William Fischer (2016 BA in Economics)
Business Advisor for the Peace Corps in Colombia
Tell us about your current job employer and what you’re currently working on.
I am a business advisor for the Peace Corps in Colombia working in the CED (Community Economic Development) Sector. There is often a bit of confusion about how the Peace Corps works so I can provide a short description. Your contract with the Peace Corps is for a total of 27 months, 3 months of language and technical training followed by 2 years of service in your site, which in my case is Corozal in the Department of Sucre, Colombia. The Peace Corps has 5 different sectors, Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Education(generally teaching English), Environment, and Youth Development.As a business advisor I work promoting economic development through various methods: teaching entrepreneurship and financial education in high schools, working with the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (effectively the Colombian community college system) to attach an entrepreneurship curriculum to classes, advising small businesses and micro entrepreneurs, and various secondary projects.
One of the benefits but also challenges of this role is the flexibility in your projects. Right now I am coordinating with a US NGO to build a basketball court in my town, helping a local farmers coop obtain seed capital to start a new line of business, structuring an alliance between the local university and the Peace Corps, and writing a grant to build a store in my high school where students can sell their own art.
What personal and or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading you to where you are now?
Prior to the Peace Corps, I worked as an investment banking analyst for Regions Bank in Atlanta for 3 years. I had the luck of being placed in the restaurants group, which provided the amazing opportunity to learn the ins and outs of an industry that plays such a big part in all of our lives. As I approached my two- year mark at Regions, I decided to look for a new challenge. I had actually spoken with a Peace Corps recruiter at the Wake Forest career fair when I was a senior, but at the time decided to pursue finance because I felt I did not have any useful skills or experience to bring to another country and I wanted to go down the investment banking route. Fast forward to June 2018 and I figured I was in an ideal spot in my life to apply to the Peace Corps as I know had some experience, had saved some money, and felt ready to challenge myself.
During my free time in Atlanta, I volunteered as a budget coach for Habitat for Humanity and as a Big Brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters. My enjoyment of these experience also helped influence my decision to join the Peace Corps.
What was the most challenging aspect of your “first real world job” and what did you learn from it?
By far the most challenging aspect was getting used to being more of a self-starter and pro active. It was a little bit of a hard transition going from classes where the professor gave you your curriculum with all the assignments to having to ask my bosses for projects, tasks, etc.
However this was great training for the Peace Corps as you very much need to be a self starter here. In Colombia we often say “sin pena” which can be translated a number of ways, but often, as “don’t be embarrassed”. It’s something I say to my students all the time when they don’t want to participate in class and to anyone who wants to practice their English with me because people are often very hesitant to put themselves out there and potentially fail. But it’s also something I apply to my job on a daily basis. For instance, I wanted to start teaching at a second school in a rural part of my town. So I literally showed up, went to the principal’s office, introduced myself, explained what the Peace Corps was, shared about our entrepreneurship and financial education curriculum, and that I wanted to teach at their school. One week later, I was teaching three classes three days a week.
What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal habits after college (finances, health, values, work life balance)?
I’d offer two finance tips: 1) match your 401(k) and 2) make sure to save some of every paycheck for a rainy day fund (or a join the Peace Corps fund).
Always find time for fitness. I think exercising daily is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. At Regions, I had a great work culture where we were able to workout at the company gym during our lunch break and then eat at our desk. In Colombia, even though the heat can be unbearable (I live on the Caribbean Coast), I have continued with my workout routine. I started running half marathons in Atlanta and will be attempting my first marathon in Medellin next September. Also meal prepping is great for your wallet and waistline.
Finding or maintaining work life balance can be a challenge with certain jobs. My advice is to find hobbies that give you something enjoyable to look forward after the workday. It has to be a hobby that’s not just watching Netflix at your apartment.
Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you.
I participated in the Wake Forest Mentoring groups and the conversations we had helped me evaluate my career direction and give me the impetus to finally apply to the Peace Corps.
I’m also a huge fan of peer mentoring. When I was doing research on the Peace Corps I spoke frequently with another Wake Forest alum and friend of mine, Maddy Eldredge, who is currently doing economic development work in Costa Rica for the Peace Corps. Listening to her advice and experience helped solidify my decision to apply to the Peace Corps. Additionally, upon arriving in Colombia I discovered another Deac, Andrew Koch, had recently completed his Peace Corps service. I reached out to him, discussed his time in Colombia, and received great advice on how to be a volunteer in Colombia. He is also on the board of a microfinance organization and I’m currently looking for partners in my community to use their funds.
What advice would you give to current wake forest students and or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?
Be proactive, put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to ask for help (but when you do ask for help make sure you’ve tried to solve the problem multiple different ways on your own).
What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?
At the moment my plan is to get my MBA when my Peace Corps Service ends in June 2021. Before I left for Colombia I took the GMAT so I would not have to worry about studying for the exam while I was in country. At the moment the only thing that concerns me is that I’m looking at a lot of northern schools and I am slowly but surely adapting to the tropical climate here.
Story published in February 2020. For current updates about William, visit his LinkedIn page.