At Kalamazoo College, international immersion and study abroad offers students opportunities to delve deep into other cultures. Along the way, they develop knowledge and skills that parlay into future careers and often form meaningful personal relationships with others around the world.
Such is the case for Paloma Clohossey ‘11, visiting international program alumna Sharon Musee and Annika Rigole ’04. Although each of them had a distinctive road in finding their way to Kalamazoo College, all three have succeeded in journeys that have taken them professionally to UNICEF in Kenya. It might seem amazing that three alumnae from a small liberal arts and sciences institution such as K all ended up at the same employer nearly 8,000 miles away. However, it makes sense that UNICEF is a desirable destination when one considers the College’s connections with foreign study and service learning.
UNICEF, originally called the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in full, is now the United Nations Children’s Fund, an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide.
The organization was established in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II to help children and young people whose lives were at risk no matter what role their country had played in the war. In cooperation with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and others, UNICEF works to advance and protect children’s rights while providing health care, immunizations, nutrition, access to safe water and sanitation services, education, protection and emergency relief.
‘You’re the Best Female Student in Your Class’
Of the three with K connections, Musee is the only one originally from Kenya. She first attended the University of Nairobi when she began her higher education pursuits, a time that revealed her limited world experience, she said. She didn’t know there was such a thing as an exchange program that would allow her to study in the United States until she got a call from the university’s Registrar’s Office, requesting an appointment.
Musee was apprehensive about the meeting, yet her fears were soon quelled.
“It was within walking distance, so I walked over and they said, ‘do you know why we called you here?’” Musee said. “I said, ‘no, what did I do?’ They said, ‘Yes, you’ve done things, but they’re why we think you’re the best female student in your class.’”
Her recognition as an accomplished student meant Musee was empowered to attend college in the U.S. through an exchange program, and as luck would have it, the program brought her to K.
“I say it was lucky because it wasn’t something I was working for,” she said. “I was working hard to get good grades, but I was not expecting to go to K.”
Today, Musee is a partnerships and resources mobilizations officer who supports UNICEF in cultivating new public partnerships and managing its existing public partnerships.
“Being at K exposed me to a lot to multicultural settings, so I was meeting people that don’t have the same background as I do,” Musee said. “When I left K, I went back to the University of Nairobi, I graduated, and almost immediately got a job in the public sector. I kept traveling in the region. It was very easy for me to fit in if I went into Somalia or into South Sudan. If I went to speak to donors who would be people of a different race or a different culture of a different color, I would say it was very natural for me to fit in as opposed to before K. It came naturally for me as a result of K.”
‘They Immediately Bought My Plane Ticket for Me to Go Visit’
“When I say encouraged, I mean they immediately bought my plane ticket for me to go visit and I’m grateful to this day for all their support,” Clohossey said. “I thought there was no way I would go to college at a place called Kalamazoo. But as soon as I stepped foot on the campus, I remember having an intuitive feeling that it was going to be the place for me.”
Clohossey chose to study abroad in Africa and selected Kenya through a process of elimination. Her study abroad cohort’s visit at the University of Nairobi turned out to be when she would meet Musee—before Musee had ever arrived at K.
When Musee’s life path did curve toward K, the two became friends and they participated together in College Singers. In fact, Clohossey said their relationship makes them feel more like sisters and Musee agreed.
“We share a lot,” Musee said. “We go for random lunches. I know that if I need something quickly, I can reach out to Paloma offline—outside of the office or within the office—and I know that she’s got me. This is the sisterhood I feel knowing that we went to K.”
Clohossey says she splits her time between supporting regional program planning and regional knowledge management efforts for UNICEF.
“These functions involve things like supporting UNICEF’s annual work planning, monitoring and reporting, as well as ensuring that UNICEF is capturing, documenting, organizing and using knowledge to ensure we’re as effective as we can be as we pursue our goal of achieving results for children and protecting their rights,” Clohossey said.
The connections she has with colleagues like Musee is a big part of what makes the job special.
“Meeting again was like going back 10 years,” Clohossey said. “We were super happy to see each other.”
‘K Is Such a Special Place’
After her years as a mathematics and economics and business double major at K, Rigole—originally from Belgium and a Michigander since age 10—served in AmeriCorps where she helped nonprofits and government agencies in the southeastern U.S. alongside a team of about 10 people.
In starting her career, she embraced a passion for nurturing education. Through work with an international educational exchange organization, then grad school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and subsequent work with NGOs in Malawi and Zambia, she helped improve access to quality education and skill-building opportunities, particularly for young girls.
“Education has always meant so much to me because I love learning and it has been so formative in my life,” Rigole said. “It was important to me that I could help others have similar opportunities.”
When she looked for a career shift toward the end of her time in Zambia, she found UNICEF. Rigole worked with UNICEF in New York for two years as a consultant strengthening monitoring, evaluation and research in education before applying for her position at the regional office in Kenya.
“As a regional office, we provide technical support to our country offices,” Rigole said. “In particular, I focus on strengthening data systems within education, and the use of data to inform decision making. It’s about having data and research speak to policy, for example so governments can better understand the differences between districts or provinces and how they’re doing in terms of equity and quality, or can learn from how some schools perform better than others.”
Rigole didn’t know Clohossey or Musee when she started at UNICEF, but that changed at a July 4 holiday barbecue.
“I didn’t know that many people yet, but I’d been invited by another colleague of ours,” Rigole said. “I was introduced to Paloma and she said she was from California. I said I was from Michigan. She said, ‘Oh, I went to college in Michigan.’ I said, ‘Oh, cool! Where?’ She said, ‘It’s a small liberal arts school.’ I said, ‘What’s the name?’ She said, ‘Kalamazoo College.’ I said, ‘I went to Kalamazoo College!’”
Rigole doesn’t work with Musee very often, although Clohossey has introduced them since. However, working with Clohossey has been special for Rigole since the moment they met.
“Immediately it felt good to have something in common with her,” Rigole said. “It’s not quite like family, but it gives you this bond because K is such a special place and shared experience.”