Networking Leads to International Job

by Paul Frankenberg on January 7, 2013

Chase Taylor

Chase Taylor

Bowdoin College
BA, Government: International Relations
Minor: Art History
Graduated  May 2012

How did you pick the college you attended?
I was looking through my drawer the other day and I found the pros and cons for all the schools my parents and I were considering.  I really enjoyed my time growing up in Nashville but I definitely wanted a different experience. I wanted to be in New England.  Some of my family is from New England and I have spent a fair amount of time there.  I have enjoyed my time visiting New Hampshire and Maine.  I really fell in love with New England, especially nature wise.  I like the mountains, the lakes and the ocean.

I played lacrosse in high school but knew I didn’t want to play in college.  I played rugby in college and that was fun.  My choice of colleges was academically focused.  There was only one person I knew from high school who also selected Bowdoin.

I visited and considered Bowdoin, Colby, Bates, Middlebury, Connecticut College and Tufts.  I was looking at schools because they were a certain size and a certain academic caliber. They schools I considered are all between probably 1,500 and 3,000 people, which I thought was going to be a good atmosphere for me.  I wanted to have close interaction with professors and class sizes that varied between ten and 25 students generally. The largest class I ever had was 70 people and that was an intro psychology class. Those are some things I wanted. I didn’t want to be lost in the crowd.  This is something I just knew about myself.  I thrive in environments where I am able to engage with teachers daily and receive feedback on a personal level.  I enjoyed getting to know my instructors.

What or who influenced your decision?
I decided that Bowdoin would be the best environment for me, although it was almost a coin flip between Bowdoin and Middlebury.  I loved the atmosphere at Bowdoin and the campus is beautiful.  What really got me was through a conversation I had with a family friend who was an assistant to the president at Bowdoin. Just last year, he was appointed as the Dean of Admissions at Bowdoin.  We knew him so we went up and talked to him. He gave me a tour around and took me to the middle of campus and said, “The only real way to know that you’ll be comfortable at our place is just sit in the main area. Just sit alone for five minutes to an hour and get a feel for the place. Do you feel comfortable here? Do you feel at home here?” I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.” I sat down. I think the Bowdoin Plaza is the most beautiful plaza in the whole US. I sat down, looked at the students and soaked in the campus. It was early in the summer, which is the most beautiful time of the year.

I was just back on campus the other day, chatting with a bunch of my old professors and a lot of the administration. It was nice to be back and know that for a very long time, I will have close relationships with people I really respect.  I feel that I’ve learned a lot from my time at Bowdoin and the relationships I developed will last a lifetime.

What did you go to college to study?
I really didn’t know what I wanted to study, which is why a liberal arts school was right for me.  I traveled a lot growing up and I was fortunate to spend time in England, Chile and South Africa during high school.  The travel opened up my eyes and taught me a lot about other cultures.  This was a turning point for me and I fell in love with other parts of the world.  I had an inkling that I might be doing Latin American studies, something like that.  However, that didn’t end up happening.  I took a few courses and I realized that I didn’t think that was where my interests lied.

Did you change majors in college and why?
My interests were broader than Latin American studies and I switched to international relations.  I had taken an art history class my senior year of high school and I really fell in love with that.  I probably could have double majored in art history but my passions lie really with a certain sector and certain time period so I just took these classes and didn’t fill out the distribution requirements for an art history major.

I took all of the standard classes in high school but really enjoyed English.  I got to my senior year and I had this art history class.  I had never studied any art whatsoever in any detail.  I never went to any museums but this class really sparked something within me.  I have always enjoyed history but found art to be a really fascinating way to look at history through the art and cultures and people.  I thought it told you more about them than anything else.  I fell in love with medieval Europe.  The architecture I think really drew me in at first but then I really fell in love with a lot of Northern European artists and what they were doing, the prints they were pumping out and some of the artwork they were doing.  A lot of it was religious themed because that’s how you got big funding for your art but the things they were doing around those themes were innovative and original. It was just fascinating.

There were a lot of American studies majors offered but I started taking broader government classes and I started taking more classes focused on Africa.  I then realized that I was really fascinated by Africa.  I ended up studying abroad in Uganda and Rwanda Africa.  This just really confirmed for me that Africa is what I wanted to do.

What activities did you engage in and what internships and/or jobs did you have while in college?
Freshman year, I went into school very nervous about how rigorous the academics would be. It was a reasonable concern. Bowdoin is a very tough place academically but I made the mistake of completely under committing to anything outside of academics. I focused on academics and I did well but I wasn’t utilizing all Bowdoin had to offer, which is a whole lot. I played rugby, which I loved. It was great and that was my main extracurricular activity, which was good at the time because it broadened my social circle.  Rugby kept me active, which is good, but I didn’t really do much outside of that. I did make a lot of friends, which helped me get elected to my sophomore year to the vice president of the Social Houses there.  Bowdoin doesn’t have frats.

