Hey there! Surprise to whoever subscribed to this blog last summer, here’s another post coming to your inbox. Often times over the past year when I’ve felt nostalgic for Cambodia or for travel in general, I would pop open this blog and reminisce about the incredible summer I spent in the Kingdom. It’s hard to believe that that trip started over a year ago. It’s made me think about just everything that happened in the past 10 months since I’ve been back, because a whole lot has been going on. Mostly for the good, and some self-reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’m heading has prompted me to consider starting this blog up again.

I have to admit to too many facebook messages unanswered, emails that get pushed far down my inbox and overlooked, and voicemails not returned this past school year. For everyone who has asked me what the heck I’ve been doing, I am going to attempt to recount my major undertakings here…

I wrote on my last day in Cambodia of the jobs I was returning home to. I have been at Catholic Charities Immigration Services for over a year now. My job was always a temporary one, and I actually only have 11 work days left there. I have been acting as the Case Manager for the Supporting Survivors program. Catholic Immigration is a legal assistance organization, and this department works with immigrants, mainly women, who are survivors of human trafficking, sexual and/or domestic violence, or violent crime. My colleagues are immigration specialists who deal with the legal remedies available to victims, and I focused on meeting non-legal needs. So if a client needed to find a health provider, an after school program for her children, help with a bill, etc., I would connect her with an appropriate resource. It was a very different experience than my previous work in immigration issues, and I definitely learned a lot about working in this field. Two of the most fulfilling projects I got to work on were exposing, challenging, and changing a state health care policy that we found in violation with the federal law (this required a LOT of emails, consults with advocacy groups, and lots and lots of research) and working to help reunite a client with her four children who were living in Guatemala after being separated for many years (which required first brushing up on my Spanish, making contacts with faith and advocacy groups in Guatemala City, and helping the children with health and education needs when they finally arrived in Little Rock some 8 months after starting the process). The most enjoyable part of the job, though, has been being part of an anti-human trafficking work group. This was an interdisciplinary group of service providers, legal folks, health providers, community members and faith leaders. Collectively, the group came up with strategies for community education and outreach efforts, material for state legislation, and more. It was an incredible experience to see such a diverse group come together and take action to move a sorely understood topic forward. The job wraps up at the end of the month, and although I’ve learned a tremendous amount, I’ll be ready to move on with just the right about of satisfaction and closure.

In my other 20 hours of work week time, I spent working at the Clinton School in the Field Service Department. The Clinton School prides itself on the field service component of the degree, and I chose to pursue my graduate assistantship there for that reason of feeling purposeful and that I was contributing to soemthing that everyone values. Over the school year I got to work closely with first year students as they completed their public service group projects, I contributed to class materials and class instruction, and did some research on various topics to strengthen our school policies and procedures. The job turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated, but I welcomed it and it really helped me feel connected to the school and gave me a good reason to get to know the new students. I also got to learn about a lot of local issues as I watched 40 students tackle big social issues through their work, so that was great exposure in itself.         

I’m inching closer and closer to finally being “Ashley Bachelder, M.P.H., M.P.S.” I am 9 credits away from having two masters degrees in hand. It will take me through December to finish them, as they are all credits for fieldwork. I finished my load of courses about three weeks ago (for this set of degrees as least), and it was so bittersweet. I was incredibly lucky to trip into the College of Public Health, and I am so fortunate to have found a field that I not only love learning about but strive to truly live everyday. Arkansas has been an ideal state to foray into this new field, and I have learned from some amazing practitioners and researchers. I’m thankful to have found two particular professors that I consider mentors, and they have just been excellent to me. No matter what I thought about the stress I endured over the semesters, the sleep deprived weeks, and the 12 WEEKENDS that I spent in class, I really can’t complain.

Those are the big picture things I’ve been engaged in, I’ll write more soon about the special projects I’m working on which are the REAL endeavours I’m most excited and passionate about.