One of our bloggers reports from the recent Careers in Africa panel, sharing nine tips for work in Africa—and beyond! Panelists included Freeman Awindaogo, MPH ’14; Lydia Hsu, EdM ’14; Laura Melle, MPP ’15; Seni Sulyman, MBA ’14; and Kerry Williams, MPA ’14.
Here are nine things you must know if you want to go into a career in Africa:
1. School is just a toolkit
A diversity of degrees is good for any post-graduate career. But don’t forget the other skills that can be even more important — can you learn quickly? Can you work well with other people? Can you think on your feet?
2. Have a vision
It’s critical to have a general vision of what you want to accomplish in your career. With a vision you can basically sway in the wind. You can take different skills from different jobs and apply them to get to where you want to be.
3. Embrace the awkward
In Africa, it’s going to be awkward to begin to assimilate to an entirely new culture. Don’t shy away from that. Use the language barrier to your advantage. Ask questions that push the boundaries, think of everything as a cultural exchange. Go in with an open mind.
4. Be flexible
For those considering fellowships, there is a lot of flexibility and opportunity to structure your time the way you want it. You’ll have the opportunity to meet so many people outside of your bubble. Enjoy this flexibility, even if you don’t necessarily have a plan.
5. Explore beyond the city
Sometimes, living in a smaller community outside of the city can be a better expatriate experience because you can work more directly with members of the community. Living outside the city is often a better way to integrate into the culture.
6. Be aware of your impact
If you’re going out in the world to “do good,” be aware that your good intentions might have unintended consequences. Spend time listening and looking at what’s going on around you.
7. Watch out for corruption
Be extremely careful about the company or organization you’re working for, and who runs it. Make sure you do your research before you start because corruption can be a huge issue.
8. Don’t stick to your plan
You’ll find out that it’s not about having a plan, but it’s about life’s plan for you. If you try to follow a path, you’ll just fall off of it. Branch out. Expect the unexpected.
9. Write home
Even if your work is based in Africa, you have a responsibility to educate people in the United States about what’s happening in these countries. Help spread awareness of what you’re working on.
OCS adviser Loredana George welcomes guest panelists.
Regional cuisine enjoyed during the event.
Julia Eger, ’14
Careers in Africa was cosponsored by: The Office of Career Services, The Committee on African Studies, Harvard Africa Business Investment Club (HABIC), and Harvard African Student Association (HASA).