The rapid spread of the virus imposed a huge economic slowdown, and the immediate impacts of the deepest recession since the Great Depression have been widespread across the population worldwide, primarily through job losses. During the first fourth months of the pandemic, February to May, the unemployment rate in the US more than tripled. And, in this unprecedented scenario, I found myself overwhelmed in the middle of a landlocked state, unable to complete the summer checklist with road trips, the ultimate goal of an international student in the States, especially when econometrics is a core course of your program.
The uncertainty of the first month faded out when we were communicated that the MIP Program will be adjusted so anybody from the cohort has to leave the country and risk the upcoming academic year. Surprisingly, the pandemic created new opportunities. With most of the jobs switching to remote, I had the chance to land two internships: Soles4Souls an NGO based in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Independent Evaluation and Research Cell at BRAC, the largest development organization in the world, based in Kampala, Uganda.
At S4S, as part of the Executive Team, I worked on designing instruments to measure the impact of several ongoing and upcoming projects for the Strategic Initiatives and Impact department. I also helped design the sustainability framework of the organization with the Business Development team, where I had the chance to interact with leaders in the apparel and footwear industry. Meanwhile, at BRAC, I assisted in research and program operations for a Feasibility Study on Micronutrient Powder (MNP) implemented in 3 districts in Uganda. Conducting an intensive literature review in order to design Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice (KAP) instruments for Community Health Providers (CHP) and caregivers were my main responsibilities.
Having a packed schedule for the whole summer helped me to keep myself busy and not get bored. Thus, unnoticed, the new semester started at once. Due to the great efforts that my host university, Vanderbilt, is doing in keeping the students and faculty members safe, we are able again to enjoy some of the perks of campus life. Who thought we would get so much joy by only going to campus?! The hybrid classes are the innovation that many universities introduced for the Fall semester. The dynamics of the classroom have completely changed, and now we have classmates following the class discussions from nine to thirteen hours of time zone difference, but still an impressive experience. If during the first year we struggled with fancy macro and microeconomic models, this semester I am diving into fascinating empirical studies influencing policymaking, from education and healthcare policies to policy implications derived from audit studies on discrimination.
My academic journey, besides other social and entrepreneurship activities that I am part of, has been an enriching adventure so far. Although the pandemic posed many questions and challenges, the silver lining of it was growing in experience; meeting new people I could rely on, and connecting more with some of my old ones. As one of my close friends would say, humans, are really like chameleons, adaptable to every situation.
Sonila Hasaj, MIP Fellow currently pursuing a Master in Economic Development (STEM Designation) at Vanderbilt University