Career Profiles: Julie Brown, Peace Corps

Career Profiles is a series of posts that will feature Haas students who have accepted an internship or full time job offer across various industries. This one is on the Non-Profit sector.

Everyone at Haas is driven to succeed, there is no doubt about it. However, oftentimes we become so entangled into other people’s definition of success that we disregard what we deem is truly significant for ourselves. This post is about Julie Brown, my good friend and great a source of inspiration. It is difficult to take the path less traveled in today’s corporate culture, but Julie has embraced the Haas Defining Principles of Questioning the Status Quo and Beyond Yourself in her decision to volunteer for the Peace Corps; a route Haas undergrads rarely pursue. Julie turned down her full time offer from Samsung, which she interned for in their South Korea office last summer, for a more meaningful calling of giving back.

Julie is a Haas senior with a minor in Forestry. She is the co-founder and CFO of a successful nonprofit organization for girls called 100 Strong, and currently serves as an administrative associate to UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. She has held leadership roles with Green Labs Certification, and has experience as program coordinator for UC Berkeley’s Campus Recycling Services. Julie is also affiliated to SQUELCH! and Berkeley Women in Business. She will be graduating Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest honor society for the liberal arts and sciences, and is an inducted member of Beta Gamma Sigma, a prestigious honor society for business students.

She spent the last eight months of 2013 traveling around the world: from researching women’s rights in Morocco to joining protests supporting the legalization of gay marriage in Paris. This summer, she will be getting scuba certified and backpacking the John Muir Trail before starting her service with the Peace Corps as a Community Economic Development volunteer in El Salvador.

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You will be graduating from one of the most prestigious business schools in the world and also received a full-time offer from Samsung. What made you want to join the Peace Corps?

My decision to join the Peace Corps was inspired by my Grandmother Betty. She was an incredible lady; she spent her life teaching art for the blind, traveling to 57 different countries, and led an American organization devoted to sending aid and creating better foreign relations with Cuba. She even met Fidel!

When she passed away during the spring semester of my sophomore year I had an epiphany. Watching the slideshow of her memorial service and seeing pictures of her horseback riding through the Grand Canyon and hugging school children in Cuba, I saw that I wasn’t living the type of life I want to live. After her memorial service I started planning my first trip around the world. Eight months after she passed away I traveled to five different continents; I backpacked around Europe, studied abroad in the south of Spain, got a grant from Berkeley to research microfinance programs in Africa, interned for Samsung Electronics in South Korea, and backpacked around South America for a month.

After coming back from an awesome internship with Samsung Electronics in South Korea, I started recruiting for full-time positions in consulting and business analyst roles in the United States. I realized that as I was interviewing for these positions in Berkeley and NYC I was lying to myself.
My Peace Corps interview didn’t feel like I was lying anymore. I told the recruiter about my grandmother, my interest in learning about microfinance programs, and how I want to dedicate my life to solving the big problems humanity faces.

So, even though some people think I am crazy, I turned down my offer with Samsung because working in development for a few years after graduation felt like the more authentic place for me.

You have numerous leadership experiences in the feminist and sustainability spaces while in UC Berkeley. Do you think your exposure to these nonprofit activities helped you consider volunteering for Peace Corps as your first post-graduation commitment? If so, how?

My leadership experiences starting 100 Strong, leading Campus Recycling and Refuse Services, and working for the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability did shape my decision.

Sometimes, while working on projects like planning the Sustainability Summit for the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, I would realize that what felt like only 15 minutes of sending emails was actually an hour or two. I quickly realized that sense of purpose made my work feel like I wasn’t even working. I hope to also feel like this in the Peace Corps.

I know that training will be provided to all incoming volunteers. Nonetheless, were you required to have any particular skill sets prior to applying for the Peace Corps? How was the interview process like? How is it different or similar to corporate recruiting?

Peace Corps is looking for many different skill sets for many different volunteer positions.

Fortunately, I fit the volunteer position I am most interested in: Community Economic Development (CED). Volunteers in CED work with development banks, NGOs, and municipalities to strengthen infrastructure and encourage economic opportunities in communities. I want to learn and work with microfinance programs and female entrepreneurs on the grassroots level so I am thrilled to be a part of this program.

My recruiter actually told me (after I was accepted, of course) that with all of my different experiences he had to make a flow chart by hand to see where I would best fit in the program. Fortunately, my placement in Economic Development in El Salvador was a natural fit because CED requires a Business degree or previous full-time business experience and some fluency in Spanish, which I learned while studying abroad in Granada, Spain.

The interview process for Peace Corps is much longer than corporate recruiting. I applied for the Peace Corps in September, interviewed in November, and found out I was invited to a program in mid-March.

Some of the interview questions are also a lot more personal than corporate recruiting. For example, Peace Corps asked me 3-4 different times if my romantic relationship status has changed from single. This may seem strange but volunteers who terminate their service early usually have a romantic partner back in the United States. So, all you single ladies out there, don’t worry! That will just make you an even more attractive Peace Corps candidate.

One of the most memorable parts of the interview process was when the recruiter gave me a list of difficult conditions I was willing to work in. He asked things like “are you willing to hike 3.5 miles a day” or “are you willing to bathe in public”. I said yes to everything except “willing to work in arctic conditions”. I have lived in California my whole life and adjusting to living in snow seemed like a whole other world to me. The recruiter just looked at me and said, “Ok, we are not sending you to Mongolia!” and we continued on with the interview.

Do you have any advice for other Haas and Cal students in general, who are also interested in finding meaning and embarking on a life adventure before entering the corporate world, but are afraid to take the risk?

I did not start classes at Haas or Berkeley thinking that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. Actually, when I started classes at Haas, my dream job was to be a management consultant with Accenture because I had done well at Accenture’s case competition.

My eight months traveling around the world in 2013 gave me a lot of time to think about who I am and the person I want to be in the next 10 years.

I realized that the person I want to be in 10 years would have experience working internationally in development, travel the world, be fluent in another language and have an interesting hodge-podge of jobs before settling down to start a family. Future-Julie would be working toward managing a microfinance bank, creating a for-profit social-venture, or taking on management roles in development. I then realized that the best time to work internationally is now, right after graduation, when I do not have to worry about a lease on an apartment or car payments.

Nothing about this decision was easy though. Most of my friends are going to work in San Francisco, a city I love, after graduation. Not only am I preparing to say good bye to being a student Berkeley, I am also getting ready to leave the US, my wonderful family, and supportive friends for the next two years and three months. I am also giving most of my possessions to charity before I leave. On top of everything else, I am balancing classes, work, and student organizations with finishing all of my medical testing for Peace Corps (I actually just came from getting six vials of blood withdrawn and two shots).

Whenever I get overwhelmed by this choice, I always try to remember that I have the next 50-something years of my life to work. Two years may seem like a lot of time now but it is a small fraction of a professional working life. Why not spend two years trying to learn more about the problems humanity faces and gain more self-awareness before starting out in corporate America?

Denice Sy
Class of 2014

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