The Leadership Series: International Edition
The Leadership Series was created to give students from the Faculty of Environment an opportunity to connect with and learn from a broad range of faculty alumni through themed discussions and small-group networking.
The focus for our Fall 2019 event is international experience. Whether you are considering studying abroad, moving for work or traveling for pleasure, come and learn from more than twenty Faculty of Environment alumni to learn their top tips for getting the most out of the experience and leveraging your time abroad to help you stand out and get ahead. This event will feature a special presentation by Atul Nanda, an alumnus of our School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) and president of Recyclable Materials Marketing.
Atul Nanda studied at the University of Waterloo in the 1980s, and his coursework and international experience in India was so impactful, he has dedicated his entire career around helping people, trying to improve their lives one step at a time. The highlight of his time in India was during a resource management course, which was part of a second-year field studies trip. Atul had the chance to interview New Delhi city workers and rag-pickers in open-air landfill sites, which gave him a new perspective on recycling, a deeper appreciation of different cultures, and a sincere desire to make a difference.
"Be receptive to learning by watching, listening and participating in activities overseas. Try not to have preconceived notions, and don't try to impart our ways of doing things on others overseas."
- 5:00 p.m. - Arrival, registration and mingling
- 5:30 p.m. - Opening remarks with Dean Jean Andrey
- 5:35 p.m. - Presentation on Going Global with Atul Nanda
- 5:45 p.m. - Small-group roundtable discussions (five rounds of 15 minutes)
- 7:20 p.m. - Closing remarks and group photo
- 7:30 p.m. - Reception
- 8:00 p.m. - Event concludes
This event is free but capacity is limited to 100 students. Dress is business casual and refreshments will be provided by UW Catering.
Registration is now closed. If you would still like to attend this event, please contact the alumni office.
Meet Our Table Anchors:
MDP 2015, Development Practice
CEO, Stelpa International Inc.
BES 2015, GEM
Social Planning Associate, Social Development Centre Waterloo Region
BES 2002, ERS
MAES 2006, LED
Senior Partnership & Social Impact Advisor, The Co-Operators
MES 2018, Sustainability Management
Business Strategist, ApplyBoard
BES 2010, ENBUS
Senior Consultant, Wayne Hussey Consulting Inc.
BES 2014, ERS
Transport Management Planner, City of Hamilton
BES 1975, Planning
President, Options for Homes Non-Profit Corporation
BES 1995, Planning
Owner, Long Legs Productions
BKI 2013, KI
Service Learning Program Coordinator, St. Jerome's University
BES 1989, ERS
President, Recyclable Materials Marketing
BKI 2012, KI
Freelance Content Marketer, Content Dragon
BES 2014, GEM
MES 2017, Planning
Market Access & Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Miovision Technologies Inc.
MCC 2014, Climate Change
Creative Director, The People's Climate Foundation
MAES 2010, Planning
Vice President of Federal Services, AECOM (Retired)
BES 2003, GEM
MSC 2006, Earth Sciences
Vice President, Water Without Borders
BES 2006, ERS
MES 2008, ERS
Secondary School Teacher, Waterloo Region District School Board
BES 1978, Planning
MA 1980, Regional Plan & Resource Dev
President & Consultant, Self-employed
BKI 2018, KI
MA TBD, Planning
Teaching Assistant, University of Waterloo
Want to learn more?
We reached out to some of our alumni currently living and working in other countries to ask what they've learned and their best advice to make the most of an international experience. Click 'Expand All' to read what they have to say.
Meet our Internationally-based Alumni:
BES 2012, INDEV
Consultant & Researcher, Deltares
2012 International Development grad, Sheila Ball has lived in seven different countries and volunteered and worked in many more. As an undergrad at Waterloo, she did an international exchange in France and her 8-month program internship in Peru. After graduating, she pursued a master’s degree, studying in Nice, Barcelona, Newcastle, Cottbus, and Budapest. In 2015, Shelia moved to the Netherlands, where she works on projects abroad in Bangladesh, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Thailand.
The key to successful international travel, Sheila says, is to diversify.
