.

His goal wasn’t immediately obvious; he wanted simply to be elsewhere. “I started down a cycle of teaching and traveling that I just loved,” he says. That cycle led him through parts of Europe and South America, into a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, through a stint with the U.S. Department of State in Africa, in and out of Asia and ultimately back to Seattle where he has settled into the Master of Arts in Applied International Studies (MAAIS) program at the University of Washington.

MAAIS student John Simpson taught for a year in Bangladesh between 2013–14.

Today as a student in the MAAIS program, John’s interests are a little clearer — he’s fascinated by the intersection of education and global development — though his final goals are still a bit hazy. “I’m here because I wanted to step back and look at development issues,” he says. “I want to enhance a skill set that I’d gained previously, and I’m interested in international studies.”

To that end, John has been exploring aspects of education and service in his courses and extracurricular work at the UW. In an Arctic Studies class, for example, he has focused his studies on analyzing a Frontiers Foundation volunteer program in the Canadian Arctic that places volunteers in northern Canadian schools to teach for a year. “They pay you $50 a week, they pay for your clothing, they provide insurance, and all transportation,” John explains. “This is a program I’d heard about and considered volunteering for. And for this Arctic class, I was able to analyze their strategies, procedures, successes, and challenges and look at the program a little more closely from an analytical perspective.”

John says he discovered that some of the foundation’s organizational challenges are similar to those he experienced in his own teaching career, namely the struggles of cultural adaptation in groups of volunteers brought into new areas with little cultural training. “It’s interesting to think volunteer programs like that are as far reaching as the northern Canadian Arctic, which isn’t often at the forefront of international education,” he says. “Though I think it will be soon.”

John is hopeful classes like this, combined with his own experiences in international education, will prepare him for a career in international curriculum building or education administration. Ultimately he’d like to take the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service exam and work in U.S. educational outreach. “I think this program is about diversifying your experiences and taking advantage of the different opportunities the program has to offer,” he says.

This post is part of  a series profiling members of the 2016–17 MAAIS cohort. For more information about the MAAIS program, its curriculum and its students, visit the MAAIS website.