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Taylor Corbett is a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA, pursuing a double major in Economics and Diplomacy and World Affairs. This post is part of a series he wrote as part of an internship with BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-poor program in Bangladesh.

As an American student in Bangladesh I have quickly learned that there is one question that I inevitably face in every greeting. Wedged somewhere between the handshake and friendly smiles slips the question, “What are you doing here?” It’s something I have been asked by customs agents, taxi drivers, chai wallahs, school teachers, businessmen, village leaders, and even friends. In Bangladesh this is a completely justified question. With virtually no tourism industry and monsoon season fast approaching, many wonder why someone would come to their country to tromp around isolated villages for days at a time. The simplicity of my response has, thus far, never failed to solicit a smile. “I have come to learn from you,” I always tell them.

The context of my response can be found eight months prior as I read Nicholas Kristof’s column titled “More Schools, Not Troops.” In his column, Kristof compares the different developmental paths of Bangladesh and Pakistan in the 30 years since their partition in 1971. Pakistan, choosing to spend its aid dollars on military spending has come to face a militarized and divided society. In contrast, Bangladesh has chosen to focus on educational and societal development, which Kristof argues, has led to healthier, better educated, and less radicalized society. He went on to attribute this progress, in part, to an NGO called BRAC for their education and development initiatives. As an international relations and economics major, studying how development organizations can provide effective solutions to pervasive transnational issues (such as terrorism or insurgencies) is my academic dream. Clearly interested, I did what any information hungry American does, I Googled-it.

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