By Sherry Da
Dan Harris currently works as a Program Officer at the BC Council for International Cooperation. He has worked for 7 years at different NGOs in Latin America and the United States. I requested an informational interview with Dan because I am interested in the field of international development.
Before he even began telling me about his experiences, he asked me about what areas of development I was interested in, and why I wanted to work in in this field. So far, all of my experience has been in academia – rich in theory, but lacking practice – so I felt uncertain about what exactly I was looking for in international development. From here, Dan offered me some really valuable advice in how to find work in international development that was meaningful to me.
Dan emphasized the importance of reflecting on what my values and goals are in terms of international development, and then seeking organizations that reflect my goals. I expressed my concerns about working in top-down NGOs, to which Dan responded that there was good work done in all types of organizations, I just needed to find those that matched with my definition of international development. This is exactly what Dan did after completing his undergrad. He travelled to Guatemala and asked for recommendations of NGOs, and then reached out to those that had values in line with his. From then on, he jumped from NGO to NGO, country to country, project to project.
Dan has a Master’s in Development Studies with a focus in community engagement. He spoke about engaging in development that keeps the goodness in a community and the difference it makes to community leaders. He also spoke about the importance of interacting with the local community as an outsider, from living with them, learning the local language, and conversing with them. Dan says that you can learn the most valuable things this way, development is embedded in cultural and historical complexities.
When I asked what I should do with a spare month, Dan suggested for me to take that time for myself to do something fun, and to reflect. I constantly feel the pressure to keep busy, but Dan expressed the importance of taking time for myself in order to reflect what my values were, where my ideas are at currently, and what I wanted out of my international experience. This conversation with Dan made me realize the importance of knowing what you want out of a career, and then seeking jobs that suit you.
To find out more about the IR Coffees program, please visit: http://ir.sites.olt.ubc.ca/undergraduates/career-resources/ir-coffees-program/