By Mike Pulford

Working online is definitely a unique experience. Having been forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic for the last semester of the MIPP program, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how online work would go. Turns out not so much. I’m at the beginning of my second month now working with the UNFPA country office in Mozambique, and to this point it has been a difficult but rewarding adjustment period.

It is definitely a challenge working 6 hours behind the rest of your colleagues. I start my day at 8am which is 2pm in Mozambique, leaving 3 hours for me to work with my colleagues there until I’m left to my own devices for the afternoon. I’ve always been good at working independently so having to work on my own time doesn’t bother me so much. What is tough though, is waking up to 5 hours’ worth of emails. It’s definitely taken some getting used to, so that I don’t feel like I’m spending the whole day catching up on the day my colleagues already had. I still haven’t figured out how to set up the “do not disturb” settings on my phone (why is it so hard?), so that I don’t accidentally wake up to a bunch of emails in the middle of the night. But that’s on tap for this week.

The six-hour time difference aside, the weirdest thing about working remotely is only meeting people over email and Zoom. But I have to say that all of my colleagues in Mozambique have welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve enjoyed being able to get to know them and learn a little about life in Mozambique despite not actually being there. My second week on the job the entire office joined in a “de-stressing through movement” Zoom call, where we played music and danced around in our various office spaces. The experience really personalized my participation in the virtual office environment and with other employees on a level that I think is sometimes difficult when only communicating through a camera. It was a great start to my morning, even as I’m sure it was a great end to their day in Mozambique.

One other thing I’m sure I’m going to find tough over the next few months is seeing how nice it is in Mozambique as the Canadian winter ramps up. As a warm weather person to begin with, it’s already getting tough hearing colleagues talking about their weekend adventures in the sun while I’m waking up to frost on the ground. At least I don’t have to commute to work!

In terms of the work I’m doing, I have been pleasantly surprised by the trust put in me by my supervisors. I’m having a great time applying the skills and knowledge I worked to develop over my academic career. I have to say it’s refreshing and exciting to be able to do these things outside of an academic setting! The UNFPA office in Mozambique is rapidly growing, so there’s plenty to do as they scale up their operations. One specific task I’ve been assigned is to compile statistics and program information about all the different UNFPA programs in Mozambique to make them into easily consumable documents. Since Mozambique’s official language is Portuguese, and most documents are published as such, I’ve been doing a lot of reading through Google Translate. An unanticipated but welcome outcome being that I very well may end up learning some Portuguese while I work!

All in all, the first month of my internship couldn’t be going much better. I was apprehensive at first about how it would all work doing everything online, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things have gone so far (knock on wood). Looking forward to what the next few months have in store for me, and hopefully winter takes it easy on us this year!