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living and working overseas

All abroad: Living and working overseas, the international development edition

This interview is part of a four-part series exploring the ups and downs and practicalities of living and working overseas. You can read the other interviews with three wonderful, world-faring and adventurous women here.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Hey there! I’m Jordi – an avid feminist and societal chameleon who spends a lot of my time talking about dating and craft. I’m currently completing my honours degree in Commerce. When I am not freaking out over my research, you can find me delivering workshops and hanging out with young people as part of my side gig with The Reach Foundation. I also mentor high school students, work with TEDx Melbourne and spend a bit of time floating around One Roof, a co-working space for women-led businesses. In my spare time, I teach bullet journaling at Laneway Learning, hit up the local bouldering gym and dance to Beyonce relatively regularly. I care a lot about people, building and strengthening community and working for effective social change.

Where did you work overseas and what did you whilst you were there?

I have been exceptionally lucky in that the last 5 years I have had the chance to work in India, the West Bank, South Africa and Indonesia in a variety of international development roles. When I graduated from high school, I jetted off to India for 6 months to teach English in the Himalayas. India gave me the travel bug and after my first year at uni, I found myself in Palestine working with university students on their employability and writing project proposals for new programs. I spent most of my time in the West Bank meeting up with different activists and representatives from community organisations, shadowing a journalist and learning how to embroider over falafel and mint tea.

I then decided to go to South Africa. As part of a program delivered by Oxfam, I set off to Durban to work in a HIV centre. Whilst there, I learnt the ropes of communications, conducted a research study on the need for gender mainstreaming in the organisation and was involved in the evaluation of their schools education program. I then studied in Johannesburg for a semester, with an intensive study week in Rwanda. While in Jo’burg, I worked with a local organisation to deliver an arts performance education program on child trafficking in schools. From South Africa, I flew to Indonesia where I began learning the Bahasa Indonesia before spending two months living in a community just outside of Yogyakarta as part of a community development immersion program with ACICIS.

I capped it all off by working in a strategic communications and corporate social responsibility consulting firm in Jakarta where I was responsible for media and stakeholder analysis and then landed an individual marketing strategy project that ended with me delivering a training workshop to the whole organisation, including the CEO and senior consultants.

What first sparked your interest in working overseas? What did you hope to get out of it and has that changed over time?

In my mind, it was never not an option. To a certain degree, I think that my interest in working overseas is potentially a by-product of overexposure to World Vision ads at a young age and growing up in an individualist and prosperous society that sells the idea of needing to “find yourself” through travel. Cynicism aside, my first overseas trip – a family trip to Thailand less than a year after the tsunami – definitely had a profound impact on me and whetted my appetite for seeing more of the world.

Every trip or new position in a different country from then has refined my idea of what effective social impact looks like in practice, both at a local level and from a global, strategic outlook. Each overseas stint has been a reiteration of understanding how I can best influence change through a career in international development.

After my experiences in South Africa, I’m uncertain as to whether a career in international development is the way to go but I wouldn’t have come to this point without throwing myself in the deep end and testing myself in complex, real-life settings. My experiences overseas have clarified how much I deeply care about other people and their development, which can be prominent in any work or business endeavor. Really, my choice in career comes down to whether I dedicate myself to supporting people in my own local community or other people in their local community. Overall,that’s not a bad existential dilemma to have.

Practically speaking, how did you get this whole adventure off the ground?

My 14 month trip in South Africa and Indonesia took about 18 months to organise. There were so many different elements to consider, including scholarship applications, job interviews, visa complications etc. I am not an overly regimented or organised person but when you’re wanting to make other systems work for your benefit, particularly university and government bureaucracies, giving yourself more time to negotiate the paperwork and slow processes as it provides increased flexibility and opportunity so you can do what it is you want to do.

This also applies to financing such a trip. My overseas travel would not have been possible if I wasn’t studying at a university that values international experiences during a period in which the federal government was (and still is) dishing out a ridiculous amount of money to study and work in Asia. The stars are systemically and politically aligned for people who are fortunate enough to be in a position to take advantage of it. The trick is knowing how to take advantage of it.

Firstly, make sure that the countries/programs/universities/subjects you choose count as course credit. Double check to see if your university offers internship or research units. Skip the breadth subject on wine tasting and save your electives for your trip. Go to the seminars on how to score a fancy scholarship. Meet with the exchange office and absorb all of the information they give you. Take out the OS-HELP loan. Google travel scholarships. Reach out to community groups who want to support young people. Write a FB status crowdsourcing for ideas on how to fund your travel. Just ask. Always, always ask.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you left?

In my case, living and working overseas was harder than I expected it to be. I went overseas to challenge myself and to see if I was able to thrive in the complication and mess of the international development sector before fully committing to a career. I was seeking challenge and I found it. It’s not necessarily a negative thing but the intention of the trip has obviously influenced my decision to stay in Australia for the time being.

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that life is a process; we’re works in progress. So, one experience is never going to be the “be all or end all”. I think I was naive in thinking that I would dedicate a year or so of intensely pursuing something and at the end of it all, have a clear cut idea of whether this was my sole purpose in life. Wouldn’t it be great if everything was that easy?

What have you gained that you couldn’t have gotten if you stayed in Oz?

Travelling, particularly as a solo woman, has offered me assertiveness, adaptability and perspective. Travelling by yourself means that you have to take risks, set boundaries and rely on your own abilities to get yourself to where you want to go. Working in places where I didn’t understand the language, the racial politics or culture means that I often had to be flexible in working with different people and learn to view the world from their perspective. I feel really lucky that I now have a vast network of people I can reach out to for their opinions and feelings on issues that are occurring in their country. Our media outlets can seem like an misinformed echo chamber sometimes so chatting people in other countries directly about what is actually going on for them or what they think about particular events is invaluable.

Upon returning to Australia, I have begun to reject the notion that there is something fundamentally distinctive about travelling that can’t be gained by simply being adventurous and open-minded in your own country. Travel is an intense experience that forces you to get outside of your norm and be open to new experiences. It forces you to adopt a new mindset but at the end of the day, curiosity will lead you to phenomenal people and experiences regardless of where you are.

Three tips or pieces of advice for others wanting to skip the country in search of a worldly adventure?

I really only have one piece of parting advice which is something I was told by a South African, and that is to ignore what other people tell you about a place. Enter the with a completely uninformed opinion that you can develop as you have your own experiences. I don’t read any travel books or guides about a country, apart from the essential packing items and visa requirements. I was completely ignorant about the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until I was in it but it meant that I had the opportunity to witness both the atrocities and beauty of such a complicated region, and I wouldn’t want to have done it any other way.

You can connect with Jordi here to learn more about her work in international development and social change. 

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