End / Beginning

Hey everyone,

This is going to be my last post on this particular blog. Thanks for following along this past year with my IEDP adventure. I’ve met or Skyped a bunch of random, AWESOME people about my experience at Penn GSE…I do hope you end up (t)here! I’m very thankful for the friends and I made and everything I learned.  Here are some final updates:

  • I accepted a job in NYC which I’m really excited about! You can find me on LinkedIn and see details later this month. But it’s my dream job, to say the least! I know that I’m in a really lucky / privileged position (yo, the world ain’t always kind to education  or international development grads)…but I also know where I come from, the struggles I’ve been through, and the love + hours + I put into my international education work. So since I’ve been given this chance, I want to kick ass and help as many people as I can.
  • My last few weeks in Paris were crazy/amazing/overwhelming, to say the least. There was a lot of stress around trying to figure out what continent I was going to end up on literally 3 weeks after the end of my internship was, among other life things. Thank God for some of the coolest people I’ve ever met!
  • Oscar-style shout-outs @: My work team – you guys are the best! I am going to miss you all SO much; Delta Young – from outdoor lunches to semi-spontaneous trips abroad, like seriously what even was this summer? @Reymir – girl thanks for adventure-ing in Paris with me and for roomie-bonding. Hasta luego, chica! @IEDP- best wishes and can’t wait to see some of you again in Philly soon, and the rest of you in life later on 😉 ❤
  • Are you curious about risk-taking in education policy and the paper I’m working on for OECD? Hit me up at athenala[at]gse.upenn.edu and I can talk more. I was planning to expound more on my blog, but honestly, I just do not have time for this and I’d rather just write a good paper. But talking about it definitely helps me refine arguments! 🙂

To all future IEDPers and readers, best of luck, best of learning, and best of adventures!





Down to the Wire

I can’t believe I have less than 3 weeks left here for my internship! It’s been a bit of a stressful summer due to some craziness at home and in BG (what else is new :p), but I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to learn how to really “be” in a place. On more weekends than not, I’ve just hung out in Paris and let things happen more spontaneously. Kinda French, right? 😀

I have no idea where I will be a month from now, which is scary, and sometimes I’m just like, “Can I take a week and just nap for all of it?” but I know I’ve gotta keep going. It’s gonna work out in the end, right? It has to! 🙂


haha – oh ambitious baby…

In terms of work, I’ve written two more blog posts (one on policy experimentation, the other on complexity) and am awaiting my boss’s comments. I’m making slow but steady progress on my risk-taking paper. My modified goal is to have a first draft done by next Tuesday, and I tend to be a more last-minute person when it comes to writing long papers. But I’m going to be positive: IT’S GONNA HAPPEN! My next IEDP blog post is going to be an outline of my paper (one way of forcing myself to write it :D).

Some other beautiful experiences I am thankful for:

  • A semi-spontaneous trip with some of my friends from work to Milan/Verona. It was actually my first time out of Paris this entire summer! It was basically: pasta, pizza, gelato, pool party, wine, and beautiful buildings. What more can you ask for?
  • Seeing a few of my BG babies this past week. Today we made the trip out to Versailles! It only costs 3.60 Euros RT from my train stop. It was my first time going, and it was so worth it – beautiful opulence! We went on a boat ride (I am inept at rowing), played with baby goats, and toured like everything. All. The. Things. Two thumbs up!
  • Alex came for a weekend and we went up the Arc de Triomphe, saw all the cool street art around Canal St. Martin and Belleville, and checked out UNESCO HQ (Irina, where u at girl?).
  • Celebrating Quatorze de Juillet (Bastille Day) festivities in style with Au P’tit Grec (another amaze eatery), actually affordable Happy Hour at the Local, a Palestinian electronic dance concert…and the next day fireworks and a boat bar! 😀
  • Food/night out adventures in Paris with friends. Some highlights include:
    • La Bossue – my new fave brunch place
    • Le Comptoir General – an African reggae/dancehall bar/club/restaurant/thrift shop that’s ACTUALLY diverse! To be honest, this is not the norm in Paris.
  • Just generally hanging out with people! I have met some seriously AMAZING folks this summer, and whether we are karaoke-ing it up with elderly Chinese people in Chinatown, playing Cards Against Humanity with homemade mojitos on the grass of Cite U, or dancing to Spanish music in someone’s garden at midnight, I have enjoyed every single moment with my fellow interns and consultants. 🙂

18 days left! :O :O :O :O 

Pics tho? #youbetcha






Slow Hot Parisian Summer

It’s become a bit slower here in the office, as most staff take at least a week or two for vacation and as our team plays the waiting game for approvals from higher-ups of the upcoming volume. Some people will be out for the entire month of August in addition to their random 2-4 day vacations during other times in the year – apparently, this is when OECD becomes “Internland.” Oh Europe and your amazing vacation policies (not applicable to interns though 😉 )!  Unfortunately, for those of us who are still at the office, it’s become pretty darn HOT, outside and in Delta – even with everyone wearing significantly less clothing and the AC turned up to the max! In my particular room, the windows cannot be opened. All of these factors mean that, after lunch, I need to walk around and get an extra coffee to avoid postprandial drowsiness.