“Don't go abroad with a whole group of friends or just try to seek out people with similar backgrounds as you,” she explains. “I've often seen expats just stick together and not integrate into the local culture, or likewise students from the same country/region spend all of their free time together. Going abroad is the opportunity to open up, make new friends (both locals and internationals), and try new things (foods, trips, local customs). Don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new, but make sure that you do so within your own limits.”
During Sheila’s first experience living abroad, she learned much more than what was being taught in her courses at university. Things like, how to navigate bureaucracy, how to get around, how to interact cross-culturally and even how to mail something in another country. Living abroad also helped Sheila learn more about herself such as, how she portrays herself to others, what she needs to feel comfortable and safe, and how to adapt while still staying true to herself and her own cultural background.
Sheila’s tips to adjusting to a new culture include learning at least a few words in the local language - or studying the language more intensively. “Simple things such as 'hello', 'my name is', and 'thank you' go a long way.” Communication, she has found, is not only about what you say, but how you act and react to different situations. “Reading about the cultural norms (greetings, mealtimes, acceptable gestures) prior to going abroad is often helpful. Knowing if a culture is more/less direct than what you're used to can also help you take a moment to think about your interactions before responding to someone else's comment.”
Sheila says that working and studying abroad, can help you grow as a person and gain a lot of independence. It can also help you gain valuable skills. “It can strengthen your communication skills, especially cross-cultural skills, your organizational skills (so that you can stay on top of things both at home and away), and your coping skills (usually, you develop these, or decide that living abroad is not for you and go home). You learn which battles are worth picking, to let certain things go, to stand up for what you believe in, to network and make new friends, and to be flexible and adapt to a variety of situations.”
For Sheila, the biggest challenge of international travel is actually coming home. “Reverse culture shock (returning 'home' after an experience abroad) has usually been the most difficult for me. While you're abroad, you're constantly experiencing new things: new words, smells, tastes, festivals, experiences, etc. When you return home, you realize that not much around you has changed, but that you have changed tremendously. What's more, you also don't really feel like you fit in: yes, you may be from a certain place, but you are also a citizen of the world with a much larger view than before you first left. Finding a support group and reading about reverse culture shock help.”
Of all the things Sheila has learned throughout her years and miles of travel, she says the best lesson on that the term 'family' is really relative. “During my masters' degree, I was moving to another country every semester with a group of classmates. During this time, we really became a family. Years have passed since graduation, but we're still just as close, despite the countries that separate us. The experiences that you share with others while abroad creates a close bond that endures both time and distance.”
MDP 2014, Development Practice
Director, United Nations Association in Canada
Although he had already lived in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, the three-month internship in Botswana Scott Bohachyk did as part of the Master of Development Practice program, was “an incredible experience”. Scott interned at the World University Service of Canada, where he worked with about a dozen NGOs who had been working on HIV and AIDS for decades. “We were attempting to measure the attribution and contribution from WUSC's volunteers to these organizations over a number of years,” he explains. “There was so much to learn.”
Scott says Botswana provided an incredible culture to explore and appreciate. After graduation, he went on to intern with UNDP Bhutan for six months before beginning his career with the United Nations Association in Canada.
Scott strongly believes in the value of international experiences for Canadian youth and has devoted the last several years of his career to expanding these types of opportunities.
“International experience broadens an individual's worldview, improves intercultural communication skills, and challenges beliefs. It is also highly valued by employers, as travelling teaches people how to solve problems, work better as a team, and increase their self-confidence.”
Scott says it's difficult to know what type of leader he would be today without the early transformative experiences that he had traveling. He has since spoken to dozens of experienced and impressive leaders in public and private organizations who also attribute an early international experience to a life-altering career path or interest.
“In today's hyper-connected world, I think it's imperative that young Canadians learn about cultures far from what we're used to, and begin to understand issues from varied and sometimes difficult points of view. From a long-term prosperity standpoint, international relationships could become fruitful trade, security and intellectual resources to leverage later on in your career. Networks matter and this is a way to build great international networks.”
