Alison Victoria Shepherd
Why I chose BA International Development (with Politics)
I chose to study at the University of Leeds because, in 2006 it was one of the first places to offer an undergraduate course in International Development. Everyone I asked said Leeds was a great city to live in, and I knew the university had a great reputation. I decided to go back to Leeds to study my MA in Global Development with Education 2013 because I knew the above was true!
My Leeds experience
At undergraduate level I loved that Leeds had so much going on, both academically with seminars and lecturers almost every day- given by experts from both inside and outside the university- as well as socially, with a variety of clubs and societies for all interests. I was able to set up my own society, as well as benefitting from meeting some life-long friends in existing ones. I also got the chance to study for a semester in Ghana, which was a great opportunity getting to live in a ‘developing country’ especially in its hectic capital city!
At a postgraduate level I found getting to know other students was great, as the majority of the people I met were international students with interesting work experience so there were many great perspectives to learn from.
BA International Development with Politics opened my eyes to different perspectives, ways of thinking, and academic theories. I think developing my critical thinking skills has been the most valuable tool for me. Reading about and discussing successful and problematic development projects helped me know what kind of organisations/projects I did and didn’t want to be involved with in my career.
Life in Leeds
Leeds has so much going on, just like the university. There's a great variety of entertainment: international restaurants and cafes; vintage clothes shops; great indoor markets; cinemas old and new – Hyde Park Picture house is amazing and student-priced, music nights for anyone’s taste; parks; and easy access to beautiful countryside. I honestly don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Leeds.
After graduating from my undergraduate course I went to El Salvador, Central America for a one year internship with a grassroots sustainable agriculture organisation. I learned so much in such a varied way: from the grant writing process through to the interview process; to NGO politics; El Salvador’s history; I greatly improved my Spanish as well as learning how to paint and make a tortilla! I also discovered that I preferred working with people than in an office, and spent the next two years teaching English in Mexico, first in a cultural institute in Chiapas then in a state ‘Development University’ in rural Oaxaca. Whilst working at the university I did some research about the state education system, which I then used in my MA degree when I returned to Leeds. On completing my degree with a Distinction, I landed a role with VSO in Myanmar (Burma). I am still in this role and work with the British Council teacher training in Education Colleges throughout the country. I enjoy the cyclical process of learning new theory and applying it to then reflect back on my practice again so I plan to study my PhD in International Education after I am finished with the project here.
My career advice to current students
I think it’s really difficult for development students to know what to do after graduation. I wasn’t sure how to get into development, or in what capacity, but I did know what kind of organisation I wanted to work for, that I wanted to learn a language, and that I didn’t mind volunteering for a year. I searched A LOT for job advertisements and finally found an internship with a great organisation in El Salvador. I then spent a lot of time applying for grants to support myself as it was an unpaid position. After that year I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do, how development works on the ground, and I had met some great people and other organisations. I realised that to be desirable to employers you need to be able to offer them something in terms of your skills, eg. language skills, work experience in a particular area etc. I would say try different things, talk to lots of people, be prepared to work hard for little money at first as unfortunately most organisations offer unpaid internships. Many of my coursemates from an undergraduate level tried living/working abroad and found it wasn’t for them so now work for great organisations in the UK, arguably still in ‘development’ just not internationally.