Students gain valuable skills in public policy through international experiences

Internships and studies completed internationally allow students to learn from other cultures and bring those experiences back with them to be applied in the classroom and their future careers. Many students and alumni of the La Follette School have been able to travel around the world to gain valuable experience in policy from a global perspective.

Awa Maïga, a current MIPA student, was born and raised in Timbuktu, Mali in West Africa. She is currently interning for CNFA-Feed the Future Mali Sugu Yirwa. “One of my responsibilities is to travel around Mali’s regions to meet with women and write success stories as they are achieving, impacting and thriving in their local businesses as food processing agents,” says Maïga, “(At CNFA) we work on creating economic opportunities, strengthening market systems, and building capacity and improving household incomes and nutritional status for community resilience in Mali.”

Parents sit on either side of their child, who is a student in Mali.
A young student receiving school supplies from Awa Maïga’s nonprofit, KITAB, sits with her parents. Photo courtesy of Awa Maïga.

Maïga aims to apply the skills of policy analysis she has gained through her education to work with real policies that can change the lives of the women in her home country and the rest of Africa. “Interning abroad can be a transformative experience, providing you with valuable skills, cultural understanding, and a global perspective,” Maïga says. She recommends that students interested in international development, international organizations, or foreign service maximize the benefits of international internships by seeking out job opportunities abroad.

Griffin Topel is an undergraduate marketing and international business student completing a certificate in public policy. In spring 2022, he studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain through the CIEE Barcelona Business and Culture Program. “While studying abroad I learned to appreciate and understand perspectives and lifestyles different than my own,” Topel says. “Barcelona is extremely different from Madison and I had to grow to adapt to the culture.” Topel felt that his time abroad left him with a deeper interest in international affairs and a greater understanding of the Spanish economy and government. “My advice for students interested in studying abroad is to take a leap of faith and find the right program for them,” Topel says, “It is intimidating but there is such a rewarding feeling from developing a global perspective and understanding people different than oneself.”

Migena Vula is a JD-MPA student originally from Kosovo. In summer 2022, she completed an internship with the Prime Minister’s Office in Pristina, Kosovo. “I worked with the chief of cabinet, the general secretary, and the senior officers for policy coordination,” Vula says, “Together, we worked on behalf of the Prime Minister and ensured the government’s top objectives were met.” During her internship, Vula learned new methods and skills in project management and gained experience in getting things done with limited resources, which she has been able to incorporate into her classes back at La Follette. She recommends that students explore funding opportunities offered by the La Follette School for international internships such as the Summer Policy Learning Experience, which opens every March and can offset some of the costs of doing an overseas internship. “Everyone is rooting for your success and people will always be willing to help you figure out financial logistics,” Vula says.

Kiersten Frobom (MPA-MPH ’19) completed an internship with Uganda-based NGO Health Access Connect (HAC) and a field placement in Kampala, Uganda in 2017. “My main projects for HAC included a literature review to gain background knowledge on migration, health, and service utilization in Uganda and similarly developed regions,” Frobom says. “I also consulted on the development and implementation of a population health survey, focusing on demographics, health status, and health-seeking behaviors, to be used for internal program evaluation and quality improvement.” Frobom believes that working with a nonprofit and experts in research and policy design hands-on served as a great way to gain a realistic perspective outside of the classroom.

– Written by Clare Brogan

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