Personal Insights into the TKN Young Professionals' Fellowship Program
From September–December 2012, Manuela Franco Fernandes participated in the TKN Young Professionals’ Fellowship Program. The program provides recent graduates from developing countries with an opportunity to work overseas at top-level research organizations in other developing countries. A Brazilian national, and a recent graduate of the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation with a bachelor in international relations, Manuela worked at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA). On completing her assignment, we asked Manuela some questions to learn more about her experience.
Could you describe some of the activities that have you been involved in at SAIIA?
I’ve been involved in many activities, such as organizing conferences and preparing reports and papers. Being a part of SAIIA’s Economic Diplomacy Program allowed me to work on a variety of important issues related to the the world economy, such as the role and agenda of the G20, regional integration in Southern Africa, global economic governance, investment and trade, and food security. Reviewing reports from senior researchers was a very gratifying activity, given the fact that I could give my own opinion on whether the paper was on track or not, and how it could be improved.
Was it difficult adapting to a new country, language and culture?
Coming to South Africa was an incredible experience. Living abroad is not easy, and sometimes you have to deal with a lot of challenges. I think I adapted very smoothly, maybe because I come from a country that shares some similar challenges to South Africa, so when it comes to lifestyle, it was very easy to adapt. The language can be an issue when it comes to specific terms, but that’s why I read as much as I could to help me overcome the language barrier. South African culture is very diverse, the people are warm and kind, and so it’s easy to get to know people. When it comes to culture, you have to be open to new experiences, and try to understand peoples’ feelings, and way of life.
What skills have you developed that will serve you well in future jobs?
I definitely think that the most important skill that I have developed was to ask questions. Now I’m always asking questions such as: why did that country take that position, or how will this plan for the economy work? I think it’s important to question assumptions, and to be open to hearing different points of view, whether on the economy, politics or social sciences.
Has the fellowship had an influence on what you would like to do professionally in the future?
Yes. It opened my mind to a number of fields that need people that are really interested in making a difference, and made me realize how working together with different institutions all over the world can strengthen our common cause.
Outside of office hours, what have you been doing in South Africa? Have you had a chance to see other parts of the country and region?
After the fellowship I had the opportunity to travel as a tourist to some countries nearby, such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Tanzania. This was an incredible experience.
Would you recommend this fellowship to others? If so, why?
Definitely: I am so glad that I had this opportunity. I think these kinds of opportunities are always a turning point in someone’s life. You get to know new people, cultures, languages, and most important, you put yourself in the other peoples’ positions. An experience like this helps you to develop skills and abilities that you thought you weren’t capable of, and it also introduces you to the routines of international organizations. Working with the team at SAIIA, specifically with the Economic Diplomacy Program and the Global Economic Governance Program was a very fulfilling experience. Catherine Grant, the head of both programs, was always willing to share her knowledge and encouraged people to work on what interests them the most.