By Amy Zavitz, MAGG Graduate (2017)

During the past several months, I’ve had many people ask me what I thought about my master’s program. What were the highlights? What did I think I’ve gained? I consistently answer that my field of interest has substantially expanded. Having participated in a program that exposed me to a variety of fields, through a variety of platforms, I’ve realized how vast my academic and professional interests truly are. I entered the program with a defined, and possibly narrow, set of academic interests. A year ago, I would have guaranteed that my internship would reflect these interests.

Roughly three weeks ago I landed in Johannesburg. I came to South Africa to begin an internship with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. CIVICUS is a global alliance committed to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. With nearly 4,000 members in 175 countries and territories, CIVICUS seeks to amplify the voices, opinions and perspectives of citizens around the world. For almost 25 years, CIVICUS has worked to create networks for civil society advocates and bring the perspectives and needs of civil society to the international community.

Every 18 months, CIVICUS, along with a regional partner, host ‘International Civil Society Week’. This is a key global gathering for civil society and other stakeholders to engage constructively in finding common solutions to global challenges. The theme of ICSW this year is “Our Planet, Our Struggles, Our Future”. This December the conference will take place in Suva, Fiji, reflecting the precarious state of social and climate justice in the Pacific. My internship is centred on supporting cross-team coordination for CIVICUS engagement in ICSW 2017. My responsibilities have been varied, from participating in developing a youth-led workshop on climate justice, to managing a registration database.

Even in its infancy, this internship has exposed me to the intense and complex world of human rights work. Having the opportunity to work internationally has allowed me to couple abstract theoreticism with concrete pragmatics. The internship allows for the development of a holistically rounded blend of personal and professional development, giving insight into how the more abstract preoccupations of academic development are translated into tangible outcomes in real world settings.

A sizable draw to the Balsillie School of International Affairs was the opportunity to gain international experience in the field. However, this experience has not been constrained within the office. Engaging in a new place and new culture allows for a richer perspective and deeper understanding that complements the ‘office work’. Social inequalities and human rights abuses can easily become ‘normalized’ and overlooked when we are in our home country. If we aren’t careful, we can quickly get used to navigating our daily life around avoiding the acknowledgement of social injustice. I’ve found that when I travel, these inequalities are brought to the forefront. As I will explore in future blog posts, the social dynamics, infrastructure and complexities of daily life in South Africa bring human rights abuses front and centre for me. As I will continue to explore while I am here, the learning that comes from each of our internships cannot be planned. Even as we choose the organization we work for, and the country we will live in, being open to life while we are here can offer some profound insights, bringing to life our readings and seminar discussions.