In terms of work, the slow heat is a bit of a relief, as I spent most of my first 1.5 months trying to get with the program and work at a hectic pace. Now, I’m trying to take advantage of the “dip” to read various research pieces on risk-taking at a more relaxed pace, memorize a shit ton of words in Spanish and French (failing though…where did my brain go…), and also learn some Excel. Obviously, I’m 20 years behind, but yesterday, I learned about the glorious invention that is…the Pivot Table. For those who don’t know, you can create pivot tables to extract smaller, significant chunks of information from an extremely large data set (and then create some fancy looking bar graphs afterwards). Excel is kind of my new favorite thing…! I have never needed to use Excel for my work ever #qualititativeresearch, but if I end up staying here, I’ll definitely need to get up to speed with data analysis software. I’ve become much more acquainted with Microsoft Office (and SmartArt! OMG. SO. MUCH. SMARTART. I just want to connect everything with circles and lines and arrows now…another digression: I want to take a graphic design class for artistically-inept people like me).

Fortunately, Excel is kind of beautiful and fun…I would LOVE to be an Excel nerd. I aspire to make something like this someday #pivotturtles?:


Like literally isn’t this the best thing you’ve ever seen? (source: Mashable)

Anyway, in terms of my actual research, here are some basic concepts/terms so far:

  • There are lots of definitions for risk (economic, psychological, sociological, etc.), and they differ in terms of whether you are focusing on individual mentalities and decision-making, institutional perceptions, or cultural features that shape perceptions of risk. Here’s a mathematical equation: risk = probability of event happening x damage of said event.
  • An entity can be risk-seeking/risk-acceptant, risk-neutral, or risk-averse/risk-avoidant.
  • Risk-taking is a phenomenon that occurs when one is more risk-seeking.
  • Risk-taking is necessary for innovation. 
  • Risk intelligence is about 1) Setting a threshold 2) Bet sizing 3) Understanding expected values 4) Seeing things in a longer time-horizon (#gambling).
  • The public sector is more risk-averse than the private sector.
  • In education, risk-taking is not viewed as an essential activity – which kind of explains the patterns of reform movements in many countries.
  • In terms of models to deal with risk, one should differentiate among technocratic risk management, decisionistic risk management, or transparent risk governance (our team supports the last one, at least, according to previously published work).

I have so, so many questions because I’m coming at this quite new, but some big Q’s include:

  • In the policy sphere, what is the right “balance” between risk-avoidance and risk-acceptance, if there is any?
  • What is the relationship among risk, innovation, and reform?
  • How does education compare to other public sectors (e.g. health) when it comes to risk-taking in policy? (follow-up: what lessons can we learn from them?)
  • What are the connections between risk and the other concepts that are necessary to complex education governance, like accountability (that seems to be the big one), trust, knowledge, and capacity building?
  • On a related note, what does transparent risk governance *really* entail (my team has written a bit about this previously, but I need more!)? That is, in complex, multi-level, decentralized systems, when and how does one encourage strategic risk-taking at all levels? How can we understand those processes?
  • How might the strategies recommended for OECD/higher-income countries differ from those for LMICs (lower/middle-income countries)?

Maybe in a week I will have some answers…? Or at least some first attempts at representative SmartArt. 😀

July / Juillet / Julio

I can’t believe it’s already been 5 weeks since I arrived here in Paris. I’ve mostly been a big nerd. I spend a LOT of time in the office (but it’s voluntary, I swear!). I usually roll in by 10 AM (sometimes earlier, sometimes later), but then I’m at work until 7 or 8 PM pretty much everyday. I’ve also come to the office on 2 weekends to try to get some other things done…although our office is fairly social during work hours, it’s actually quite conducive to work (and naps) when it’s quiet. 😀

Work-wise, I’ve learned a LOT about topics that might appear quite abstract, but actually are essential for sound education policy. It’s intellectually exciting, and I’ve had to absorb a LOT in a short time. The undergirding concept is that of system complexity, in contrast to things that are simple or complicated. This slide captures the classic analogies:


Source: United Way of Greater Cincinnati

In the past month, I also got to help rewrite an entire chapter on trust for our team’s upcoming publication. It was quite nervewracking, because I only had a few days to make sense of someone else’s first draft (of which I had done no research for previously). But I was able to massively re-write and re-organize the chapter into something coherent; thank you, everyone on Team GCES for helping me flesh things out and trusting me! I’ve also gotten to create some one-page summaries of past case studies that will also be part of the publication…it’s pretty exciting!

