Profile: Lanette Woo
After I graduated from college in 1991 with a degree in landscape architecture and planning from the University of California, Davis, I found a job at a small landscape design company in Sacramento. For nearly three years, I was there doing everything from design work to marketing and client consultation, and I earned my landscape architect license. Then I decided I wanted to work in planning.
At that time, a lot of planning and architecture companies were looking overseas to expand their client base. For the kind of position I wanted, I would have had to work in some company for a minimum of five years. In order to get a leg up, I thought about how I could get myself overseas and get a first-hand education in development. I’d always wanted to travel and live overseas anyway. A friend from college who had worked for nearly ten years for various international development agencies shared with me his Peace Corps experience, which influenced me to join.
My family was very supportive when I told them my plans. Besides my father’s two-year stint in the army in Germany, the only traveling he and my mother had done outside the country was to Canada and Mexico. I had traveled briefly in Europe after high school. I knew my parents didn’t want me to leave because they would miss me, but they never said anything. They accepted my decision because I’ve always been very responsible. They let my brother and me make our own decisions for our lives.
I was sent to Thailand where community forestry was my official assignment, but I ended up doing a lot of rural development. I helped raise silk worms. I designed, budgeted and supervised the construction of a pet nursery and some incinerator projects, and had a scholarship program going for girls in the local high school. I was also involved with integrated farming.
I had actually wanted to go to China, but at that time it was only open to English teachers. I requested Southeast Asia because that region was experiencing the biggest market growth, the fastest urban growth, and the greatest rain forest destruction. Ironically, my service turned out to be just as, if not more, beneficial for personal reasons.
Although I didn’t choose that region to be among other Asians, I’m glad it turned out that way. I was raised in an area that was probably 99 percent Caucasian and had a lot of problems growing up in terms of racism. I could never disappear in a crowd or know what it felt like to be like everybody else. In Thailand, I learned for the first time what it was like to be anonymous. I could have some control over when I wanted people to notice me. It helped me to be much more confident.
When I came home, I changed professional directions once again and decided to get a master’s degree in business administration at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. While in school, I worked for a small finance company as a consultant. By concentrating on getting financing for small- and medium-size companies, I was able to build on my Peace Corps work in Thailand, helping people try to improve their operations and efficiency. Now I’m working for the Internet Services Group. What I’m doing is a blend between business development, marketing, and operations.
The Peace Corps is definitely a worthwhile experience. It will help you grow, if not professionally, then personally.
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