Laura Ruiz recently graduated from Heriot Watt University, Politecnico di Milano and Umeå Universitet. She is now pursuing a 9 month fellowship at Amal Academy, in Lahore, Pakistan. Before joining the fellowship, Laura spent 7 years working in project management, consulting, logistics and the service industry. This includes work for Avianca, a top airline in Latin-America, where she led a team that analyzed trends, made demand forecasts and redefined the revenue strategy in South America.
In the past weeks I have jumped into several articles (like this very controversial one by Courtney Martin or this one by Jocelyn Wyatt) that in one way or another criticize fellowship programs abroad. The points they make are absolutely relevant and I can’t help but agree with most of what they are saying.
The contradiction comes when I add that I am currently part of one of those fellowship programs.
I am a global fellow at Amal Academy. It’s a non-profit education venture supported by Stanford University, Acumen & Echoing Green that runs a job readiness program in Pakistan leveraging technology to help young low-income students find quality employment through a fellowship program that trains them in business-related skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership. I am 9,200 miles away from home and I have still a lot to learn about the culture and the education sector of Pakistan.
How can I reconcile the criticism of this type of fellowship and the fact that I am currently part of one?
The way I see it, it is not just the fellowship program that has to be held responsible for the outcomes. It is the fellow itself that has to understand what an opportunity of this kind is and what is not. A fellowship abroad in the social impact sector is a privilege and not a travelling option; it is not an opportunity to talk and showcase; it is a chance to be humble and listen.
What would I recommend someone before deciding to join any fellowship abroad?
There are many things I have to constantly remind myself and that have come from the patient and wise advice of people that support my journey and that have gone through similar things.
1) Check your intentions: do it because you like complexity, do it because you like the challenge, and do it because you are ready to learn and listen.
2) Be patient: embrace the small wins and build from them.
3) Know yourself and embrace the fact that developing self-awareness is a never-ending job.
4) Aim to understand people instead of aiming to be understood.
5) Remember courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is having fear and still being able to move forward.
Amal Academy is currently receiving applications for program manager (facilitator, mentor/coach, content development) and the global fellowship positions. For more information visit www.amalacademy.org.