Program manager at the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed)
This week we had the pleasure of speaking to Karina Melkonian, another graduate student from Pompeu Fabra University Barcelona who did her undergrad studies in Business Administration at the Haigazian University in Lebanon and used every summer, even ever weekend to gain volunteer and practical experience in the field. This, according to Karina, is the key to success!
Karina is 30 and comes from Lebanon and Armenia. She did her Bachelor studies in Business Administration, a Summer School at the Oxford University and holds a Master’s degree in Migration Studies. One month before she graduated from her Master’s degree, the university’s office coordinator resigned.
Thus, when that position became vacant, Karina took her chances by the hand and immediately applied to and got the job.
Before that, however, and during her undergrad studies, Karina volunteered as a Public School English and Physics Teacher through a local Lebanese NGO. She also volunteered in another local association which aims to educate children undergoing cancer treatment, by giving them education in the hospitals. Moreover, Karina was a member of AIESEC association, through which she travelled to Cairo, Egypt, also in scope of volunteering, to teach Egyptian kids English as well as cultural diversity. Karina strongly believes that in addition to education, investing in summer breaks and even weekends are the key to gain practical experience and thus to lay the foundations for her desired career in the humanitarian field. Karina strongly assumes that thanks to these engagements, she was able to find an employment in an international NGO directly after earning her Bachelor’s degree, although it was in Business Administration and, therefore, not directly linked to her dream sector – the humanitarian field.
Consequently, at the time Karina enrolled in the Master’s program in Migration studies, she already had 4 years of experience in 2 international INGOS in Lebanon. This experience in combination with her background as a Lebanese who speaks Arabic, as well as her profound understanding about the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) context, is always an asset in Europe, which placed her in an advantageous position of finding employment after her Master. Karina then remained for 2 years as Office Coordinator after graduating from Migration Studies, before transferring to the IEMed. The IEMed is a “think and do tank” specialised in Euro-Mediterranean relations. It provides policy-oriented and evidence-based research underpinned by a genuine Euromed multidimensional and inclusive approach. There, Karina was Research Officer. It was solely 1 year later that she already got promoted to Head of the Euro-Mediterranean Women’s Foundation (EMWF) Platform of the IEMed, as well as Program Manager of the CLUSTER project co-funded by the ENI CBC Med program. This project aims to tackle social exclusion and poverty amongst vulnerable groups in Cyprus, France, Italy, Jordan, Palestine, Spain, and Tunisia. This is done by equipping young people, particularly women, who are “Not in Education, Employment, or Training” (NEETs) with marketable skills in the blue, circular, green economy and sustainable agriculture sectors. Additionally, the EMWF trilingual online Platform, available in English, French and Arabic, features information on local and regional initiatives on gender-related issues, and includes a free-access Documentation Centre.
As part of her role, Karina coordinates and supervises the technical, financial and administrative management of the CLUSTER project. Parallelly, she oversees the promotion of the work of gender equality actors – notably events, projects, training sessions and publications through the EMWF's online platform.
Karina greatly enjoys her current employment, since it not only includes desk and research tasks, which is very often the case when it’s a European project which mainly focuses on research and policy, but also field work and thus, resembles the jobs she had done in Lebanon. Through this CLUSTER project, Karina will come in direct contact with the vulnerable groups who will benefit from the activities Karina and her team will develop.
Therefore, although Karina aims to eventually find a permanent position in an INGO based in Europe, this current employment enables her to gain the required years of experience in order to be a suitable candidate for her dream job in her desired context. From Karina’s professional development, we can learn that it is considerably helpful to obtain some field experience in parallel with the academic program in Migration Studies, as it profoundly shapes one’s view on migration policies and dynamics.
In this context, Karina adds that the fact that most of her fellow Master students were much younger than her and had directly enrolled in the Master’s program after earning their undergrad or first Master’s degree, has proven a less efficient approach, as they were lacking direct and practical exposure to the outcomes of migration policies on the migrants themselves in real life. She believes that this exposure would also help them choose more easily a Master’s thesis research topic that they would like to investigate further as part of their studies.
This would also allow them to develop their critical reading skills, specially because part of the academic curriculum and the research read by students or taught by teachers, very often solely reflects the Western point of view. Thus, this experience needs to be acquired in the field, and volunteer work has proven an ideal way of doing so for Karina.
Tips for success
As final tips for current or aspiring migration students, Karina says the following: “You need to use every chance you get to have as much diverse and rich experience as possible, not only in terms of academic courses taken or conferences attended, but also in terms of networks you have the opportunity to be part of and involved in, or in scope of internships or volunteering program. You shouldn’t only rely on the master’s degree, but rather use your time as students to do some volunteering work with migrants and refugees, and to collaborate with local NGOs.”
*INSMS is always looking for interesting career paths of former migration students. If you would like to share your professional history with the network, please contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject: P2P campaign