1. Why did you choose IBEI Master’s programmes?
I earned my BA in Social Studies from Harvard University, an MA in Governance & Democracy from the Institute of Social Studies – The Hague, and an MA in Peace & Security from the Barcelona Institute of International Studies.
I did my Master’s at IBEI (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals) as part of the Erasmus Mundus Master’s Program in Public Policy, which is a two-year scholarship program. I spent my first year in The Hague before coming to Barcelona. I chose IBEI for my second year because of the location, claro. Barcelona is the world’s most beautiful city – and that’s saying something, because I grew up in Hawaii!
2. How was your experience at IBEI?
It’s really hard to separate my time at IBEI from student life in Barcelona. It’s all part of the same fluid experience. You would be studying income inequality in class, and then get swept up in an ‘Indignados’ protest in the city center. Or be hearing a lecture on the history of nationalism, and then walk by the Catalonian parliament, where all sorts of resolutions were being drawn up for independence. Or you would read about migration across the Mediterranean, and actually be living in one of those old migrant quarters. It was just a fascinating time to be in Spain, to be in Barcelona. Conversations with professors and classmates always spilled out into the street, and we’d carry on for hours over sangria, over tapas.
3. Describe your career path since graduating from IBEI.
I lived in Morocco before starting my Master’s, so when I was at IBEI, I paid close attention to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. After finishing at IBEI, I was recruited by the Geneva-based Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT) as their Libya Country Director. I was based in Tripoli, where I led a small team of lawyers and doctors, Libyans and expatriates, to document hundreds of cases of torture in post-war Libya. It was a harrowing experience, most of all for the victims we served and for the Libyan activists who risked their lives to do this. The work took me to the halls of the EU in Brussels and the UN in Geneva, where I reported human rights abuses and pleaded for additional resources.
4. What is your professional experience (your current position, your main functions)?
We evacuated from Libya when the civil war broke out again, and I left OMCT after relocating the program to Tunisia. I’m now a full-time independent consultant and also Managing Partner of Europe Conflict and Security Consulting Ltd., which is based in IBEI ALUMNI PROFESSIONAL STORIES London. As a consultant, I’ve been advising a number of governments and NGOs on the humanitarian response in Syria, peacebuilding in Myanmar, and the refugee crisis in Italy and Greece.
5. How did the Master’s program prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
I took a series of courses with Dr. Margarita Petrova, and the topics we discussed, like securitization, humanitarian intervention, and conflict resolution, have stayed with me. I remembered our discussions about gender and war when I was investigating sexual violence in Libya, for instance. Or the idea that resolving a conflict isn’t enough; that even more is required to keep a country from relapsing into conflict. Another class, Políticas y Programas de Desarollo, introduced me to the administrative mandates of development programs and some of the high-level debates about the institutional donor landscape, which has been useful. Also, the courses I took in multivariate statistics have helped me in the monitoring and evaluation work I do.
6. Is this more or less what you pictured yourself doing after the Master’s program?
Yes and no. I mean, generally, yes, I knew I wanted to launch this career in international development. But no in the sense that I had no idea how it would unfold. It may sound pretty straightforward, but the reality is that there were all sorts of twists and turns and surprises. I almost gave up at several points along the way, first when looking for the right job, then when things got really bad in Libya. What I’ve learned at each step is that life will surprise you, somehow, and you will surprise yourself, so really the best you can do is stay humble and kind and the right people and opportunities will present themselves.
7. What advice would you give to current students who want to follow this career path? Or advice to future IBEI students?
Don’t do it. People get into this line of work for all the wrong reasons. You have your wannabe-saviors, your adrenaline junkies, your wounded souls. The reality is you won’t last long in this business if you’re running from something, especially if you’re running from yourself. That said, if your head is on your shoulders and you have more or less sorted out your issues, and if you have to do this work – if you must do it – then just put one foot in front of the other, and the path appears. I would say one last thing, which is that working in the field is not just mentally and emotionally demanding, but also physically demanding. You must eat right and maintain a robust physique if you want to overcome the challenges put to you. They won’t tell you that in class – but I learned this the hard way. Take care of your body above all else. So hit the gym, yoga class, or the beach – in Barcelona you have no excuses!
8. What do you miss most about IBEI?
There was something really special about that time, no doubt. Your biggest worry was getting to class on time. You had an in-built community of friends from all across the world; that’s hard to find in the ‘real world’. You do your best to keep in touch. It’s hard these days, with everyone scattered around the world, working in Brussels and Yangon and Mexico City. But that’s the beauty of it! You treasure the memories and go off in search of new adventures.