One of Scott’s initial challenges in Indonesia was dealing with a lack of punctuality. While he admits it seems somewhat trivial now, in 2004, he wasn't aware of the many cultural idiosyncrasies that one must become accustomed to when travelling abroad.
“I remember feeling so frustrated when people were late for meetings or social engagements, but after six months, and a few conversations with Indonesian friends, I just realized that there were multiple reasons for this - some I would never really be able to understand. Gradually I just stopped caring about being on time, and if people were late, I would just find a way to stay busy and be happy until they showed up. Just going with the flow was much easier and changed my temperament as well.”
For students and young grads considering international travel, Scott says, now’s the time.
“All of this will sound cheesy and cliché, but these are rare, special moments in your life when it's socially and financially responsible to go away and explore the world. It won't be that easy in your 30s and 40s, and even if it is, it won't be the same. I would try and push yourself - go somewhere you know nothing about, try to work and live for at least six months in a culture very different from the one you are familiar with. When you are there, have lots of conversations with people from that country. Go exploring. Get lost (safely). Try everything once and come back to Canada to see how you feel and view Canada.”
BES 2012, Planning
Director of Development Strategy & Special Projects, The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd.
Working internationally has taught Jordan Bruder valuable insights into the ways disciplines vary from market to market. Real estate development, regulations and policies, operations, investment, finance, and even legal issues can be different in another country and he says you need to be able to learn quickly.
Learning is in Jordan’s wheelhouse. After graduating from the School of Planning in 2012, Jordan earned his master’s from Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focusing on Real Estate and the Built Environment, with an emphasis in investments and finances.
He is now Director of Development, Strategy and Special Projects at Cadillac Fairview (CF), and brings real estate finance and strategy experience to advance CF's $15 billion development pipeline, especially as it relates to large scale mixed-use projects in core Canadian markets, as well as internationally. He is responsible for evaluating potential acquisitions, underwriting, and the execution of development projects. During his time with CF, Jordan has been involved in various development projects such as 160 Front Street, a 1.2 million square foot office tower downtown Toronto spanning 46-stories, and Paseo De La Reforma, a 4.7 million square foot mixed use development in Mexico City.
Prior to Jordan’s role at CF, Jordan held a variety of progressive roles at the Royal Bank of Canada and was involved in commercial mortgage underwriting, equity investments, mortgage-backed securities, credit agreements and debt structuring, highlighting his passions for numbers.
When working internationally, Jordan says, "Understand that you are no longer the expert in your field.” His best advice is to create meaningful connections with individuals that can help you succeed.
BES 2008, Planning
Senior Development Manager, Starlight Investments
Mark Chemij began working internationally shortly after graduating from the School of Planning in 2008. As a Project Coordinator for a Canadian planning consulting company, Mark worked with a multi-disciplinary team of consultants responsible for preparing a sub-regional master plan for a 1,800 sq.km area in northern Kuwait. The master plan consisted of land use, phasing, and implementation strategies to support the growth of a sub-region with a population of one million residents when it was fully built-out.
Mark also spent time as a Project Manager for a team of local and international consultants preparing a World Bank-funded corridor study. This study provided integrated transportation and planning solutions for two major transportation corridors in Accra, Ghana. The project had significant stakeholder engagement and capacity building components.
Mark suggests a few things to consider before taking the plunge to go global. Before you make the decision to work internationally, do your research and talk to people who currently live, or have lived in the country where you plan on working so you know what to expect and can make sure it is the right place for you. Secondly, educate yourself on proper business etiquette in the county. Finally, try your best to learn the local language, even knowing a few phrases can go a long way.
Mark’s international experience had a positive impact, teaching him how to be self-reliant and a better problem solver. Working at a satellite or branch office in a different time zone, he did not often have the full support staff he normally would have at head office. When issues needed to be resolved in short order, Mark was therefore responsible for figuring things out himself rather than relying on his team.
