Marika, class of 2015, majored in Human Geography and was granted an MFS to go to Laos. Being one of the founders of the BIDS alumni network page, we interview her to find out more about her BIDS experience and her current whereabouts. She highlights the importance of internships and engagement in diverse activities to find one’s passion.
Marika’s time with BIDS
Marika, tell us about her background and why you chose the BIDS program
My name is Marika Samuelsson and I come from Sweden and Laos. Growing up in both these countries, but mainly also in Vietnam gave me insight into the differing hurdles and various solutions countries face on their path towards development. As my parents worked within the development field, my interest in it started from an early age and my desire to understand global structures of power and inequality led me to the BIDS programme.
Tell us about your BIDS experience
I was undecided about either doing a major in Political Science or Human Geography but after studying both, I majored in Human Geography and haven’t looked back since! I often studied intensely during some semesters in order to have the flexibility to travel or do internships in the semesters to come. I was involved in the BIDS Mentorship programme, which was a great learning experience as it tested my ability to understand and explain, in a simple manner, the things I had previously learned. For my thesis, I received SIDA’s MFS grant and travelled to Laos to conduct my fieldwork, which was centred on resettled communities of large-scale hydropower projects and how these people’s livelihoods were affected thereafter.
Were you involved in extracurricular activities?
During my time at BIDS, I was active in UPF’s (Association of Foreign Affairs) lecture and travel committee. With the travel committee I got the opportunity to travel to Cairo, Egypt to learn more about the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I was also active in the International Mentorship programme and thus, got to meet exchange students from all around the world. Throughout my bachelor studies, and especially during the summers, I did internships. One such internship was for the organisation Giving What We Can, which evaluates the most cost-effective charities in the world.
Where has the BIDS program lead you to right now?
After graduating in June 2015, I moved to Bangkok to work for an organisation called the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net). I found them online on one of the many websites that list development jobs. Luckily, I happened to be in Bangkok on my way back from my fieldwork and managed to schedule an interview before returning to Sweden. My interest in the organisation was based on my fieldwork and thesis as they focus on the same issues.
MEE Net addresses the growing problem of unsustainable large-scale energy infrastructure in the Mekong region by bringing together activists, academia, civil society, scientists and local communities from the Mekong countries. In creating an ‘energy network’, their goal is to ensure that energy development in the Mekong region is democratic, sustainable, transparent, economically rational, environmentally sound and socially just. The organisation can be described as half think-tank, half activism because we conduct research projects in different water basins and participate in regional campaigns focused on environmental and energy issues. As their Communications Officer, my work is related to communicating with our regional partners as well as updating our website and social media profiles. However, since it is a relatively small organisation, I also have the flexibility to work on various other tasks and projects from research to fund-raising. I have found that such a feature within my first job in the development field is very useful since it allows you to learn a diverse set of skills.
Is your internship related to Human Geography?
My work is related to my major in Human Geography in the sense that we work with energy problems based on a specific region and that these problems have both a social and environmental dimension. When looking at the effects of hydropower for example, we do not only focus on its impacts on the water basin, the biodiversity and the migration of fish, but also on the way local riparian communities are affected as rivers hold a strong cultural significance and are vital for people’s livelihoods and food security.
What are your plans after your internship in Bangkok?
I decided to take a year off after graduating from BIDS to gain more work experience in the development field and to really figure out what direction I want to focus on for my master studies. As of now, it stands between environmental management and migration studies and I will likely apply for a masters for autumn 2016. Until then, I plan on working in Asia, eating mangoes and enjoying the sunshine!
What is your advice to BIDS students?
- Keep an open mind and learn to think critically – Reflect on your values, your biases, your convictions and learn the arguments of the perspectives you generally oppose.
- Don’t panic if you don’t know exactly what you want to work with in the future, you’re going to figure it out. But with that said, try to actively figure it out by reading, studying and writing about the topics that you’re interested in. Those interests might fade away, but at least you will then know that the topic is not for you.
- Do internships!
- The job market for development students is tough and the more experience you have, the better!
- Read, read, read.
- Have fun! During these three years you will meet amazing people and have fantastic experiences. In the end, it will not mainly be about development studies but personal development.
Interview conducted by Ruby Casellini, proofread by Kia Silvennoinen