Internship Spotlight – Kate Wharton (Spring 2012)

Kate Wharton is a senior EIA major from Cincinnati, OH.  Before age 18 she had never traveled outside the country, but since her freshman year, she has traveled to ten countries, studied abroad, and worked abroad. Although she came to Tech to study engineering, she saw that her passion for international development and leadership would be best realized with a degree in Economics and International Affairs.  After serving as President of AIESEC, a global student-run organization that develops youth leadership by facilitating international work experiences, last spring, she served as a trainee at the JAAGO Foundation in Bangladesh.  Kate is joining Deloitte’s Federal consulting practice in DC after graduation, and has future intentions to earn Ph.D. in Economics and start an NGO working on immigration and refuges issues.  We asked her a few questions about her internship and how her time at Tech helped her succeed.

What do/did you enjoy most about your internship and what do/did you find most challenging?
I loved working directly with JAAGO’s founder, Korvi Rakshand. Over milk tea or in his office, Korvi always had the time to help me understand the larger vision of JAAGO, its history, and how the organization was evolving.  I was working on the strategy/operations side of a new project sponsored by the US Embassy in Dhaka, and our office was located on the second floor of a school in the Rayer Bazaar slum of Dhaka. So it was rewarding to be surrounded by the children who benefitted from JAAGO’s work.

On the flip side, I found the language barrier and communication to be the most challenging parts about my internship. Although everyone at JAAGO spoke English, when we had large group meetings, they often transitioned midway to Bengali, the language in which all other participants felt most comfortable communicating. I was encouraged to participate in events, but I could not hear their concerns or hear how negotiations progressed.  My colleagues were very aware of the barrier and always translated afterward, but the experience taught me the importance of language in forming relationships and trust, especially in the non-profit world.

Tell us about an experience that made an impression on you during your internship.
A moment I will always cherish involved a long-time volunteer and project leader, a woman from Australia who had been with JAAGO since its founding.  One day, she was standing outside the school, and the mother of one of the schoolchildren approached her, hugging her close and speaking in Bengali. A teacher translated: “No one else cares about us, but you do. God bless.” They held each other close for several minutes, simply appreciating one another. It was a wonderful reminder of the value of our work and the lives we touch every day.

In what ways did your time at Tech prepare you for the internship?
Working at a non-profit, you are often required to be highly flexible and work with little guidance. More than anything, my time at Tech taught me confidence in my own abilities so that I can operate effectively in a fast-paced, high-stress environment with minimal supervision.

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