My next major task will be writing a working paper on risk-taking in education governance and policy. While risk and risk management seem to be trendy topics nowadays, there isn’t actually a lot out there about these topics in education specifically. My paper’s goal will be to provide an introduction to the topic that is accessible to a wide audience, with some key definitions and focal arguments about how we should understand risk in education governance. In the best-case scenario, it could serve as a jumping off point for future education research. In the worst case…I’ll learn a lot. 😀  It’s a big task and I’ve only got 1.5 months, but there’s no harm in trying, right?

Learning, learning, learning: I’m taking Beginning French and Intermediate Spanish after work. OECD offers group classes for both languages, and my environment is so multi-lingual. I figured I might as well get in on the action. With these and having to edit things into British English, my brain is definitely so, so, so confused…

Social: Aside from the seemingly impromptu reunions with old buddies from HS and college (like literally, SO MANY PEOPLE :D), I’ve gotten closer to my OECD #werk #crew. Last weekend, I went with a few colleagues to Parc Asterix, which is styled after the popular French cartoon character. Just like most French versions of things, the park is a bit more elegant and stylish and petit? perhaps, than American theme parks. It felt like my friends and I were the only foreigners there too…maybe everyone else was at EuroDisney. :p

Another fun, spontaneous happening has been the development of OECD Delta Young (#deltayoung). There is a FB group called “OECD Young” which seeks to connect all of those who are young (and I suppose, young at heart?) and pass through OECD as an intern, consultant, junior policy analyst, etc. However, it still can be difficult to connect to others, as OECD currently has multiple buildings. The Education Directorate (“EDU”) is located in the “Delta” Building. I’m lucky enough to be in a room with 7 other interns and consultants around the same age, and so we’ve ended up being a particularly social space. We decided to connect all of the interns we’ve met in order to form a community…and thus, OECD Delta Young was born!

Fortunately, one of the other Americans is as much into organizing events as I am. We hosted an “Amurika Day” 4th of July picnic for #Deltayoung and friends after work at Cite Universitaire. To tempt everyone, we made an Excel table so people could sign up to bring food, and I wrote a motivational email full of bald eagles jpgs. It must have worked, because more than 20 people came and we hung out until 10 or 11 PM. We have a lot of leftover food in our office now to satiate intern munchies, like BBQ-flavored marshmallows (weird), Romanian liqueur, and hot dogs (aka, lunch for the rest of the week). I’m so lucky to know such a great group of folks!


Some of the crew (photo cred: Yoon Young! <3)

Out on the Town

Life here has been a whirlwind of meeting new people, reconnecting with folks from different parts of my past lives (ha), and being overwhelmed by the sheer craziness/cosmopolitan-ness/beauty that is Paris. I think I’ve somehow stumbled upon the most inclusive people in this city…because I’ve “crashed” a lot of gatherings, but  everyone is still really nice about it. 😀 So really, thank you folks, because sometimes being by yourself abroad can be really lonely, and I haven’t felt that at all. The privilege of meeting lots of nice, smart, down-to-earth people is something I’m incredibly thankful for.

Things are moving waaaaay too fast, and I honestly can’t add anything new and original about the places I saw. The big trends are:

  1. Parisians are unexpectedly really into burgers. Even the messiest of American foods somehow seems more classy in France.
  2. The whole phenomenon of people having wine (or classy, non-alcoholic drink of choice), baguettes, and cheese on the grass of some beautiful garden is a thing Americans should adopt from the Europeans, particularly from the French. I think our country would be so much more chill and we could really build some intercultural dialogue around this. Seriously.
  3. Even if you don’t care about soccer, if you are in Europe, you will somehow end up knowing way more about the latest results during Eurocup.
  4. You should learn how to play petanque. It will make you popular with both hipster French 18-35 year olds and the elderly.
  5. The French know how to do their summer festivals. 😀 For example, Fete de la Musique is an AMAZING tradition that happens on June 21 of every year – they set up stages all over the city and parts of the public transport stay open all night. I had an awesome time. At Invalides, they had a “Canadian stage,” and I heard this great Montreal-based band called Busty and the Bass. One of their members is a boyfriend of a friend of one of my fellow interns. 😉 Check them out on Youtube! I also joined another friend and her friend at Rue Ste-Marthe – and there was a Brazilian drumming group that just jammed non-stop for an hour, with crowds of happy people dancing behind, in front, and around them. Seriously one of the coolest nights ever.
  6. I can definitely give some recommendations about the 1) best bubble tea 2) best falafel 3) and best gelato in Paris now. 😀

