After a bachelor at University College Maastricht, I was looking for a master programme where I could combine my interest in law, society and development issues. The Research Master in International Development Studies gave me the opportunity to combine all the topics I was interested in, and allowed me to go abroad for a longer period.
What I appreciated mostly in the master programme was the opportunity to shape my own curriculum. Next to core courses on development, I followed courses on gender, legal pluralism and rural development I also worked one year fulltime as the president of the ASVA student union. Because of the small size of the group of students in the research master and the individual and involved approach from the teachers, it was possible to follow this customized path.
My interest in gender issues and legal pluralism lead me to do research on the role of women in traditional courts in Namibia. I was able to combine this research with an internship at an NGO in Namibia, the Legal Assistance Centre, which I used for my portfolio. During my time in Namibia, I wrote a blog about my experiences, of which two posts got published. Finally, my research culminated in a published scientific article. All of these experiences greatly influenced the steps I took afterwards.
After my master I traveled a year, and was accepted for a traineeship at the Development & Cooperation department at the European Commission. I worked at the unit dealing with Southern Africa & Indian Ocean. I learned a great deal about ‘real’ development practice and the project management that is involved. However, I also found out how large an institution as the European Commission is. I decided that I wanted to work for a smaller organization, where I could see the impact of my own work.
That is how I ended up in my current job at Academie van de Stad. I am now setting up and coordinating all sorts of student projects that have to do with issues in the city of Amsterdam. The students gain real experience while our partners in the city make use of the talent in the higher education system. It allows me to see the results of the work I am doing and to be able to tackle issues such as poverty for children, problems of volunteer organizations or sustainability issues in my direct surroundings. I started my master’s with an idea to work on larger, international issues, but I am very happy that I ended up working on more local problems and hands-on solutions. It allows me to learn from practice, gain understanding of everything that happens around me and see the results of my own work.
Doing the research masters has led me to Africa, the European Commission and I believe also to my current job, even though the latter isn’t directly related to international development. It has helped me to reflect critically on various topics and to develop a broad variety of skills such as research, advocacy and NGO work and policy and political work.
Knowing what I know now, I would advise prospective master student to find out what you like by trying! As you accumulate different experiences, you find out what motivates you personally. Topic and content is important, but developing and using your own skills is equally important. Don’t think that your first job has to fit perfectly but, but give yourself the time to do many different things and learn what you really would like to do.
A traineeship at the European Commission is a great way to learn more about the practical side of development and gives you the opportunity to find out if policy-related work is what you like. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions about my experience and tips on how to get in.