Mark found language was sometimes a barrier when conducting business in another country, especially when writing reports or preparing presentations. When language barriers present themselves, he suggests that well thought out graphics can effectively convey a complex concept or an idea. Pictures and graphics, he says are powerful tools to convey ideas and capture imaginations regardless of language barriers.
Mark has had many great experiences abroad, so it’s hard for him to choose just one. Connecting with locals expanded his horizons and allowed him to attend special events such as weddings, funerals, and cultural festivals. These events were some of the most memorable experiences he had during his time abroad.
“Once you make the move, try to integrate and make friends with locals rather than spending most of your free time with other expatriates,” he recommends. “Take advantage of your time abroad and try to travel to other places in the region that you wouldn’t necessary travel to from Canada. Have an open mind, and most importantly take lots of pictures.”
For those who think they are too young or inexperienced to travel, Mark used to think the same thing but offers, “The reality is recent graduates are ideal candidates to work internationally because they usually have more personal freedom to relocate.” He also notes though, that international work is not for everyone. “Make sure to do some soul searching before you make the decision to go abroad.”
BES 1995, ERS
Senior Policy Research Advisor, Global Affairs Canada
Catherine Coleman’s 15-year international development career began at, what was then called, the Canadian International Development Agency. She worked on environment and natural resource issues and then moved to a position that allowed her to expand her perspective on development issues. From 2008 to 2011, her work focused on agriculture and food security, and multilateral organizations in which Canada — through the Government of Canada — is a member. In 2011, she took a field posting in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she chaired a donors group that supported the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and was the field lead for women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment advocacy and programming. Starting in 2014, she spent three years as the deputy director for the Indonesia and ASEAN international assistance programs at Global Affairs Canada. Today, she is part of an international assistance research team at headquarters, where she creates and implements research projects with Canadian and international think tanks.
Catherine says her international experiences have contributed to both her professional and personal growth. The opportunities she was given and the challenges she encountered were highly varied, from representing Canada at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development to participating in conferences of multilateral organizations to providing a verbal briefing to the Governor General, and even negotiating the terms of a development project. Through it all, she says, “Each chance, each challenge, always had one thing in common: it was a learning opportunity in disguise.”
One of the most valuable things she says she has learned is not to fear uncertainty or ambiguity.
“Some tasks and some experiences are just difficult — which is why they may not have been done before. Persistence, as it always has, pays huge dividends. That is another lesson I’ve learned — and continue to learn — in my work.”
Her tips for adjusting to a new culture include taking the time to get to know the culture in advance. “Almost all cultures are task-oriented or relationship-oriented. Which one will determine where you need to put your energies.” She suggests learning about the new culture by reading their books and watching their tv shows or movies. “Learn the language to the extent that is realistic.” For very difficult languages, she says to try to learn the basics: how to say thank you, hello and goodbye. She also suggests eating local foods and being sensitive to norms.
In a world that increasingly values “soft skills”, Catherine says international travel can help develop them effectively.
“Almost all soft skills, including communication skills, adaptability, flexibility, judgment, positive attitude, being people-oriented, sensitivity to religious/social/cultural issues. How to do it? Just immerse yourself, and start building relationships, one conversation at a time.”
BES 2010, ERS
Senior Planner, FE Design & Consulting
In 2007, Dafne Gokcen participated in the ERS exchange to Australia and spent a year at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. But the travelling didn’t stop there, she went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California to earn her master’s degree. Through a USC internship, Dafne was able to spend a summer working for the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design in Beijing.
“When I was selecting courses to take in Australia, I chose two of them because I saw they had a field trip fee, which is a great way to go out and see things! If you're doing an exchange, pick courses that you can't take at Waterloo or have a particular focus on the location you're going. If you're going somewhere and don't speak the language, start studying NOW so you’ll start to have a basic understanding. Get a pocket-sized dictionary for that language to carry around with you. Have people who speak the language write out some common phrases for you. Carry a small notepad so you can get this information on the fly and have it handy wherever you go.”
