International development is an increasingly popular area of employment, particularly among members of Generation Y.
Gaining entry into an organization such as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) or the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), however, can be rather challenging.
For instance, one of the biggest hurdles to landing one’s dream job in the area of international development is the typical prerequisite that requires a minimum of six months of work experience in the global south (countries with medium or low levels of human development, which are primarily located in the southern hemisphere in South and Central America, Africa and Asia).
In many cases, it can be a catch-22. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here are three easy strategies one can implement to gain practical overseas work experience:
1. Enroll in a study abroad course for a semester
Studying abroad is an excellent way to gain intercultural knowledge and experience. Most post-secondary institutions offer formalized programs where students can spend a semester overseas. If your school doesn’t offer a study abroad program, or if it’s not a perfect match for you, don’t be too discouraged.
Let me share with you a personal story of how I overcame an administrative obstacle that easily could have prevented me from acquiring international experience.
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in 2008, I signed up for an international field course to be held in Indonesia organized by the Department of Geography. The course was open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Several months before departure, however, U of T banned undergraduates from participating due to regional conflict in Indonesia.
Initially, I was disappointed. But then I thought, rather than miss out on an opportunity to study abroad altogether, why not use my creative side. Here is what I did: I designed my own field course and approached one of my professors to see if she would be willing to supervise the course and grade my work. She jumped on board with great enthusiasm.
I ended up volunteering for four weeks in the Philippines at a rehabilitation shelter for girl survivors of sex trafficking. Not only was the excursion a one-of-a-kind experience, but I also gained project management skills and built professional contacts that would prove fruitful in the years to come.
Based on my experiences, I can guarantee you that enrolling in a study abroad course will be one of the best decisions you make as an undergraduate student.
2. Volunteer abroad
This option of volunteering abroad is accessible to both current students and to recent graduates. There are a couple of popular routes you can take. In the first instance, you can sign up for an organized overseas volunteer excursion. Organization such as Free the Children routinely provide opportunities for young persons to build schools in Kenya, teach English at orphanages in Thailand, or rescue sea turtles and other sea creatures off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.
An alternative way to volunteer abroad is to create your own travel plans. By creating your own networks and aligning with a host organization overseas, you can exercise a bit more flexibility and probably save some money. Just be aware that some organizations might require a minimum three-month commitment.
Also, if you enroll in a study abroad program, why not also commit to volunteering at a local organization several hours a week?
3. Apply for a CIDA-funded internship
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) oversees the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). IYIP funds recent graduates of post-secondary institutions who are between the ages of 19 and 30 to work abroad. The internships typically last for six months and provide youth with opportunities to gain international work experience, skills and knowledge useful for their future career endeavours.
What is advantageous about these CIDA internships is that they actively recruit individuals who don’t necessarily already have overseas work experience – albeit, securing an internship is becoming more competitive and hence, having prior experience in the global south will render you a more competitive applicant.
By employing these three strategies of participating in a study abroad course, volunteering in the global south, and acquiring a CIDA-funded internship, you will make great progress towards your dream of landing a career in the sector of international development.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will provide ideas on how to finance your ambitions of acquiring overseas work experience.