Succeeding in the International Relations academic journey
Chido Nyaruwata is a UCT Alumni, currently working as Junior Fellow in the Office of the Rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo Japan. She is an avid traveller, reader and explorer, who shares her experiences on her blog titled “ Stories from a Reforming Salala. As a young academic, her primary research areas are global health, gender and development, and higher education.
My friends and family often ask me “When are you jetting off to a new destination?”. As tired as I am of the question, I’ve come to embrace the labels of traveler, researcher and adventurer. My curious nature and pursuit of academic excellence has led to a unique path in higher education. Over the past 7 years, I’ve studied at 3 South African universities (UP, UJ & UCT) and Sciences Po in Paris, France. Higher education has allowed me to experience different cultures, cities, and people. It’s radically changed how I perceive our society and fuels my passion to create more inclusive, socially aware and equitable communities.
UCT is the third stop on my academic journey as I began my Masters in International Relations studies in 2017. Two reasons shaped my decision to pursue my Masters in IR at UCT. Firstly, the Political Studies department had Professor John Akokpari and Dr. Helen Scanlon; who I thought as possible supervisors for my dissertation. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what my dissertation would be about but knew it would relate to the areas of gender, justice and development or African regionalism.
Secondly, I was drawn to UCT’s affiliated research institutes, notably the African Gender Institute and Afrobarometer.
During my MA studies, I made sure to engage scholars and students from these institutes. The African Gender Institute moulded my emerging perspectives on African feminist scholarship and provided lifelong friendships under the Young Wom?n Leadership Programme. I was fortunate enough to be a panellist at the Dreaming Feminist Futures Conference in March 2018 and co-authored a journal article titled “ What is Blackwom?hood: An Intersectional Dialogue with The Young Wom?n’s Leadership Project”.
In comparison, Afrobarometer widened my knowledge on African political parties and research methodology as I worked as a researcher for the Political Parties in Africa Project. The institute provided me the opportunity to attend its Summer School in December 2018 where I got to meet and engage researchers from Afrobarometer’s network.
Whilst you’ll often find me ranting about UCT’s lack of support for international and marginalised students on twitter; I do have some positives experiences about being a UCT student. The friendships and work relations I built throughout my MA studies were my life line when I got homesick and stressed out! In comparison to undergrad, postgraduate studies can be a lonely journey as you don’t have as many classes or “free time”. It’s not as easy to build new friendships in postgrad but I found joining societies and research working groups as great way to meet new people.
Another highlight was studying one semester at Science Po in Paris via IAPO’s exchange programmes. Living in Paris for five months was a dream as each day led to new discoveries in the city. During my semester abroad, I visited Brussels, Rome, Nice, Bordeaux and Prague. I never thought I would be able to travel so freely between these cities over a short period of time (Check out my blog for more details on my travel experiences)
Sciences Po was an enriching academic and cultural experience. The Paris School of International Affairs offers 400 courses in different areas of international affairs and international development. The global representation of the student population shook my mind as I had classmates from Russia, Ecuador, Ireland, India, France, Rwanda, the USA and other countries; all sharing different perspectives on global politics and pop culture. Being in such a global village pushed my career aspirations and desire to learn more about developmental challenges and successes throughout the globe.
Even though I had these great opportunities, my studies did come with some challenges. Any Zimbabwe student can relate to the difficulties of funding your academic journey. Since 2015, it’s become increasing difficulty to receive money from home and many students are forced with the reality of working part time if they haven’t secured a scholarship. I fell into the former group and found myself working at an NGO in Cape Town and tutoring in the Political Studies department. I found it particularly hard to balance two jobs, doing coursework and writing my initial dissertation. I was often tired from constantly working but needed to sustain myself.
Even though I kept a positive attitude and worked as hard as I could, I had to re-register and restart my master’s dissertation in 2019. It was the first time I had ever “failed” in university as I completed my 2 year programme in 3. But the reset allowed me to think deeply and purposely about my scholarship. My dissertation on global health actors’ responses to cholera outbreaks in Harare, was the first time I wrote myself into academic work in IR. I’ve comfortably established that writing will be a form of advocacy and protest. I share my reflections on academic failure and purpose in a blog piece titled “No, you can’t wing a master’s dissertation. ”
Here are 3 words of wisdom I wish someone had shared with me before I started my BA LAW degree at the University of Pretoria in 2013.
- While our families send us off to university for degrees, know that this place of learning gives us lessons inside and outside of the lecture hall. It’s important that you spend time socialising and learning with people who aren’t in your class or faculty. This is where societies come in! Join at least one and mingle. Such interactions help you become a more rounded and socially aware person.
- A popular proverb states the best way to eat an elephant is little by little. It’s better to progressively work towards your assignments or exam preparation than a week before the big assessment. If you’re a fan of working alone, then I would recommend doing the required readings before class and making your own notes. Ask questions! Your tutors and lecturers are required to assist you! Go to their consultation hours and get the help you need.
- We’re constantly told to network, attend seminars and join the “right” societies in the name of getting ahead. However, it’s the act of building authentic relationships with people which helps us reach closer to our goals. I’ve found that people are more willing to help those they’ve felt a genuine connection towards as most people are tired of transactional and fake interactions.
Having survived the university on the mountain, I can say that my experience has given me the tools to adapt to any situation and maintain positive working relations with my colleagues. We can all agree that UCT forces individuals to work in a high pressured environment and quickly tackle problems. This experience has held me manage the heavy and diverse workload of an international organisation. As a Junior Fellow in the Office of the Rector at the United Nations University, I work in a multicultural, busy and high impact environment. The tools gained from UCT allow me to perform at my best and push through the workload.