Stephanie von Kanel is in her final year of a Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies (BHCS) student. She has just completed a student placement with the National Society of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Timor-Leste, known locally as Cruz Vermelha de Timor-Leste (CVTL). As she prepares to finish her degree, Stephanie reflects on the placement – and dissects why it was such a formative personal, professional, and academic experience.
Why did you choose this placement?
This placement has been a goal of mine since I started my degree. The opportunity first caught my attention as it is with the International Red Cross, an organisation for which I have always had great respect and admiration. After that, I was drawn to Timor-Leste, a country that is transforming from a period of incredible hardship to one of independence and self-directed development.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned on placement?
It was very interesting to observe an organisation which embodies the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross so deeply in all of their work, both within and out of the field. You spend hours reading and analysing the importance of these concepts, but to see them in action was incredibly inspiring.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced? And how have you overcome it?
The most significant challenge I faced was completing full-time university commitments while also working full-time at CVTL. However, despite the stress experienced at times, the combination of practical learning while studying community development theories enhanced my ability to understand the concepts explored in units. Another challenge was internet access as Timor-Leste is still developing stable national infrastructure in this respect.
What’s been your most rewarding moment on placement?
During the last month of the placement, my supervisor and the Secretary-General of CVTL asked me if I would be interested in returning to CVTL in a permanent capacity in the future. I was ecstatic at the proposition, and I am very excited to share that I will be returning as a Capacity Strengthening and Supportive Mentor in CVTL’s Health Department in early 2020. It is the first time a student placement at CVTL has resulted in employment, and I am very honoured and proud to be moving forward with this incredible organisation.
How do you feel your placement is better preparing you for the workforce?
This placement allowed me the opportunity to experience first hand the reality of international community development, but it also introduced me to many specialised sector skills and organisational processes that I did not even know existed. My understanding of international community development and the processes which contribute to successful and sustainable development outcomes improved significantly during my time at CVTL.
How are you leveraging the theoretical concepts you’ve learned during your studies while you’re in the field?
This placement allowed for years of theoretical learning to transform into tangible and relevant career skills.
What’s your advice to future students considering studying a BHCS? How can they set themselves apart for prospective employers?
Take the time to reflect on where you see yourself in the next 2-5 years. Start to research internship, placement, and job opportunities that align with your career objectives. No one ever lands their dream job straight out of university, but there are many things you can do to improve your chances.
I would also say that engaging with local volunteer opportunities, such as the Australian Red Cross, is essential for professional development but also for establishing networks and connections within the community development/humanitarian sector.
What’s your advice to current BHCS students considering the placement?
I want all other BHCS students to know that completing a placement is not just ticking-off a unit requirement, but a chance to truly experience the realities of International Community Development and Humanitarian Assistance. The ability to see firsthand and contribute to humanitarian development efforts in the field are experiences you cannot find in your textbooks alone. In doing this placement or others which align with your career objectives, you can see truthfully how you fit into the sector. Placement opportunities also provide the opportunity to learn directly from experts in the field as well as understanding and learning from community members and beneficiaries.