“If you had asked me where I would be after graduating from college, there is no way I could have predicted I would be in Kenya,” marvels Ida Posner ’08, who boarded a plane for Africa just two weeks after graduating Princeton University last June. “In a lot of ways, my life here is similar to that of my friends back in the U.S. I have a nine to five job, go out with my friends at night and on the weekends, and live with two roommates who are my age…(but) there are always the moments when we’re driving through town and have to stop to let a herd of cattle cross the road, or when I’m squeezed onto a matatu (minibus taxi) with 22 other people when it’s supposed to seat 14 that I’m suddenly jolted back into realizing that, yes, I live in Kenya!”
s a Princeton in Africa Fellow—a prestigious and highly competitive fellowship program placing recent college graduates with partner organizations throughout Africa to work for one year in fields from public health to conservation to conflict resolution—Posner is midway through her assignment with a startup alternative energy company in Kisumu, Kenya, gaining priceless real-world work and life experience.
“access:energy builds wind turbines from recycled materials –think scrap metal and used car parts,” explains Posner, pointing out that her placement dovetails perfectly with her B.S.E. in Civil and Environmental Engineering and certificates in African Studies and Sustainable Energy. “We also install solar systems and water pumps. Right now we’re working on a number of micro-grid installations in the Lake Victoria region. We get to directly see the impact of our work when we finish an installation and there are lights in a school, or refrigerators running at a health clinic where there previously had been no power. The small things we take for granted in the U.S., like electricity, make such a monumental difference to life in Kenya and it’s amazing to have the opportunity to help people in such a big way.”
Welcome to the New Normal, where it’s not unusual for the pursuit of a career—or careers—to be defined by detours planned and unplanned, adventures sought or serendipitously dropped in one’s path, opportunities and options unimagined even one generation ago.
“The majority of Princeton graduates move to New York and work in either finance or consulting or go straight to grad school. Neither of those options sounded like what I wanted to do–although I do see grad school in my future–so I started looking for other programs,” recounts Posner. “Princeton in Africa became my top choice, and luckily I made it through the selection process.”
For Posner and others of the Millennial Generation—according to the Pew Research Center, those born between 1981 and 2000 and the first generation to come of age during the new millennium—perhaps the most normal thing about forging one’s way into professional life nowadays is the array of available avenues.
“I really think it’s remarkable that for our generation, you can completely change your career path every couple of years. There are a ton of new opportunities and career paths popping up these days. Startups, social media, and technology offer recent grads a much wider selection of careers to choose from. I see myself trying out a few different career paths before I settle on what I want to be doing for a long time,” mulls Posner. “That being said, some people have a strong passion for one type of career and pursue it as soon as possible, (but) it is becoming more and more common for people to do some kind of fellowship, either in the U.S. or abroad, right after graduation. It’s a great opportunity to experience a range of professional responsibilities and to try out one specific sector before you commit to that being your profession.”
“There is no ‘normal’ anymore,” concurs James Allan ’04. “What worked a generation ago doesn’t really apply today. The world is much smaller and much more competitive than it was in the past. You don’t need to necessarily go abroad to be successful, but at least think beyond your local city and community.”
Allan has done exactly that–and then some. Today, he lives in Singapore, the CEO and co-founder of Archipelago Marketing and Communications, a boutique communications firm specializing in communications, public relations, investor relations, and digital marketing for clients worldwide. But in 2008, the newly minted graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder had just embarked on his career, armed with a B.S. in Journalism, some internship and work experience…and an open mind.
“I moved to New York after college as do most people who want to work in media,” Allan recalls. “I was there during the financial crisis of 2008 and watched the city implode. After realizing that there were not many great opportunities in the U.S., I decided to look abroad for a job. I had always been interested in Asian culture, but hadn’t really considered it as a place to live. Coincidentally, a friend from home was teaching English abroad in South Korea, and recommended that I give it a shot. I sent in an application and was on a flight to Seoul before I knew what happened.”
While working in Seoul, he received an offer from Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, with one condition: “I had to move to their Indonesia office. I knew nothing about the country and wasn’t really sure what I was in for, but I took the risk and ending up loving the experience.”
For the next year and a half, Allan worked as Managing Editor in the agency’s Seoul and Jakarta offices, managing several multinational teams responsible for client servicing, and collaborating with top executives on business development initiatives. A move to Ramba Energy Limited in Singapore, working for the next 17 months as Corporate Communications Manager of the publicly traded energy company, honed his knowledge of the energy sector and Singapore and Indonesia financial markets. And now, in his role as CEO of Archipelago, Allan’s responsibilities require commuting between both countries and maintaining a global vision.
“Archipelago is based in Southeast Asia, meaning we offer a unique perspective into this region of the world, specifically Singapore and Indonesia. Since this region is still overlooked by many for doing business, we offer insights and access that many (other firms) cannot. The main service that we provide is to help local companies position themselves to foreign audiences.”
The contrasts between Posner and Allan’s lives are as vast as the 4500-plus miles between them. She lives in Africa. He lives in Asia. She works in a developing country. He works in one of the world’s top financial centers. Her office has no running water, and she often works at a tarp-sheltered table, enveloped in warm breezes and sunshine. His office is nestled in the glittering garden of sleek skyscrapers at the nexus of Singapore’s central business district. And although their eyes—hers blue-green, his brown–look out upon different corners of the world and ways of life every day, their vision is a shared one, embraced by many of their generation: be open to change…be open to chance…be prepared to chart one’s course with the courage, imagination, and vision so essential to the New Normal.
“Any real-life experience is helpful,” muses Allan. “From studying abroad, to internships, to simply throwing on a backpack and exploring. Anything that immerses you in something new is always helpful.”
“Getting this broad range of experience, in work and non-work situations, is a vital part of growing up in our world today. We are constantly confronted with people of different nationalities, races, religions, and cultures. I really liked the City as Our Campus program because I think it’s important to realize that just as much learning happens outside the classroom as inside of it,” Posner agrees, citing a pivotal WT experience—and, apparently, a family philosophy. “My dad’s [Henry Posner III] advice to me when I was deciding whether to take the post with access:energy was, ‘when in doubt, choose adventure!’
“At the end of my senior year, my friends who were moving to NYC to pursue a job in finance or consulting used to joke that I was avoiding having a ‘real’ job for a year by going to Kenya, and at first I began to agree with them,” Posner continues. But now, she says, “I can confidently say that there is nothing more ‘real’ than my life in Kenya. I feel like I have grown five years in the seven months I have been here.” next story →