Grace Hulseman, class of 2020, spent her summer in Paraguay where she worked for Fundación Paraguaya where she was able to engage in field work and data analysis, specifically working on a validation survey for the organization and applying quantitative analysis from GHD to her internship.
At the end of the spring semester, while speaking with Global Human Development (GHD) Program Director Steve Radelet about options for my summer internship, I commented that I wanted “to do something a little bit wild” for the summer—to really move out of my comfort zone and not spend three months in an office building. I chose an internship with the Fundación Paraguaya because it offered the opportunity to engage in field work and data analysis in a totally different context than any of my previous experiences. I had forgotten about this conversation with Dr. Radelet until last week, when I was out in the rural community of Guayaibi for the second phase of a validation study that I have been supporting. I was sitting in the passenger seat of my supervisor Nancy’s car, writing a code in Stata to sort a sample of households into random treatment groups. As I was sitting there, cold, tired, and a bit stressed about getting the Stata code right, I suddenly realized that I had found exactly what I told Dr. Radelet I was looking for: something a little bit wild.
This validation study has been one of my favorite parts of the internship experience, in large part because it is something I have never done before and might not have the chance to do again. I have been working with a team of trained surveyors to apply a poverty assessment to a few hundred households in a rural village in order to test the accuracy of the methodology. My role has been logistical: I identified and mapped households in the survey, randomly assigned them to treatment groups, and coordinated with other supervisors in the field to ensure that we are surveying the right households. It has been an enriching experience that has taught me two main lessons.
First, data collection is really hard: I’ve always enjoyed quantitative analysis and, in my first year in GHD, I spent a lot of time working with household survey data for different classes. Supporting this validation study has given me a whole new level of appreciation for how challenging it is to produce a high-quality household-level survey dataset. Second, data collection is insanely cool. The experience of being on the ground and witnessing the work that is being done to better understand the various experiences of poverty around the world was incredible because it helped me better understand a crucial aspect of how we understand poverty and development. It can be easy to look at a data et and think of it as just that: data, a series of numbers. Assisting with this project reminded me that survey-level data is so much more than just numbers; it is a glimpse into the lives of real people. Even though the study required long days and a lot of work, I found it really exciting to witness one of the most crucial steps towards eradicating poverty: by understanding its various manifestations.
My two main priorities when selecting a summer internship were to gain professional experience in a Spanish-language environment and to apply what I had learned in my quantitative courses in a “real world” setting. My experience with the Fundación Paraguaya has allowed me to accomplish both of those goals while also feeling personally fulfilled and inspired. For years, it has been my ambition to be comfortable enough with the Spanish language to be able to work in a Spanish-speaking environment. I have been studying Spanish for years, but it’s never come easily to me. Working with the Fundación Paraguaya and speaking primarily Spanish throughout this internship has been an affirming experience in that I feel as though I have accomplished a goal I have worked towards for so long.
I have to thank my coworkers at the Fundación Paraguaya, because they are the reason why I have loved this internship. My coworkers have warmly welcomed me, supported me on various projects, taught me more about development, and helped me improve my Spanish with gentle corrections and incredible patience. All of the people I work with have amazed me with their friendliness and commitment to what they do. It has been an honor to learn from such passionate and motivated professionals, and I know that my experiences here will continue to guide me as a student and professional for years to come.
More broadly speaking, I have been amazed by the kindness shown to me by Paraguayans. From my coworkers to various Uber drivers and absolute strangers who have gone out of their way to make sure I know where I am going, I have been shown incredible hospitality by so many people. This summer, I’ve struggled to articulate my feelings on being a white American woman working in international development, particularly while the president of my country actively promotes racism and xenophobia. While I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity to visit new places, I am aware that my ability to travel so freely is a result of my privilege. I have found it easy to feel defeated about the future, particularly back home, when it feels like every American news story offers another example of the ugliest parts of humanity My experiences in Paraguay, however, have shown me the opposite: warm and welcoming hospitality, new friends, professional growth, and a small sense of belonging as a foreigner in a new place.
Mil gracias a todos de mis amigos y compañeros a la Fundación Paraguay. Estoy muy agradecida por la oportunidad de trabajar con ustedes. ¡Ha sido una experiencia increíble! ¡Les extrañaré!