PiA Fellow Facebook


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Ben Shell

Fellow of the Fortnight

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ben Shell graduated in 2001 from Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia and Princeton in 2005. No, he is not a quaker. He spent his time playing club soccer, reading to kids and helping them build stuff with legos, starting a socially responsible investment group on campus which changed the way the university manages its endowment, learning to cook from a former world-class chef, broadcasting basketball games on WPRB 103.3 FM, philosophizing about ethics and saving the world, and sorta doing other school work. Ben spent a semester abroad in Dublin and traveling throughout Europe. He taught English last year in Khon Kaen, but it now a nomadic mare herder in Mongolia. Either that or he's working for XAC Bank in UB on microfinance projects. Whenever he thinks about his life in Asia he smiles and feels validated every time, and only gets more excited for the future.

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Marianne Smallwood

Hanoi, Vietnam

Equal parts Filipina and Vietnamese, Marianne was raised on a steady diet of classic arcade games, 70’s rock ballads, and rice nanaman. She looks forward to getting back to her roots after spending the past 10 years in the Scandinavian melting pot that is Minnesota. During a trip to the Philippines and an all-too-brief college semester in Hong Kong, Marianne was witness to the widescale poverty in Southeast Asia; inspired by her experiences, she hopes to spend her time in Vietnam laying the foundation for a career in international development. Though cognizant of the rules against proselytizing while in-country, Marianne still hopes to continue her mission of spreading the gospel of Radiohead to all nations, races, and creeds.

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Ali Smith

Manila, Indonesia

Ali’s from Montana, she plays on the Princeton basketball team. She’s really excited about the Philippines, especially when Anastasia showed her where it was.

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Felicia Sonmez

Beijing, China

Having spent four years studying Japanese in college, Felicia enjoys a good pictographic compound as much as the next. She has worked variously as a music teacher, a medical translator, a political intern at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and a waitress at a Chinese restaurant in London. Currently, she makes her living transferring phone calls and arranging fried pork dumplings on a platter for her boss at an architecture firm in New York. A Government major at Harvard, Felicia is excited to finally be putting her degree to use as a teacher at the China Foreign Affairs University, where she hopes to engage her students in vigorous discussion of pressing foreign affairs topics in as roundabout and nonsubversive a fashion as possible, while at the same time impressing upon them that words such as "nonsubversive" are not real in English and should not be made up. Despite her sordid past, she hopes to pursue a career as a diplomat or journalist and is a big fan of jazz, squat toilets and her hometown of Hackensack, New Jersey, although not necessarily in that order.

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Alexa Steinberg

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Alexa thought she wanted to go to Vietnam to be a journalist, but PiA mistakenly got her a visa for Mongolia where she will be serving as a communications fellow for OSF, a local affiliate of the Open Society Institute. Currently, an editior at AARP'S national publication at the ripe old age of 20, Alexa is eager to gather seniors in UB for the establishment of the first AARP chapter north of the Gobi.

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Frances Symes

Chiang Rai, Thailand

A Princeton Religion major who focused on Christianity and politics, Frances Symes feels slightly overwhelmed at the thought of traveling halfway across the world to teach in Northern Thailand next year. She is sad to leave her family and friends and sure that she will be quite a spectacle in Chiang Rai with her height and blond hair. Originally from the Washington, DC area, Frances hopes something in her experience of singing, traveling, and entertaining children of all ages will help her convey at least some English to her Thai students. Most of all, she is looking forward to a year of adventure, a change of pace, and the many challenges and surprises of living a world away. Come visit!

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Sonya Tat

Bangkok, Thailand

(Editor’s Note)

Sonya was excited to connect with her Vietnamese roots, so PiA is sending her to Thailand. Comfort zones are over-rated. Public health is not. Sonya will be putting her public health background and well-honed research skills to good use at PSI in Bangkok.

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Jack Thirolf

Rach Gia, Thailand

A product of the mean streets of Rockville, MD, Jack battled his way through loosely-defined genre requirements and mandatory existential angst to earn a degree in Comparative Literature from Princeton in June 2006. Cofounder of both the Annual Civil War Spring Break Battlefield Bike Tour and the Thirolf-White Aerospace Consortium, Jack is excited to finally turn all of his misdirected and confused creative energies towards something useful: teaching next year in Rach Gia. Jack hopes to rock the classroom by somehow leveraging his PiA teacher training with his freakish height and love of school.

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Sally Torbert

Dili, Timor-Leste

PiA second year Sally Torbert was a Politics major at Princeton, writing her thesis on an obscure clause of the U.S. Constitution, but now wishes she had instead written it on a manifesto on Machiavelli.  She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, dotes on her pet fish Jiyu, and her family now resides in New Hampshire with their dog Admiral Maximus.  She is working with a media development NGO in East Timor and has learned enough Tetum to outclass the PiA Director in Dili (editiors note).

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Elona Toska

Fellow of the Fortnight

Vientiane, Laos

PiA second year, Elona Toska, has lived most of her "adult" life trying her hand at legal immigration.  After two years in rainy Wales, she got deported to high pollen New Jersey despite having learned how to say schedule (shed-yule) and vitamins (vee-tuh-meens).  Having missed the most "exciting" years of communism in Albania (her theoretical home), she was looking for a country that would complement her practical expertise on making communism collapse with first-hand knowledge on how to start a revolution. Since arriving to Laos, she has become an avid reader of the Vientiane Times, an expert at watching sunsets over the Mekong drinking Beer Lao, and spends some of her free time arguing the finer points of "benevolent dictatorship" theory.  A year working with PSI in Laos succeded in defying many of her expectations: when she is not writing reports to donors, she can be found making inappropriate jokes in her inadequate Lao with peer educators who have allowed her to join them in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

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