So, here are some pics:

Joy in the Work

The jubilance I had when I first started my internship at OECD remains, 3 weeks in. Perhaps I’m still in the “honeymoon” stage of culture shock, but I’m not complaining. Perhaps it’s my way of coping with the terrible news and the sadness I feel for the US (Orlando, gun control, Islamophobia, homophobia, politics, people’s own lack of self-awareness and unwillingness to really talk and see one another, etc., etc.). But sometimes I think the best strategy is just to keep going and to bring love and enthusiasm into whatever I do. I feel exhausted in trying to be hopeful about the direction of my country and the state of the world. Perhaps being relentlessly positive, finding the good in others, and building up my skills so I can contribute something to make the world better can be my own act of subversion and protest. So, I continue.

The work

So far, I have spent a lot of time editing papers and chapters of a soon-to-be-published volume. I also spent one day reading the team’s published case studies on education policy reforms in Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, and Sweden (250 pages!). Incidentally, right after this, I got the assignment to create one-page, colorful summaries of each of the case studies. Can you say, good timing? 🙂

Fortunately, this has been a great way for me to dive into the research right away, make tangible contributions to the team, acquaint myself with the required intellectual framework, and most importantly, come to terms with British English’s lack of the Oxford Comma. The OECD Style Guide was my best friend during my first week.

In addition, I wrote the first in a series (well, I hope…) of blog posts summarizing the team’s research. My first post is on the value of strategic risk-taking in education governance. I’ll post the link if it gets approved. This reminds me: there’s a very formal process for getting text approved in OECD. It goes all the way “up the chain,” so my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss (confused yet?) will look at my work. Europe-based organizations definitely like their hierarchies. Perhaps it’s the same in the US, and I’m just not used to it. But since my project team’s work is on governance, I’ve been thinking a lot more about power dynamics, trust, and communication between different levels of governance systems! Maybe a future topic to explore…

My current project is to attempt rewrites on a chapter in the upcoming volume about trust. While most people have an intuitive idea of what “trust” entails, it is extremely difficult to talk about it in relation to governance in a logical, concise way! Let’s see what I can do…


I’ve also had the opportunity to attend three events hosted by the OECD at La Muette, the OECD’s main building. The first was an informal seminar on trust, featuring new research by the Public Governance directorate at OECD on subjects such possible management models that use trust, trust and budgeting, integrity, and satisfaction in public services. One question that was particularly fascinating to me was posed by an external organizational dynamics academic, who stated, “The working assumption seems to be that trust is an inherently positive thing. To what extent might distrust be healthy?” Definitely something to think about – especially as I try my hand out at writing!

The second was a conference,”From inclusion and equity in education to social and economic prosperity.” I got to sit in on panel discussions and smaller sessions that brought up everything from the Education for All goals (thanks, Dr. Neuman!) to educational opportunities for migrants to teacher professional development. I even got to attend a fancy cocktail (#champagne #sushi) in the Chateau, a beautiful mansion at OECD HQ. I learned a lot, and I realized how much could be explored using OECD’s wide range of education data.

The final event was courtesy of our Directorate. They needed volunteers to watch the opening speech at an Anti-Corruption conference…the speaker was none other than French President François Hollande! Of course, I signed up. In his speech, he touched on the connections between fighting corruption and fighting terrorism. Even though he gave the speech in French, my chair came with a special headphone set – so I could hear a simultaneous English translation (you could choose from 7 different languages!).

The next few weeks include opportunities to attend 2-hour lectures on topics like geopolitics and the world order (! :D), masterclasses on negotiation, and even French class (!). Excited to explore these possibilities.


What I love, aside from the intellectual rigor, is the opportunity to socialize! My supervisor is particularly awesome, because she helps organize (and encourages other team members to organize) informal team outings. Last week, we grabbed some beers together after work at a Basque bar and watched part of the Euro Cup. I got to know some of my co-workers so much better. There are also Friday Coffee Mornings (it’s a misnomer; there’s no coffee – but there are snacks), a summer party hosted by ALORA (the OECD-wide social org), farewell parties for staff, etc. Everyone I’ve met so far is so inclusive and friendly! People enjoy getting lunch or going to coffee breaks together, and some of us have already discussed trying to organize something informal for all the interns + consultants in our building…


Inside #OECDDelta, where I work



Vive L’Europe (Part 2)

Part 2 of 2. See Part 1 here.


