Friday, August 9, 2013

Adventures in West Africa

Last winter, I applied for a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship in the Cote d'Ivoire.  I was applying to a few positions at the time, and I wasn't really expecting much to come of it.  But I got called back for an interview in May and then I was recently informed that I'd been selected as a Fulbright Fellow.  It was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Sheila and I have been craving another adventure, and this is exactly the sort of work that I want to do in my career.

So we're going to the Cote d'Ivoire this September.  The fellowship lasts for 10 months, so ostensibly, I'll be in Abidjan (the de facto capital) from this September until July 2014.  Sheila will come out for my first two weeks in September, and then join me at the end of 2013 for several months.  She's still negotiating with her work, but ideally she'll be able to come out for about five months and work remotely at a reduced schedule.

The fellowship itself sounds amazing.  It's a new program, now called the Fulbright-Clinton Fellowship.  According to the State Department website:
Fulbright-Clinton Fellows serve in professional placements in foreign government ministries or institutions. Fellows gain hands-on public sector experience in participating foreign countries while simultaneously carrying out an academic study/research project.
Fulbright-Clinton Fellows will function in a “special assistant” role for a senior level official. The goal of the professional placements is to build the Fellows’ knowledge and skills, provide support to partner country institutions, and promote long-term ties between the U.S. and the partner country.
For my fellowship, I'll be working in the Ministry of Health in Abidjan as a special assistant to an official there.  It's still unclear who exactly I'll be working for, but I should hear more about that in the next few weeks.

I recently attended orientation in here in DC, and it was really inspiring, probably the first orientation I've been to that made me more excited about the job.  The people were great; all had fascinating back stories and it sounds like they'll be doing really cool stuff.  It was also useful getting to talk to the returning Fulbright alums, especially those coming back from Cote d'Ivoire.  It seems like they had great experiences and that Cote d'Ivoire was the model program among the inaugural class of Fulbright-Clinton Fellowships.  My Fulbright predecessor in the Ministry of Health conducted a couple of really cool sounding health system studies and initiated a project to rebuild the national public health library.

So I leave in September.  I'm still figuring out flights and housing and vaccinations, but I'm really excited.  I'm curious to see who I'll be working for and what they'll be like.  This is likely the single biggest factor in how successful an experience I'll have, so I'm hoping to get lucky.  Either way though, it sounds like I'll have a lot of autonomy, and that a big part of my experience will be the interchange with colleagues at the Ministry of Health.  In addition to regular work projects, last year's alums taught English to colleagues and also gave lessons on computer skills such as using Google Calendar, Excel, Word and Dropbox.  I would love to be able to have some sort of policy impact, but in many ways I think the exchange of institutional knowledge will be just as important.  I'll be in a strange and unfamiliar situation, and I'm looking forward to learning everything I can about the Cote d'Ivoire health system and about life in Abidjan.

Finally, a word about the future of this blog: for my handful of readers (Hi Dad!), fear not! I will continue to post while in Abidjan.  In fact, I'm hoping to blog more than ever.  My field of work will be changing, so I'll likely be blogging a bit more about African and global health issues, and less about U.S. health care.  But this will be a good thing; it will give me a fairly unique blogging perspective and a fun niche.  If there is a health policy blog about West Africa, I have not been able to find it.  This blog may also become a bit more personal.  I anticipate having some novel and interesting experiences working in health policy in Cote d'Ivoire, and I intend to share some of them.



    Kudos to you and Sheila for seizing this opportunity! Worst case scenario, given her job, you two will have to spend some time apart, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, anyway, and this is definitely worth it!

    This blog is very well written. Keep it up!

  2. Congrats Max! Can't wait to hear about each step of the way! And glad that Sheila will be able to join you for a more extended period :)

  3. Congrats Max! (Hi Bob!!!)