MAIS in Action Spotlight: Alexander Hirata

“…USF was helping me grind the lens through which I view the world.”

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When I was 18, I took a gap year before my sophomore year of college. I volunteered as a 4th grade teacher on the island Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia. I had a moving experience, and it sparked my passion for international aid and development.

I fed this desire throughout college by working as the Student Director of Missions at my university, where I sent students on volunteer assignments around the world. During my senior year, I realized I had barely bit into that field; there was far more to learn, and it was necessary for me to study it in order to participate ethically, unlike many of the aid organizations I’d witnessed doggedly pressing their own harmful agendas overseas.

I searched for a graduate program that would foster critical examination of this dubious world of international development, one that emphasized empowerment instead of trendy Western solutions. Thus, I enrolled in the Master of Arts in International Studies program at University of San Francisco, which embodied these criteria.

The MAIS program introduced me to a library of literature and theories of which I had no idea; my undergraduate degree is in creative writing, and I couldn’t believe such rich texts and meaningful concepts existed. I also learned skills I rely on regularly in my work, such as writing policy briefs and research outlines. I could not get enough.

The curriculum is well constructed, with subjects from one class complementing subjects from the others each week. We built off of challenging abstract theories: time-space distantiation, hegemony, transnationality, and more. These were difficult, but wrestling with them was worth it, as eventually I was able to link them and construct a framework of understanding, a language allowing me to enter the discourse. I realized what was happening, later: USF was helping me grind the lens through which I view the world.

My internship with Canvasback Missions allowed me to return my focus to Micronesia, and to the Marshall Islands, specifically. Making the Marshalls my cynosure provided a real-life case study for so many of the concepts I learned. Canvasback ended up sending me to the Marshall Islands as part of my internship, and that on-the-ground experience provided me with a tangible counterbalance to my readings.

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