Stories from Our Community

Graduate Student Pursues International and Personal Development

by Aislinn McNiece

Most Hoyas in the SFS are dedicated to service and international affairs, but these passions can take shape in many different forms. Graduate student Lauren Corke (GHD’16) embodies these values in all facets of her life, from her time spent serving in Peace Corps in Africa to her work on a newly released book about the global poor.

Corke took a class in development economics on a whim at the end of her undergraduate years at Colby College, where she was a self-proclaimed “poster child of Liberal Arts” studying Art, Economics, and Environmental Studies. That class, coupled with her experiences studying in India and Botswana, helped her realize that she wanted to pursue a career in the field of international development – but she was “wholly unprepared” for what that would entail.

“For the first time, all my other interests seemed less important compared to this one class,” said Corke. “I went to my professor’s office hours, explained how I had just realized what I needed to do with my life two months before graduation and asked for his advice. He recommended Peace Corps and I started…the application that night. I haven’t looked back since then!”

Peace Corps in Ghana

Corke served as a Peace Corps volunteer at a school for the deaf in the Upper East region of Ghana, where she taught visual arts and information and communications technology (ICT) classes to students alongside a sign language class for fellow teachers. On days when she wasn’t teaching, she had “market days” when she would walk into the nearby village or hitch a ride into the regional capital 30 minutes away to do some grocery shopping.

“There were hard days and easy days, of course, but I really miss those moments when I’d be walking home from market with a bag full of food I didn’t really recognize, arrive at the school gates to have my students greet me as if they hadn’t seen me for weeks, and stroll back to my house soaking in the scenery,” said Corke.

Her daily experiences there began to take shape into a broader picture of what it would mean to continue to work in international development.

“The experience definitely solidified my passion for the field and totally changed my perceptions on pretty much everything from culture to poverty to foreign aid to whether or not I like fufu (it’s delicious),” said Corke.

Focus on Development at Georgetown

Following those passions brought her to Washington, D.C. where she enrolled as a graduate student in the SFS Global Human Development program. Corke broadened her experience through her work as a research assistant for Professor Steven Radelet, Diretor of the Global Human Development Program. When Corke began her work with Radelet, he was in the process of writing a new book The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World. The book discusses the remarkable developments made by the global poor since the Cold War.

Corke speaks of learning volumes about the “layers of analysis” that go into a book of this kind, “From asking the first question, to collecting, cleaning and analyzing the data to drawing the conclusions and connections – it’s a LOT of work!”

Beyond the research opportunities available, Corke appreciates the diversity of experiences that Georgetown offers for graduate students. “Georgetown is an exciting place to be. There are constantly amazing speakers and events on campus that do a wonderful job of bridging the gap between academia and the world outside the school walls. It really feels like a place where good things are happening every day,” said Corke.

Sit at the coffee shop in the ICC and at any given moment you’ll hear people speaking in four different languages, professors sitting down with students for a mentoring session, and three different debates about the latest in global affairs.

Learning from Peers

Corke has taken advantage of many opportunities available at Georgetown, from attending speaker events to assisting with Radelet’s book, but one of her favorite elements on campus are her peers in the GHD program. She came to GHD for its small size and targeted focus (and the bulldogs), and has learned along the way that her classmates have a lot to teach her. The GHD program requires applicants to have lived and worked at least two years abroad, and those experiences have become an important part of Corke’s life in the classroom and on the broader campus.

“There is just something special about the environment on campus,” said Corke. “From the encouragement you get from faculty, to the graffiti on the inside of bathroom stalls, there’s an amazing feeling of support and goodwill at this school that I think inspires you to keep pushing yourself to do better.”

And Corke does continue to push herself. She believes that working in international development requires spending substantial time integrated in another culture, stepping outside of your comfort zone to build a level of respect and understanding of other people.

"In [stepping outside of your comfort zone], you end up embarrassing yourself (a lot), relying on people who don’t speak your language, understanding a different point of view, sweating, cursing your pit latrine, eating weird food, realizing you don’t have it all figured out yet, and learning a lot about the better parts of humanity," Corke said.