Fond memories of Prague

I started this blog awhile ago and thought it still deserved posting:

Though I’ve already written about studying abroad in Prague, the trip is worth revisiting to explain one other way it introduced a new perspective.

This past spring semester I worked as a research assistant for AidData, which is currently collecting and organizing amazing new levels of development finance data. Just by luck, our staff had visited the Czech Development Agency (CzDA) in Prague that semester to retrieve their ODA information and thought I may be able to volunteer at CzDA while studying abroad. After some emails back and forth and a surprisingly easy call on a Czech payphone in our dorm, AidData’s contact and I figured out I would be able to help around the office for the last two weeks of my stay.

I really didn’t know what to expect as I walked into the office but the experience ended up being fantastic! Since I’ve visited USAID and the World Bank it was exciting to observe a much smaller office–and CzDA itself is only a few years old! All of the staff were incredibly welcoming even though they knew I was only there briefly and they were also more than willing to answer my questions about working in development assistance. Not only was I able to learn a bit more about the actual process of conceiving, planning, and executing a project (AidData focuses on completed projects) but, perhaps most importantly, I was reminded of just how many factors contribute to the ultimate behavior of a donor agency. Several perspectives in international relations tend to view a country (or, equivalently, its aid agency) as a single actor that pursues its agenda. For example,  I would guess most people have seen works that even almost personify a country–“Brazil supports….” or “Germany wants….”. My volunteer experience reminded me that there are an amazing amount of factors that go into aid allocation/project formation, and that any study of those areas requires careful attention to each actor involved–the aid agency, different ideas within that agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its internal politics, other coordinating donors, and the various influential forces within a recipient country–just to name some!