Vouloir, c’est pouvoir is a fairly common French saying essentially translating to “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Nowadays, George Washington University senior Oliver Haddow has a burning will to use his fluidity of the French language as means for contributing to the greater global picture. He just didn’t always know that will existed.
That was until his senior year at Germantown Academy just north of Philadelphia, when he took advantage of an opportunity to chaperone a field trip to Costa Rica, his first time out of the country.
And voila. His bubble of curiosity and exploration had burst.
“It was a total life-changing experience,” Haddow said. “I wanted to see more of the world.
After graduating from Germantown Academy, Haddow took a gap year in Paris, where he studied French at the Sorbonne University. Not only did it allow him to meet people from all different backgrounds and experience the European culture, but also living with a host family accelerated his acclimation to the French lifestyle.
“Everything [with my host family] revolved around food and cooking together, and it was a great way for me to learn both language and culture,” said Haddow, who had taken high school French courses but by no means considered himself fluent before leaving for Paris.
He then went from one capital city to another, going from Paris to D.C. and enrolling in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs to figure out how to best channel his global interests into meaningful action.
Four years later, Haddow is graduating from GW with an international affairs degree focused on contemporary cultures and societies with minors in French language, literature and culture. And he’ll put all that to use in a few weeks when he departs for Senegal to begin his two-plus year commitment to the Peace Corps, where he’ll utilize his French language skillset in the French-speaking African nation while working in urban agriculture.
Even as COVID-19 struck through the second semester of his first year on campus, Haddow continuously looked for avenues that would once again send him abroad. He found one through Elliott School Adjunct Professor Matthew Kirwin’s Ethnic and Religious Conflict in Africa class. Not only was the class interesting, but Kirwin would frequently place personal anecdotes within his lectures of his time in the Peace Corps, which he did from 1996 to 1999 in Niger.
That inspired Haddow to pursue a Peace Corps opportunity, especially in a French-speaking African nation. He met with Kirwin at Starbucks to pick his brain and attended a talk on campus by Aaron Williams, who was the Peace Corps director during the Obama administration.
Haddow then utilized GW Career Services resources to tailor his resume and ultimately prepare for a Peace Corps interview. He credits Career Services Coach of International Affairs, Development and Public Policy Ivey London, whom he first met during a career management course, for strategizing how to answer the questions he’d be asked during the 90-minute interview. She helped him come up with four life experiences that best illustrated his character and how it would meet the demands of the Peace Corps mission to promote world peace and friendship by providing educational and technological support to nations across the globe.
“She totally carried me through that process,” Haddow said of London.
The preparation paid off, as he’ll head overseas for his assignment as soon as he says au revoir to GW.
He’s come a long way since he first boarded the plane to Costa Rica his senior year of high school. Never did he think five years ago he’d be going to live for two years in Africa while providing such meaningful work for a country that speaks a language he has since become fluent in. Haddow would tell his younger self to embrace immersive opportunities because they have connected him to places and people he never could have imagined.
“Just lean into meeting new people and learning about their lives, because hearing other people and listening to them is how I've come to the place I am now," Haddow said. "I think that language is the most important for that. French allows me to talk to twice as many people as I could talk to before.”