Dafne feels strongly about going global and gaining international experience! She finds that going somewhere else aids in understanding of where you come from. People think that things are the same everywhere, but to actually experience it and live abroad, shatters those assumptions and teaches them how different places truly can be. Going to school in another country helps you understand different ways of learning and looking at the world. Working in another country helps you understand different ways of organizing a workplace. Dafne always comes back from time abroad much more aware of her surroundings and her assumptions.
BES 2008, ERS
Foreign Service Officer, Global Affairs Canada
Meaghan’s international experience has allowed her to work in other cultures, while teaching her the importance of communication and, in particular, of how a message can be interpreted through a different cultural lens. This, she says, has made her more empathetic.
While Meaghan says she’s “far from fluent," learning new languages has had many advantages. “It has been a wonderful way to stretch my brain in new ways and increase my understanding of what's going on around me.” It has also opened whole new worlds of literature and film to her. And, she says, “I love being able to order my shawarma in Arabic when I'm back in Ottawa!”
Working in a different country has presented its share of challenges for Meaghan.
“As a runner, moving to Amman presented a number of obstacles - no sidewalks, heavy traffic, air pollution, and a culture that frowned upon women wearing shorts or sleeveless tops - even when it was 40C! Although I'm the opposite of a morning person, I spent my two years there waking at 5am to run, beating the traffic and the heat. I grew to enjoy my solitary dawn runs (without headphones, of course) and even trained for my first marathon there.”
Meaghan says it’s important to embrace the hard parts as much as the pleasant ones. “When you're uncomfortable, you're growing. There will always be moments where you feel confused, or stressed, or frustrated - but those will become experiences that shape you and challenge you, situations where you'll surprise yourself.”
Meaghan has also had the opportunity to do an outreach visit in Najaf, Iraq, where she visited a university and a women's art collective, which she found inspiring - students and artists who were so full of hope and great ideas to improve conditions in their country, despite political turmoil and violence.
Her final advice to students considering working internationally is to be patient.
“Don't get frustrated that it takes time to learn how things work in a new place. Ask questions. Take advice from expats with a grain of salt. Don't allow the odd negative encounter to colour your view of the entire experience. Find something you already love - food, art, sports - and explore the new culture through that lens.” Finally, she says, it’s okay to take a little time to yourself. “There's no shame in deciding you need a day to watch Netflix and eat maple candy.”
BES 2012, Planning
Manager, Outreach and Engagement, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
During Marc Leblanc’s undergrad at Waterloo, he completed two internships abroad, both with the Government of Canada. The first was in his third year, when he worked as a bilingual interpreter at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. The second was in his fourth year, when he was employed as a Policy Intern at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, D.C., analyzing U.S. infrastructure and economic development policy.
Marc's advice for adjusting to a different culture is to take the time to orient yourself to your new environment: meet some of the locals, read the newspapers and spend time outside of the "expat bubble. “You will definitely make some lifelong friends and find a few couches to crash on for your future travels!”
Both of Marc’s international experiences enriched his undergraduate studies and gave him an edge in the post-graduation job hunt. He learned how to better adapt to different work environments and to work with people from a variety of backgrounds. He also sharpened his skills in French, which he says, has been an asset for his work in stakeholder engagement in Ottawa.
“Developing a sensitivity and appreciation for cultural differences is a great skill for today's workforce. By meeting and working with people from around the world, you'll learn how to better accommodate different cultural norms in the workplace.”
Marc acknowledges that finances can be a hurdle when considering international travel. “The cost of traveling and living in another country can be astronomical,” he says. “Washington and London were especially brutal. Make sure to build a budget before you leave, but also give yourself some space to splurge on a few cool restaurants or weekend trips.”
To make the most of the experience, Marc says to savour each day. “Try not to build a massive "checklist" or visit as many countries as you can. My favourite memories abroad are quiet afternoons in local pubs or a day at the nearby beach.”
MEB 2017, SEED
Marketing Manager, Yellow Door Energy
Soon after finishing her Master of Environment and Business degree in 2017, Josephine Pham moved to Dubai to begin working for a solar developer called Yellow Door Energy. The company provides corporate power purchase agreements to businesses in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. While the initial move may have been a bit scary, Josephine loves working in the solar industry, helping to propel the sustainable energy transition.
