The more I work towards attaining experience in the development sector, the more important my contacts and networks have become to me. I would say that networks are important, but demonstrating that you merit those contacts is also important.
|Name: Natalia Ariel Beghin||Current Position: Student|
|Main country of residence: Australia||Organisation: Fudan University|
|Qualifications (and University): Currently studying Bachelor of Arts with majors in International Relations Theory and Chinese Language, and Master in International Affairs (this is something ANU calls a vertical double degree, which is just a fancy way to say the degree allows students to study for their Bachelors and Masters degrees at the same time)|
|Years of experience: 2.5|
|Languages (and level of fluency): Fluent in English, French, high-level Mandarin Chinese|
How did you obtain your first development/not-for-profit role?
My first international development role was as a United Nations Youth Ambassador to Timor-Leste. I obtained the role via a competitive application process that involved a number of written submissions and face to face interviews. The ambassadorship was unpaid and lasted approximately a year.
If you had previously pursued a non-development career, describe how you made the transition and the extent to which your existing skills were transferable.
I have never pursued a non-development oriented career, but I was involved with volunteer work both in my own community and overseas before working in Timor-Leste in 2012. While I was in upper high school I volunteered every week at a school that caters to teenagers with severe mental disabilities, and also spent the 2011-2012 summer in Malaysian Borneo contributing to reafforestation and education aid projects in rural communities.
My time in Malaysian Borneo and Timor-Leste was spent quite differently. In Borneo I did mostly physical aid work; clearing and tilling fields, cutting down bamboo and replanting it with more sustainable crops. I also worked on the last stages of construction of a library, and the electrical wiring of a school building. Borneo was especially physically demanding because the communities we worked in were so secluded they could only be reached on foot. In Timor-Leste, I taught some classes in art, English, and science at a school in the south of the country. However I spent the majority of my time there in dialogue with local politicians, officials, aid agencies, and students about how they felt aid might best be used to improve the standards of living and education.
I believe the problem solving, teamwork, and especially communication skills that I gained from these experiences were indispensable. The experience also allowed me to better understand how diverse the development field is and what particular area I would prefer to be involved with.
What was the nature of the first organisation you worked for?
This past summer I worked as an intern at the Institute for Economics and Peace in Sydney. IEP is a think tank that in conjunction with The Economist Intelligence Unit releases the annual Global Peace Index, a report that ranks the majority of the world’s countries by their levels of peacefulness.
Do you consider field experience important in obtaining your first development role?
I do think that working in a developing nation is a really important experience for anyone who wants to work in international development. Before I went to work overseas I had a very different idea about how I wanted to contribute to the development sector than I do now, and it was my field experience that gave me those insights. I also believe that my working in Malaysian Borneo and Timor-Leste has strengthened the job, scholarship and internship applications I have made since. This is mainly because I think field experience demonstrates your enthusiasm and commitment to the industry and its broader goals and values.
How important do you consider networking to being successful in your field?
I don’t believe there are any downsides to networking – however there is probably a danger in becoming overly reliant on your contacts alone. I have found that so far, I have attained positions not so much as a result of contacts, but more because I have made an effort to demonstrate my commitment to those positions. On the other hand, the more I work towards attaining experience in the development sector the more important my contacts and networks have become to me. I would say that networks are important, but demonstrating that you merit those contacts is also important.
What do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of the work you’re engaged in?
I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when some of the work I’ve done has been extremely challenging. Sometimes it can be because of isolation from both familiar environments and friends and family. Living without electricity, running water, or sanitation really changes your diet and tends to have a large – and not pleasant – effect on your body. Other times the challenge is much more emotional in nature. For example at the moment I am living in China and working at an orphanage that cares for young children who have been abandoned on the basis of physical deformity or mental disability. The suffering, injuries, and attachments that you encounter can make you incredibly upset. When I do feel overwhelmed by the kind of work I am doing, I try to keep perspective and remind myself of the bigger picture. Personally I have come to believe that you have to be pretty categorical with regard to work in international development. Consequentialist thinking can suck you into an existential quagmire, which makes it more difficult.
What advice would you give to somebody interested in pursuing a career in international development similar to yours?
Get as much experience as you possibly can, both in your own community and overseas. I also feel it is really important to keep an open mind when approaching the international development sector. This helps not only because it is competitive, but also because it allows you to follow rewarding paths you may not have initially chosen. My fieldwork in Malaysian Borneo was so different to the internship that I completed with the Institute for Economics and Peace, but both were so educational and valuable in different ways.