Paweena Prachanronarong has a small, red string braid in her hair. She’s embarrassed when she begins to explain how she got it, and tries to cover it with the rest of her hair as she talks. “A Mayan girl convinced me to get one,” she says, by way of an excuse. “They’re very childish; they’re for twelve-year-olds. I’m going to take it out soon,” she laughs.
The braid is possibly the only part of her time in Guatemala Prachnronarong has anything to be embarrassed about. She spent the summer there as part of a project with Centro de Estudios para la Equidad y Gobernanza en los Sistemas de Salud (CEGSS) in Guatemala City, arranged through a collaboration between Parsons and the Open Society Foundations (OSF). In June and July, Prachanronarong worked with Parsons professors and CEGSS staff to devise a system for rural communities to quickly and easily request new medical supplies by text message.
That’s just one of the many unique summer work/study abroad opportunities The New School offers students in a number of disciplines. The Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs, Eugene Lang College, and many other programs all offer students the chance to take their brains out of cold storage for the summer and do something positive for both themselves and the world at large.
Take Eugene Lang College senior Shelley Green, for example. Green spent her summer as part of a small team of Lang students in Siem Reap, Cambodia, working with the Ponheary Ly Foundation, which focuses on children’s education. The group worked with two dozen girls who’d traveled to Siem Reap from their own villages to live in a dormitory and attend school. Green’s group helped organize workshops for the girls, in which they explored their own identities and learned about female role models in the local community.
“The history and politics are so complex, I walked into it not really knowing what to expect on the ground,” Green said. “It’s one thing to read about Cambodia or about development, but it’s totally different to be on the ground there. ‘Amazing’ doesn’t do it justice.”
International Affairs student Mara Forbes also spent her summer working in overseas development as part of her International Field Program (IFP). Forbes partnered with the NGO Slum Dwellers International in and around Kampala, Uganda. As part of a team, Forbes collaborated closely with the community, another local NGO, and Makerere University in Kampala to develop a report for the local municipal government about the numbers of slum dwellers in the city and their needs. “In four of the five cities,” to which they delivered reports, Forbes said, “the municipalities signed them on the spot and agreed to use them in budgeting and planning.”
Forbes also gained valuable career insights from her trip. A career changer (she worked at Lincoln Center for five years before enrolling at The New School), she was looking for experience in all senses of the word. “The IFP was very important for me because it helped me get field experience, which I don’t have,” Forbes said. “I was also unsure of what I wanted to do when I was done: Do I want to be a field worker? Do I want to do office work? The program changed my idea of what fieldwork is, and now I can see myself working in the field.”
Like all of The New School’s many overseas programs, the IFP is an invaluable tool for answering these questions. While working in the program, Forbes picked a thesis topic and even a possible future employer. “It’s not something I would have figured out sitting in a classroom or sitting behind a desk at an internship in New York,” Forbes said. “It’s just something you have to experience.“