What you’ll find on this blog is mostly stuff that matters to me. This stuff mostly can fall under three categories: My faith, basketball, and International Development. Why? Well it’s easy that way. Plus, there’s so much for me to write about both. This week, it’s International Development.
For most people, when I tell them I’m majoring in International Development, they nod and say “cool!” with a smile, but their eyes look confused. So I try to explain it. My explanation is usually – nay, always – inadequate. The short summary of how I do it is telling them to imagine World Vision-y kind of stuff, third world countries, and learning about developing parts of the world economically, or through education, or improved healthcare of whatever. But that doesn’t scratch the surface. What is International Development?
As any INDEV student at Waterloo who’s paid attention in INDEV 100 – or any of the courses that come after – can tell you, that’s not an easy question to answer. We still don’t know the answer. The reality is that International Development means different things to different individuals. Development is a term that encapsulates so many things: gender equality, transparent leadership, health care, education and economics like I mentioned before, as well as so much more. For different people, different variables mean more than others. For some, they believe economic development is the most important thing. For others it’s education. For others it’s social justice. International Development doesn’t just draw any sort of person, it draws passionate people. People who are passionate about certain issues. The issues they’re passionate about often take precedence over others. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these issues are more important than others. It means that these issues are more important to that particular person. So right there, there’s already a lack of consensus.
Development’s definition has also changed substantially over history. At first it was strictly economic development, back when Harry Truman gave a four point speech on development that some say started it all. This definition has expanded to now include all the variables I mentioned above, but the administering of this “development” has continued to evolve. At first, the responsibility lay with the government to administer it (Keynesian economics), then gradually to corporations and businesses (neoliberalism). Now, the general (general is the key word here) consensus is that the responsibility of development should lie with grassroots organizations in the places of need. Development as you can see is fluid, and impossible to hammer down into stone. Anyone who studies International Development has to be comfortable with uncertainty. Or, to put it more nicely, to be comfortable with dynamism. (Side note: click on the links for more information on these concepts. There’s a lot more to know when it comes to what these terms mean).
Just to add another fun wrinkle to this is the fact that development is primarily a comparative term. When you’re talking about developing a nation, or an area, you’re developing it to include certain characteristics of what you define as development. What you define as development is probably the North American, or Western, idea of development. But is that really ideal development? What makes us so arrogant to think that we need to develop other areas to be like us? What makes us believe that we’re the pinnacle of civilization? Are we? Questions upon questions, wrinkles upon wrinkles.
So why am I telling you all this? I guess because I wanted to tell you that International Development can’t be pinned down. It’s challenging, and it’s scary. And that’s part of why I chose it. That, and all this (please pardon the stutter). After my first year of university (which I absolutely loved), I still felt a little dissatisfied. I enjoyed most of my courses (especially the business ones), and did much better than I thought I would. But I didn’t really care about anything that I did. Sure, I learnt valuable skills from my conflict resolution class and very relevant skills from my accounting class, but I was not affected in a way I wanted to be. I was bored, for lack of a better word. Coming out of high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I opted for Arts and Business at Waterloo because of the flexibility the program offered. That, and the co-op option, which for a person coming from little money, was more enticing than perhaps anything else. But I realized it wasn’t for me. Everything felt like surface level knowledge. Sure, much of it was useful, but I didn’t feel like I was being challenged. By challenged, I don’t mean academically. I mean challenged on a broader scale; on my own perspective of the world and my place in it. I prayed incessantly and rather desperately about it. Ultimately, I felt led by God to do something scary. Something outside of the box, something where I didn’t know what the outcome would be. Something where my future wasn’t clear. I think it’s pretty safe to say that no one wants to do something that fits the above criteria. But God has brought me through everything I’ve ever gone through, and that’s more than enough reason to trust Him now. So I went for it, I made the switch. I’m glad I did.
International Development is a program where you ask big questions with real world ramifications, where there is no “right” answer. If you think about humanity in general, this is the way it should be. There are no right answers to the big questions that life inspires, there are only more questions. It’s a mystery that doesn’t end, and it’s a mystery that keeps evolving. It challenges me and continues to challenge me. That’s why I chose International Development.
I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed many other programs (Environment and Business, Architecture, Journalism, Marketing, Theatre, heck, so many things), and done alright. Indeed, I’ll probably do something different from International Development if I go to grad school. But I’m content with my choice. I know I may not want to do development work for the rest of my life, but I know I want to be involved with it in some capacity. For me, ultimately, that’s not the most important thing that this program is giving me right now. Sure it’s giving me those tools, but that’s secondary to the challenge that International Development offers. It offers the challenge of dealing with questions you may not be able to answer completely. It’s a challenge that I accepted.
It’s been a great ride so far! Including hijinks like this video which you can watch and enjoy heartily (I hope). I look forward to all the adventures that this next year will bring as well.