Despite the ups and downs inherent in office culture, I have legitimately enjoyed working at Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS). I am greeted by hugs almost every day. My coworkers are always generous in sharing their cultures with me. (Today, for example, the Director of Adult Services brought in his wife’s rice jollof to share, sparking an office debate on which west African country makes the dish best.) I am constantly learning and reflecting on how, as an outsider to a community, I can work with community members to create effective events and programming.
When I attend Fellows learning sessions, I am taken aback and challenged by how much I have yet to learn about nonprofits and mobilizing for social change. During the sessions I take notes, writing down jargon to research, recommended books, and the best practices used by local leaders in the field. Sometimes, I wonder how I could have such a large gap in my education, but I am grateful to even be pointed in a general direction of what I need to learn.
While I have been overall enjoying my experience in this program, I wonder: Is a career in this field enough to fulfill and challenge me? As I see the more practical uses of my fields of study, I see the ways in which I could do research for a Masters thesis that would tailor my areas of interest and scholarly experiences to take into account the need to have a job post-graduation and the current trends in the nonprofit world. During learning sessions, so many research ideas surrounding hot topics like the effectiveness of social enterprise, the roles of corporations as agents for social change, and the ways in which progress in programming is quantified and measured run through my mind. With these topics, I see real life applications, the potential for a tangible career.
Then, I think to what I would study, research, and write on if I did not think of the future or being viable in the job market, and it’s completely different. I find myself attracted to Walter Benjamin, memory, desire, the sociology of emotions, and research conducted in more sensitive, humanistic terms. I think of conducting research and writing in a way that is nonlinear or like a film that has no clear beginning, end, or concrete conclusion. And I know that these research desires are not necessarily viable, possible, or applicable to anything in the real world. I see inherent value in this kind of research and writing, but do others? Is there a way to marry the need for more practical, conclusive research on topics that most immediately affect our lives with the more abstract, experimental types of writing and research I find myself attracted to? And, just as importantly, will it make me happy?