OMG, I wear heels and stuff on weekdays, hahahaha

On Monday, when I landed in Paris, it was cold, rainy, and even a little bit windy. Of course, I did not really bring the right kind of clothes. I’ve been able to make do with the “emergency cold weather clothing” that I always bring on trips, but I’m hoping that things will begin to clear up soon.

My new friends remarked that I had come at one of the strangest times possible. Not only is Paris (and many parts of northern/central France) facing floods, delays, and road blocks due to the insane amount of non-stop rain, but many of the public transportation workers decided to strike the day after I arrived (so I guess I actually have good timing?). But as I write this, I see hints of sunlight peeking through the clouds, so I’m optimistic that next week will be better.

So, some first impressions?

On living in Paris:

  • The digs: I live in Issy Les Molineaux, a quiet suburb in southeast Paris. First, #realtalk: Paris floors are creaky and squeaky, our rooms are a bit cold (the weather is unexpectedly cold and heating is not supposed to be on this time of year, not a big deal), and you can hear the noise from the street below. We’re also really far by public transport from CDG Airport (1 hr+). Fortunately, I sleep rather easily, I have all the necessary amenities and my own bedroom with a big bed and dresser, the rent is pretty cheap and covers utilities + Internet, the cheapest grocery store in Paris, Au Chan, is 1 metro stop away and there are lots of restaurants/shops/etc. next to our apartment, and I can walk (!) to work – a rare blessing in Paris (usually, people are commuting up to 1 hour on public transport).
  • The roomies: I’m living with a Bulgarian and a Venezuelan girl. Eli is fluent in Bulgarian, French, English, and Greek (!), and Rey is fluent in Spanish, French, and English. It’s great to live with 2 friendly people who know Paris inside and out and are willing to help me out. They also helped me buy an insanely cheap mobile phone plan (no contract, 16 Euros per month, unlimited calls, text, and WiFi!) which I NEVER would have found out about otherwise. Rey and I also have already started bonding over grocery shopping, watching terrible movies on Netflix ,and exploring the local dive bars in ILM. Can’t wait to get to know these 2 ladies more!

Because Eli (who lives in the apt with 2 others usually) is the older sister of a former student, I didn’t have to go through the extremely stressful process of engaging with the French tenancy system directly. Usually, you must be French to lease, so I would have needed a French co-signer. I also would have needed to translate the many apartment listings into English and gauge for myself their reliability, and then I wouldn’t really know what I was getting into until I got to Paris. So, all I can say is, whew! Thank you so much for this opportunity and your kindness!


  • It is SO organized! Two months ago, the project assistant contacted me telling me exactly where to go and when to arrive, and the day before work, I walked down to the building to see if it was really walkable. On the first day, I received my badge, and had a series of coffees and lunch with my direct supervisor and some team members. The project assistant, Leo, helped me set up my workstation and email (I’m in a room with 7 other interns). I also received an appointment to meet with Andreas Schleicher, the head of the EDU division at OECD (he chats for 5 minutes with all new folks, which I think is very kind of him), wrote a bio + profile which was emailed out to all staff, and then introduced myself at the Friday Director’s Coffee Hour. From January until now, the HR process has been so efficient! I’m impressed. 🙂
  • It is very international and social – My project team has members from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Ireland. The other interns in my room are from France, Mexico/Bolivia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, USA, and Germany. Everyday, I’m exposed to at least 2-3 different languages, and everyone is so friendly! In addition, there are many social organizations coordinating activities during lunch and after work (e.g. soccer team, running, language classes, parties, etc.)…so this helps a really big organization feel smaller.
  • It’s fast-paced, yet flexible – The standard hours are 9 AM – 6 PM, but the most important thing is to get your work done. The convention seems to be that people roll in by 10 AM, lunch is from 12:30-1:30 PM, coffee breaks take place throughout the day, and people leave anytime between 5 and 7 PM (I left at 7 PM one day, and there were still people working (!!!)).

My tasks so far have involved editing chapters of forthcoming publications and looking up more obscure information. One of the employees presented an opportunity to help with data analysis for a project on gender in education, so I hope I can help with this too! We’ll see. 🙂 Tomorrow, I’m attending a seminar on trust in education with my supervisor, so I’m looking forward to learning more on this topic! I’ll also get to go to headquarters for the first time! More soon!