The experience of living in UAE has broadened Josephine’s exposure to other cultures considerably. “In Dubai, there are more than 200 nationalities living and working. Every day I learn new things about different cultures and working styles.” In her company alone, there are 40 employees and over 20 different nationalities. “As such, it is very rewarding to learn about different cultures, cuisine, and ways of doing business.”
To help adjust to new cultures, Josephine says, “be interested and be interesting.” She suggests educating yourself about the local culture's history, customs, and language.
“Ask questions but always do so with respect. Don't take things personally and don't be too hard on yourself: Different cultures communicate differently. Just do your best and know that the only opinion of you that matters is yours.”
Another helpful piece of advice Josephine shares is to give more than you receive: Find ways to give back to the local community through volunteering. This is how she went from knowing no one to building a social network to support her. She taught at a local school, joined a hiking group, and supported a professional women’s development network. She also learned Arabic and volunteered to organize University of Waterloo alumni events in Dubai!
BES 1995, Planning
President, The Viera Company
Since graduating from the School of Planning in 1995, Todd Pokrywa has accumulated more than 24 years working in the land use and development fields in Florida. He currently serves as President of The Viera Company (TVC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of A. Duda & Sons, Inc., where he oversees commercial and residential development of the company’s non-agricultural property and the development of the 20,000+ acre master-planned community of Viera on Florida’s Space Coast.
With 24 years of experience working outside of Canada, Todd has built a strong network in his local community, region and state that has afforded him opportunities to sit on many business and community boards of directors including recent experience as the Chairman of the Association of Florida Community Developers' Board of Directors. Through these activities, he has worked with other stakeholders in the real estate and development industries as well as elected leaders and their respective staff to influence policies that improve the regulatory process and defend against initiatives that may complicate the creation of quality community development.
All of this has taught Todd to understand that there is an entire world of possibilities out there and, in pursuing them, forging new relationships and adapting to different customs is vital to success.
“Be committed to meeting as many people as possible,” he advises, “and foster relationships in every experience as you never know where it may lead. As Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky once said, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.’”
Transferable skills that Todd has gained from working internationally include adaptability, resilience, networking and interpersonal skills, as well as being open to new challenges.
“By stepping outside your comfort zone, you have the opportunity to develop abilities to work well under pressure, handle stressful and challenging situations as well as bring different perspectives to the table while being open-minded.”
The primary challenge Todd faced moving to the U.S. was leaving long-established relationships and starting over with no network of support. He faced the same obstacle in mid-career, when he moved across the state and once again had to build a new local network from the ground up. He did this by immersing himself in business and community organizations outside of the office and putting extra time and effort into forging new relationships, which, he says, has paid dividends in both his personal and professional life.
For students thinking about starting over in a new place, Todd says, embrace the change.
“Make as many connections as you can and be self-aware of how you can adapt to cultural differences and develop new perspectives that can be valuable to those you are doing business within new environments. Be open to new challenges and confront your own predetermined ideas of how things should be, and you will cultivate and harness new skills that allow you to adapt to pressure, challenging or stressful situations. However, be humble and never forget where you came from.”
MA 2009, Planning
Chief Representative-India, Export Development Canada
Based in Mumbia, India, Neil Selig is the Chief Representative in India for Export Development Canada (EDC) in the Global Business Development Group. His team is responsible for driving new financing opportunities with top-tier Indian corporates to open doors and make connections for Canadian companies interested in the Indian market. They currently manage a commercial loan book of approximately CAD 5 billion, driving over CAD 3 billion in financing volume over the past two years alone.
Nigel has been fortunate enough to work within an international-focused organization since graduating in 2009 and his travels to Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. Along the way, he has learned to be patient, persistent and to always be present.
“Enjoy every moment - there are so many interesting things to see and do out there. And of course, be confident in your abilities to travel and thrive in different situations. The one thing that you will realize the more you travel is that people are people everywhere you go and that most people are good at the core, so be sure to enjoy all the characters you meet along the way!”
