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Alumni Essay: Seth Irish '97 (Cross-Cultural Studies Major)

I graduated from Whitworth in 1997 with a degree in cross-cultural studies and French. I had already gotten a job teaching English in Japan so I spent the next year teaching English to Japanese students aged 2 to 18. It was a challenging experience as I taught around 30 classes each week. I enjoyed learning Japanese and was able to travel to many parts of Japan to visit friends from Whitworth.

After I finished this job I returned to the US and spent almost six months looking for full-time work, which I finally found in the AmeriCorps Promise Fellow program. I was the first Promise Fellow to work in the Portland State University Career Center. My goal was to persuade more students to get involved in community service through work-study. I created a webpage, wrote newspaper articles, and met with students and faculty to make this program more visible on campus. I'm happy to say that the program is still running.

During this year, I found myself wishing to return to Africa. I had spent time in Zaire and Ethiopia while in high school and was wanting to return on my own. I also wanted to make a positive contribution. There was a Peace Corps recruiter in the Career Center and I applied and was accepted to serve as a Water/Sanitation Volunteer in Cote d'Ivoire.

I left for Cote d'Ivoire and spent the first three months in training. I stayed with a host family while I learned about well digging, pumps, latrines, and took language lessons. I was placed in a village in SE Cote d'Ivoire, where I worked to maintain communication between the village and a government program building water towers. I also assisted with well repairs and two well digging trainings.

Halfway through my Peace Corps work I was offered a position as Director of Social Services for a large agricultural company. I managed the primary health care that was provided to over 6000 employees. I also oversaw construction of worker housing, cafeterias, and new health facilities. After a year and a half, I returned to the United States.

Again I struggled to find something I was interested in and spent several months searching for the perfect job. I finally took a seasonal job with my local mosquito control district. I spent the summer setting and retrieving mosquito traps, responding to complaints, and learned to identify different mosquito species. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the work and took a full-time job doing mosquito control work in Portland.

Two years later, a friend told me of a master's program in biology and control of disease vectors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I finished the course this past year and have now been employed by the school. I'll be testing mixtures of insecticides to combat insecticide resistance in West Africa.

While I was at Whitworth, I often heard people speak about the value of a liberal-arts education. I think that it has allowed me to work in several different fields without too much difficulty. Now that I seem to be beginning a career in Medical Entomology, I wish that I had taken more science classes while at Whitworth. However, 10 years ago, I had no idea that I would end up where I am now.

I advise current Whitworth students to be open to change in their career. I have spent too many months looking for an ideal job and passing up employment opportunities that were in front of me. Taking a temporary job will not keep you from getting a better one. It may put you in contact with people that can help you or you may find that you enjoy it more than you think.