By Abby Gray, KF6/7, Togo & Senegal (now in New York)

Apparently, ad execs at Guess forgot to calculate cultural differences before placing these billboards all over Dakar. Senegalese vandalists did not.

In Dakar, this ad provoked vandals to rebel against the culturally inappropriate image. In New York, it wouldn't get a second glance.

If you have to deal with culture shock after 8 months of living in West Africa, New York is one of the most dramatic places to do it. On one hand, the vibrancy and energy of pedestrian-filled, trafficky New York streets isn’t all that different from the dusty “rues” of Dakar. Colorful fruit carts still grace the sidewalks, and overhearing conversations in foreign languages is a daily occurrence. On the other hand, skyscrapers and giant billboards of half-naked models are everywhere, as are exorbitant price tags on everything from purses to sushi dinners.

Having completed my official Kiva duties, I am now doing research at the Financial Access Initiative (FAI), a microfinance think-tank of sorts. It’s a consortium of researchers from NYU, Harvard, Yale, and Innovations for Poverty Action, focused on expanding access to quality financial services for low-income individuals.

FAI researchers tackle questions big and small – from studies on the impact of microfinance (Does it really change lives?) to the most effective MFI program designs (Do lower interest rates improve repayment rates?) to industry-specific questions (What is the risk of owning female versus male calves?) .

These are exactly the types of questions that plagued me as I uploaded borrower profiles in my sweltering Senegalese conference room (especially the one about calf gender). I’m really excited to be here tackling them, and I’m also excited to share some of our most interesting research pieces on the Kiva Fellows Blog!

I thought today would be a good day to drop my first line, because Kiva was mentioned on the FAI blog. You can read the post here; there are some interesting observations on the perceived value of things being “free” rather than “cheap” – for example, lending on Kiva.org.

Cheers to all the Kiva Fellows still in the field, and bon courage as you struggle through language barriers and health scares, power outages and encounters with new and disgusting kinds of bugs. Just remember that once you’re back home in your cozy apartment, eating McDonald’s and watching American Idol, it won’t take long for your soul to start tugging at you, asking for the next challenge, the next entrepreneur to interview, the next flight into the unknown. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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AbbyI am a Kiva Fellow Alumna, Class of KF6/7, who served three months in Lome, Togo, and three more in Thies, Senegal. I am now working as a Research Assistant at the Financial Access Initiative, sharing research-based insights with the Kiva Community.

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