Each month, the Student Journeys Series features a guest blog post by a former student of Vicki’s.They write about how their lives have been shaped through their global education experiences. This week’s Student Journey post is written by Paloma Pineda, co-founder of Made in Africa, an organization aimed at using the growing apparel supply chain in West Africa to create jobs with livable wages for women.
My time in the Dominican Republic with the Lakeside GSL program was not my first experience outside of the US, but it was the first time that I had ever been expected to step outside my own culture. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the experience has directly shaped my choices and path ever since.
My strongest memories from Gualete, the small village that hosted our GSL program, are of very mundane moments. I remember sitting on the porch in the evening with my homestay sister, Yadhira, talking quietly together; watching the latest telenovelas while eating dinner with the family; laughing as the young girls in the family all tried out their latest dance moves. In many ways, the importance of these interactions came from their simplicity. I was simply attempting to engage in normal, everyday life in a place and culture different from my own.
There were many critical takeaways from my first GSL summer. I became aware of my own self, upbringing, and proclivities in an entirely new way – particularly around collective versus individualistic mindsets. I learned that I greatly prefer staying in a community for a while and building relationships as a means of exploring (as opposed to say, backpacking or city hopping). I saw that there is a profound difference between embracing and whole-heartedly living in a new place/culture versus retaining a mindset of constantly marking out differences. Most importantly, I felt the deep sense of joy that comes with connecting meaningfully with those who, on the surface, share very little in common with you.
I have been incredibly lucky to have received opportunities to recreate this feeling of connection in many different places. During college summers, I used fellowships to live and work in Argentina, Ghana, Mali, and India. I also studied abroad in French universities for six months during my junior year. Within each context, I stayed with homestay families and/or developed strong relationships with local colleagues. Sometimes as I am walking down the street, a particular smell or sound will remind me of somewhere and I stand and close my eyes to savor the memory of being so entirely in that place for a period of time. To travel in this way has made me a more compassionate and humble person. It has shown me that despite disparate settings – from incredibly remote villages in Mali (where children had never seen a white person before) to the chic, modern art-filled apartment I shared with my homestay family in Paris –, the fundamentals of family, love, health, and opportunity rarely change.
As I write this, I am actually several months into living in Ghana, leading a new social enterprise called Made in Africa. A unifying theme of my time spent in developing countries was the need to create jobs in the formal sector, particularly for women. During college summers working on monitoring & evaluation for NGOs, I was frustrated by my inability to meaningfully move the needle. So I joined Bain & Co. following graduation, to accelerate my launch into social enterprise. After several years, I left Bain this past winter to co-start Made in Africa, which is focused on transforming the emerging apparel supply chain in West Africa to provide living wage jobs for women. I am learning so much every day, and continue to feel grateful for the global education opportunities and experiences that have led me to this point.