My Life in Presidential Terms with Claire Goodwin, Town of Lexington, MA

Posted on December 7, 2016

In this series, ELGL members reflect on how their life has changed from 2008 to 2016, and look forward to where they’ll be in 2024. ELGL members can sign up to share their experiences at My Life in Presidential Terms

By Claire Goodwin – LinkedIn & ELGL

1b7696dIn January 2008, I was working as the Senior Manager at a hip, direct-trade import store in Portland, Oregon which sold items from all over the world including Peruvian alpaca knitwear and eight-foot tall hand-carved Indonesian wooden animals.  I had recently graduated from college and was doing what most of my peers were doing with their Bachelor’s degrees – working in the service sector.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job.  Working with customers was the highlight of my day.  Explaining the origins and stories behind the items in our store allowed me to use my passion acting as a teacher and bridge between those far away cultures and our sleepy Pacific Northwest neighborhood.  Customers would tell me their travel stories – because an import store (no surprise) attracts a crowd that has seen much of the world.

During this time, the domestic economy was on the verge of crashing and I knew there were few opportunities for me.  My own desire to travel, live abroad, and develop my career had simultaneously taken root.  After months of research, I decided working in Nepal would be an incredible experience and may give me the background needed for a career in international development.  I built a donor base and raised funds to work in a children’s home for kids whose families couldn’t afford to care for them or who had been killed in the 10-year Nepali Civil War.  I assisted with volunteer coordination, running local fundraisers in Kathmandu, helping the kids with their English and math homework, and acting as a big sister to all 36 children.

nepal-mapI was in Kathmandu when Barack Obama won the Presidential election of 2008.  A watch party was held at an American restaurant, Mike’s Breakfast – the place for omelets and muffins in Kathmandu – and I clearly recall a life-size cut-out of the President which everyone posed and had their pictures with.  The following two years were spent mostly in Nepal with solo trips to China and India.

In November 2012, Barack Obama won his second term.  During this time, I was two years into my service in the US Peace Corps in the Republic of Macedonia; living and working in a Roma (aka “Gypsy”) settlement, called Shuto Orizari.  It is the only Roma municipality in the world where Romani is an official language and the Mayor is Roma.   I taught English at the local middle school with an Albanian counterpart.  Because the Albanian and Roma students attended the school during two separate shifts, I started an English Club which brought the two ethnic groups together for the first time at the school.

I was feeling ready to “go home,” having spent the previous four years living overseas, and was shifting my long-term focus away from international development.  Local government seemed like a challenging field I could bring the lessons I learned abroad home to benefit my own community.  I began applying to graduate programs from Macedonia.  A generous financial offer came in from Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, School of Public Policy and Management, which I happily accepted.

Since the last election, I finished my Master’s degree, which equipped me with analysis and critical thinking skills.  Currently, I am finishing up a two-year fellowship through the International City/County Management Association in the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts where I serve as the Management Analyst in the Town Manager’s Office.

Looking ahead four and eight years from now, I have big hopes for the field of local government.  Our public institutions will be stronger if we take the necessary steps to ensure that our public servants reflect the makeup of the communities we serve – specifically as it relates to women and minorities in positions of leadership.  I would like to see local government continue its progress of becoming more innovative while fostering the public trust. I look forward to the future and being a part of the new generation of local government leaders.


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