While challenges are inevitable, Neil says to remember that there is no such thing as a bad experience.
“You will always take something away from a place/event/situation even if it feels uncomfortable in the moment. Keep an open mind, stay in the present and always try to learn something each day when in a new place.”
International travel has refined Nigel’s world-view, deepened his appreciation of home and broadened his horizons - and palate! In a quickly shrinking world, he believes cultivating the ability to operate in a different cultural context is a key to success. “By practicing this,” he explains, “you will inherently learn how to communicate effectively, better understand your audience and start to appreciate the different ways of doing business and getting things done.”
He advises that, in many developing countries things don't move as quickly or as smoothly compared to the western world. For example, mixed messages are often sent, meetings are frequently delayed or cancelled, and economic, political and/or financial shocks can occur in the blink of an eye. “This has happened to me all over the world, including Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, so I have learned to be very patient, but persistent. Another key element is presence - if you want to be effective in these developing markets you need to be available and accessible.”
When asked about his best experience travelling, Neil says it’s hard to pick just one but recounts a funny story from his time working in East Africa on the border of the DRC.
“One night after a full day of fieldwork we were having drinks around a pool table at a "hotel" when the generator was turned on. The minute we got power, music started playing and it was a Justin Bieber song, which I found quite funny being Canadian and considering our location in the middle of rural Africa living in straw huts. It was one of those moments when you understand how small the world has become.”
PhD 1991, Planning
President, Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation
Associate, Partnership Brokers Association
During his PhD studies in Planning, Rafal Serafin travelled extensively to Poland and other parts of the world. After graduating in 1991, he worked as a Research Assistant Professor at the Faculty, but lived and operated in Poland. There, he was involved in environment and heritage-related work as part of Poland's reforms following the collapse of communism.
While his work as a Partnership practioner with the Partnership Brokers Association has taken him to Africa, Nepal and other parts of the world, he still lives in Poland.
For Rafal, being part of an international cohort of PhD candidates was an enriching experience, which, he says, prepared him well for what followed.
“The key benefit of international work is that it’s a constantly challenging experience where people are forced to continually adapt and grow. Frameworks, ways of living and thinking that people take for granted are all put into question. Empathy and an interest in understanding and appreciating others is a skill that can be built through experiences abroad and is very essential in the modern world.”
His best advice for adapting to a new culture is to try to gain an appreciation for it.
“Get involved with the local or host communities, whether through sport, culture or just making friends. Key thing is to try to put yourself "in the shoes" of those living in that culture. Also prepare prior to going - not just through internet but finding someone at the University who is from the destination country. They will always help you.”
A key skill Rafal has developed is "partnership brokering" - an approach to collaboration based on 4 principles that seem to be universal to all successful collaborations - mutual benefit, transparency, equity and courage. “People and the institutions of which they are part - generally - do want to collaborate with others. Especially when it is clear an objective cannot be achieved acting alone.”
Being involved in, and indeed, contributing to Poland's revolution has been a highlight of Rafal’s experience. He says, “I would never have believed that such peaceful transformation is possible. But it is possible -- even in our contemporary world of despots and strongmen...and celebrities as leaders.”
You can learn more about Rafal’s international work at www.partnershipbrokers.org
PhD 2017, Social and Ecological Sustainability
Postdoctoral Fellow, Scaling Specialist, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security
Adaptability, she says, is an important skill one learns from living and studying abroad.
“Moving from one place to another teaches you to constantly be adjusting to new people and places. Doing this fairly well is an important skill retain as you enter the workforce--you'll likely change jobs several times over your career and that comes with adjusting to new people and place as well.”
If at all possible, Helena suggests requesting a home-stay with a local family. “Making friends with local people is a great way to connect to a new culture and place.” It also helped Helena overcome the language barrier when she first arrived.
One of the highlights of Helena’s experience was witnessing female farmers in leadership roles in their farm associations and groups and the positive support they received from their communities.
While Helena says a rich experience requires being open-minded to meeting new people, she also suggests doing some research ahead of time to know what to expect and to stay safe.