Building Better Future in Afghanistan
by Tom Speicher, video production developer, and Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan G. McAvoy.
Far from the comforts of campus, immersed in culture shock – and the 24/7 anxiety of a life during wartime – a Pennsylvania College of Technology construction student learned firsthand about the value and portability of the institution’s educational philosophy.
Jonathan G. McAvoy, of Brick, N.J., who majors in residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration, served a five-and-a-half-week internship in Kabul, Afghanistan (with a few trips to Kandahar, the largest of the country’s southern provinces) last summer.
"And now that Iíve traveled the world, I know that the possibilities are endless."
Working through the on-site construction division of RM Asia, an international provider of commercial vehicles, power generators and the like, the 21-year-old had one of the more unique laboratory experiences available to Penn College students.
“We constructed mostly steel-fabricated living facilities, dining facilities, vehicle-maintenance buildings and armory storage buildings … for (use by) the Afghan government (in the) training of police and military,” he said. “I was the safety officer on those jobs. We had a briefing every morning about what we were looking to accomplish that day, how we were going to go about doing that, the safest and best practices.”
McAvoy said he wanted to go to Afghanistan for an eye-opening look at a vastly different society and to gain insight into the workings of business half a world away.
He said he felt uncomfortable at first, adjusting to the different atmosphere that comes with being on the other side of the globe – and in hostile surroundings.
“Just getting around, you know, everyday life is so much more complicated over there,” McAvoy said. “But eventually, you settle in and start getting acquainted with everyone around you.”
Businesses are managed differently, and not everything is at one’s fingertips, as in America, he said. And every day brings ominous reminders that Afghanistan is a battleground.
“On a day-to-day basis, I felt safe,” he said. “You do have a fear in the back of your mind, (but) at the same time, you’ve just got to go along with life and try to make Afghanistan a more livable, better place to be.”
How does a transplanted resident of the Garden State survive in a politically and commercially volatile environment 6,800 miles from home? With the skills he learned at Penn College, he said.
“The company was impressed with the unique, hands-on courses that you’re allowed to take here … and also the management aspect (of) construction that’s not offered at most colleges,” said McAvoy, whose skills allowed him to engage in estimating, scheduling and resolution of occasional on-site turmoil.
He said the interpersonal skills he learned outside his School of Construction and Design Technologies course work also were invaluable.
“My communications classes … helped me drastically (in dealing) with management, locals (and) contractors; setting up jobs and just all-around communicating with people from around the world.” In the process, the commercial exposure took him out of his residential comfort zone and, he believes, made him a more well-rounded person.
“I’m grateful that Penn College has helped make this possible. … And now that I’ve traveled the world, I know that the possibilities are endless,” McAvoy said. ■
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