I did two international studies during college.  I went to Peru my freshman year, as part of an alternative spring break, and I visited Africa during my junior year. Over the summer, after my freshman year, I worked at a company called Overland Summers which is an outdoor program, kind of like Outward Bound. I was working with fifth and sixth graders in Western Massachusetts.  It was a fun experience.  The next summer a professor requested that I do some research with her concerning her work in Cameroon, Africa. I was making maps of districts and ethnic groups within Cameroon.  I received a grant to do this work that paid for my housing and provided a small stipend.  I spent that summer working with her which also helped shift my gaze more towards Africa. I worked pretty closely with her for the next few years. She became my advisor.  That was a fantastic summer spent looking at maps of Africa and making maps of Africa.  It was a blast. Our maps ended up getting published. These maps will also soon be published in a book.  The next summer I worked at the Government Department again, this time not under grant, doing more work with this professor.  I was making maps of Ghana and also doing a broader work with other professors, helping them edit their books, bibliographies, hunting down treaties that Russia was party to in the past 50 years, things like that.  It was a smorgasbord of activities. I became very ingrained in the Government Department, which was really fun. That brings me to last summer, where I worked as a bar back at a restaurant in New Hampshire. I did this to make a little money before I headed to Kenya, which is where I am now, working as a Teaching Fellow for the Aga Khan Academy in  Mombasa, Africa.

Tell me about your most useful resources to you in launching out of college: CMC, Internships, Family & Personal Contacts, Alumni, etc.
My professors have been terrific.  My interests and my opportunities actually came as a surprise to me. My professor actually submitted a grant application on both of our behalf and I didn’t really know about it. She just called me up and said, “Hey, I submitted this application for us. We got it. We have work to do this summer. Let’s do it.” It actually came out of nowhere but I couldn’t have been happier with it. It really was something I knew I was interested in. I just didn’t know the opportunities were available. It fell into my lap.  It really became something that I enjoyed doing at the time but I also saw it as definitely going to be great for looking to the future and what I’d want to do next, in the long run. However, I’m living and teaching in Africa now and I never once considered teaching as a potential job option.

Tell me how you landed your first job out of college?
I had a lot of friends go into finance and policy type jobs.  I was interested in think tanks and Non-Government Organizations (“NGO”).  I was looking into these roles, especially Africa-specific opportunities.  A lot of the internship descriptions were sitting behind a desk, not that the work I’d be doing wasn’t going to be interesting but I wanted my first job to be more interactive and more engaging.

I was having lunch with the Dean of Admissions one day and he mentioned that there was a former Dean, from Bowdoin, who used to work for the Aga Kahn Academy.  He also mentioned that there was a Bowdoin alumnus who was currently teaching at Aga Kahn.  This Dean recommended that I talk to them and give it a shot.  I really knew that I wanted to live abroad.  After looking at the opportunities in DC, I knew I wanted to spend more time abroad.  I went for the interview process, which consisted of approximately 700 applicants for two to three spots.

To be honest, before this process I was always really nervous about networking. My dad has so many connections and he’s always encouraging me to talk to this person and that person. He’s a natural.  I always felt like I was imposing when I do network and ask people for assistance or their time.  But this time I realized, after talking with the two Bowdoin alumni affiliated with Aga Kahn Academy, that they were going to put in a good word for me. First, they gave me an excellent understanding of what the school was, what to expect and the difficulties, especially the process of being there. I got a ton of background information just for the school itself.  I know they also helped me along in the application process, just saying a few words in my application. Just from the Bowdoin connection, even if they didn’t know me, they knew some of the things I had done as a student. It was nice to have that connection.  The network and the connections definitely helped me land this job.

Why did you leave and where do you work now?
I am a Teaching Fellow for the Aga Kahn Academy in Mombasa, Kenya.  I started in August 2012 and I have a two-year contract.  I am enjoying my work and living abroad.  I think I will come back and attend graduate school but not sure.  Long term I feel confident that I want to be part of the Foreign Service so I could come home to study diplomacy or international relations.  As of now, East Africa is holding my interests.

In your current role, what are you responsible for?
I am up at 645a, have breakfast in the cafeteria and I am in staff meetings by 730.  I live basically on campus, although with a gorgeous view of the Indian Ocean.  I meet with my mentor group after staff meetings and then school starts at 8a.  There are six grades and I generally teach two grades a day.  I assistant teach 7th grade English and 11th grade English.  Our students speak English very well.  I spend the rest of my day grading and reviewing papers, assisting with university counseling, grading personal statements, working with the student government and helping students explore college options.  About 95% of our students attend college in the US, UK or Canada.  Processes for all three countries are very different so we spend a lot of time educating on the differences and modifying applications for these students.

Go back to your sophomore, junior or senior year of college.  Does your current role fit with the professional passions you identified in college?
Yes. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing here. I was incredibly nervous about teaching and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed and it’s been a great experience that will benefit me in my next role.  I viewed this opportunity as a way to gain valuable experience, live abroad and really boost me and how I look to future employers in the fields that I really want to pursue most.   I’m getting good experience in a third world country and in NGO settings. This experience has been very enjoyable and it has definitely been a productive step in my career progress.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you provide to a current college student?
As a sophomore I was still floating around with what I really wanted to do. It would have been really nice to hear, as a sophomore, that I didn’t need to freak out about my major and what I was going to do post college. I was very nervous about that. I had to choose my major in a few weeks and I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I was really fortunate to take in a really broad selection of classes my first two years. That really helped me figure out what I really wanted to do.

If you take a broad selection of courses, really interact with professors and students and engage in a lot of dialogue, you’re going to figure out where your passions really lie. For me, my passion was always there for international relations and for exploring the world in that way but I had never really tapped into it.  Just going through that liberal arts college experience really dusted it off and made me see, “Oh, that’s completely what I want to do.  I’ve been going towards it my whole life.” The experiences of the past came to fruition there.  Not worrying too much and knowing that it will – for me, it was a, “It will all work out in the end,” kind of thing.

Interview conducted Dec. 2012. Chase’s comments were audio recorded, compiled and condensed by Paul Frankenberg
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