Peace Corps Blog

This is a blog of my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, working in South Africa. My job title is a capacity builder, which means I help increase the effectiveness of a local NGO that does AIDS/HIV related work.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two New Updates

My blog has been growing cobwebs, it has been long neglected. But school closed early today (the teachers ended up going home at noon, since tomorrow is a holiday), so I decided to come home and post two new entries on my blog. Scroll down to read them.


Also, for those interested, I have started a Twitter account: nathanntg. I use it off and on, and post little day to day updates.

My Latest Endeavour

Upon returning from my trip back to the United States, I began a secondary project within my community. Although I have enjoyed my time with my primary organization (Fanang Diatla, the care-giving organization I was originally placed with), there were many times where there was little work for me and I felt isolated from the rest of the community, as I only worked with a small number of people. So I decided to make the 25 minute walk over to a nearby high school, where I spoke with the deputy principal and offered my assistance with tutoring and career guidance. This was inspired by the number of 11th and 12th grade students that previously approached me asking for those exact things. But the school had other things in mind, and the deputy principal asked me if I could assist with teaching mathematics and computers (the school is still severely understaffed and does not have any qualified computer teacher).

Coming in the first week, I found that although the school had 12 new computers, they were useless (Windows was not activated, so you could not even turn the computers on). On my first day, I was able to fix the computers (it simply involved calling Microsoft to activate each computer), which was a welcomed change… now students could learn through practical work, instead of theoretical lectures.

Since then, I have also helped teach the 12th grade math class, where we spent a lot of time reviewing basic concepts (such as how to graph a line, and what the word arc means). In addition, I have helped with other math classes (one with over fifty learners in it) and have taught a number of computer classes. But now that the second term has begun, I have started to back away from doing too much teaching. As the end of my service is fast approaching, I realize that it makes more sense to work with interested teachers and help give them the computer knowledge or math knowledge they need to teach the classes. So now I have partnered with a few of the teachers, to help give them the computer and math knowledge needed. As I am not an ideal teacher (little teaching experience, and my language skills are not advanced enough to explain either computers or mathematics in Sepedi), this seems like a good situation; the teachers, who already have teaching skills, can then learn certain concepts from me and better pass it on to the learners.

Working with the school has provided some variety in my work, and a great opportunity to work and talk with more members of the community. Although there are some disappointments at the school, I am glad for the new addition to my Peace Corps experience and am glad to have something that will keep me engaged during the remaining months of my service here.


What's Next

As my Peace Corps service is coming to a close, I am gearing up for a big transition and the next step in my life. Briefly, I mentioned earlier that I was working on applying to graduate school. After months of waiting (and worrying that I was overly ambitious in applying to renowned schools), I heard from my first choice school… that I got in. This was back in March, but in the months since, more details have arrived.

So, much to my delight, I will be moving to Boston and starting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the middle of August. The program is in their Engineering Systems Division, and is a Masters of Science in Technology and Public Policy.

When applying to graduate school, my primary interest was to look at the emergence of hierarchal systems on a societal level. Particularly, I have been drawn to how people increasingly fit into much larger systems (corporations, governments, etc), and how this leads to more innovation, but also the larger systems take on an identity of their own. For my applications, I ended up writing a statement of purpose that explains this concept in more detail and I have since posted it online (if you are interested in reading it, click here).

The program I will be attending is an ideal match for my interests, as I will be able to work with professors who specialize in such emergent systems and their role within businesses today. And I will be able to approach this topic from the angle of economics and policy, which provide great tools for understanding the catalysts of such emergence and how emergent systems can best be utilized in the coming years.

Over the course of the two year program, I will study the economics and policy and a science specialization (relating to human systems and business, most likely). In addition, between my work as a research assistant and my studies, I will select, research and write a thesis of my choice. Already, I have begun looking into potential research assistantships and contacting professors, which will help provide the research and focus needed to do this thesis.

Currently, I am quite excited about the opportunity of returning to academia. Over the course of the two years since finishing my undergraduate degree, I realize how important the atmosphere of learning and like-minded individuals is to me. So I eagerly look forward to MIT. But also, I have come to appreciate what an important transition is approaching. Over these two years, I have gained great perspective and learned a lot about both myself and people in general. Returning from a quiet, somewhat isolated rural life in South Africa and jumping into the business of graduate school (as well as living on the East coast for the first time) will be a substantial shift. In preparation for that, I have started writing down some of the important events and experiences of my service here, just so I will not lose track of what I gained and learned here. In addition, I will be returning to New Mexico for a few weeks prior to starting graduate school to ease into the transition and have some time with my family before embarking on my next two year journey.