While Megan Humphreys was in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps, she came to realize how many aspects of daily life she took for granted in the United States.
“I became interested in the effects of government decisions and actions on the lives of its citizens while in the Peace Corps,” she says. “I never paid attention to labor laws, health-care policy and government assistance programs in the United States. Seeing such policies in place in Costa Rica, how they were different from U.S. policies, and how these differences affect people’s lives opened my eyes to a whole field of life and work that I had never noticed before.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in 2009, Humphreys worked for several months as a hotel manager, tapping her experience from a hospitality internship she did in New Delhi, India. “While I enjoyed the mental challenge of the job, the personal satisfaction was missing — I did not feel I was making a difference in the world,” Humphreys says.
She headed to Costa Rica in 2010. “I joined the Peace Corps because I have always been interested in other countries and cultures,” says Humphreys, who studied also at the University of Latvia as an undergraduate.
One of her projects as a community economic development facilitator was teaching a computer skills course with about 12 adults and teenagers. “Twice a week for eight weeks, high school students housewives and grandmothers came together to learn the basics of a computer,” Humphreys says. “Some were very familiar with computers and others had never even used a mouse. By the end, all had completed tasks that included creating a folder on the desktop, drawing a community map in a graphics program, writing a community newsletter, making a schedule of church events in Excel, and finally showing all they had learned in a PowerPoint presentation. The group’s enthusiasm, dedication and success in learning new skills made this class one of my best projects.”
Another favorite project was creating a world map with primary school children in her village. “About 15 kids came and helped paint the world map, which we hung on the wall at the local community center. After that, we had informal geography lessons where we made a game of who could find each country that I called out the fastest. The kids started out not able to locate Costa Rica and advanced to the point where I could barely find a country they couldn’t find in a few seconds.”
Humphreys talked with other Peace Corps volunteers about their career paths and educational goals. “I realized that a master's degree in international public affairs would provide me with a wider range of opportunities more in line with my interests and desire to make a difference in the world,” she says.
She returned to Wisconsin and enrolled in UW–Madison’s dual-degree program in law and international public affairs. She welcomes the challenge of improving her quantitative skills. “This knowledge will be extremely beneficial when I have to evaluate programs and their efficiency,” Humphreys says. “I already notice that analyses in journal articles and other sources are more intelligible, thanks to my course on introductory statistical methods. The emphasis on quantitative skills is something that many other public affairs and public policy programs are lacking.”
This summer, Humphreys is interning with WE International, a Wisconsin-based justice advocacy and economic development agency that operates primarily in Africa and in south and southeast Asia.
“We are getting to launch two programs by the end of the summer,” Humphreys says. “One is a child sponsorship program for at-risk youth in Uganda to pay their school fees for uniforms and books. I am helping with details such as website editing, launch-party planning and budgeting. I am also helping with a website launch and inventory system of products made by women in Uganda. We will market and sell those products in the United States.”
At La Follette, Humphreys appreciates the small size of the school program. “The small size allows you the chance to make stronger relations with other students and professors,” she says. “These relationships allow you to share and learn from the experiences of others, and not just from the course materials. Also, the size of UW–Madison provides opportunities to take classes in almost any field you desire.”
Ultimately, Humphreys would like to work in international human rights, especially to reduce conflicts and human trafficking.
“Many of the rights and liberties we take for granted in the States are only in place because they are enshrined in law,” Humphreys says. “Good laws serve as protection to citizens. Understanding law and the logic behind it will help me be a better advocate for those in need and help create better public policy. Public service fulfills my desire to make a difference in the world and provides a satisfaction unmatched by any other position I have had.”
Megan Humphreys and students in her computer class in Pilas de Bejuco, Costa Rica.