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The quest to find an internship in peacebuilding

Maria Fernanda at Scala del Sapere in Palazzo Bo near the statue of Palinuro, Padova. Photo taken by Patricio D’Acunti (HRG student and lawyer intern)

My name is Maria Fernanda Cantor, I am a second-year student of the master’s in Human Rights and Multi-Level Governance, and I am very passionate about conflict and gender studies. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia where I carried out my studies in International Relations, Public Policies, and Development. I worked for several years as a volunteer and professional in issues related to peacebuilding and human rights; during that time I had the opportunity to be in contact with grassroots organizations and community leaders that inspired me to continue pursuing a career in human rights. Currently, I work as a student intern in a Danish-based non-profit organization that explores how to effectively promote sustainable peace.

When I finished my first year of the master’s, I was very worried about finding the right internship. I did not know how long it was going to take me, and many more questions arose, where will I be working? How can I apply? What if there are problems because I am non-European? Will I find an opportunity in the midst of a pandemic? and the list continued… I also remember all the comments about the importance of the first work experience, being the internship the first place from where you can connect with people in your field, it is the place to learn in deep about your topic of interest and (probably) get hired. I was panicking!!!

But from the panic also came the inspiration, I decided to invest my time finding an organization I really wanted to work in. My first step was to map the organizations I would like to work with, so I created a directory. I checked in Italy and abroad, I googled keywords for almost every country in Europe, used google maps to find organizations, learned more about how to use LinkedIn, tried to follow the existing connections among the organizations, and assisted online events just to see what organizations were participating.

After having all this information, I started to reach each of the 60 organizations I got. The most challenging part of this process was trying to connect with them and ask about internship positions. In addition to being a very time-consuming exercise, it was also frustrating as most of the emails never received an answer and, the ones that did received a negative response. I was also dealing with motivation letters for the open positions that asked as a pre-requisite for a residence permit that, I as a non-European do not have. I tried anyways.

I was dedicating most of my days to continue my research until I finally got a positive answer. After two months of sending emails and doing research, I was amazed by the fact I finally was invited to have two interviews with two organizations that were at the top of my list. It took me another two months to go through the process of acceptance and to start working but when I look back at the effort, and the waiting time, I feel it was completely worth the wait and patience.

I am now working in a very enriching environment. I work with people that are incredible human beings, are brilliant, and have exceptional professional backgrounds. We are a team of 8 people from 7 different nationalities that work from different parts of the world, from Sri Lanka to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S, Norway, Denmark, and Colombia. I have learned so much about peace, and I have got the chance to contribute and be heard. Despite the Covid-19 crisis and long-distance work, I am glad to have the chance to learn from my team, and to be able to develop and implement with them sustainable ideas and projects aimed at supporting local peacebuilders and change agents in conflict-affected contexts.

By telling my experience, I would like to encourage other students that, as I was, are dealing with the questions in how to get an internship in a critical moment like this one. Don’t give up! It requires a lot of energy and patience. Surround yourself with supportive friends, and keep in mind your goal. Certainly, the pandemic has created new challenges, and the possibilities to attend interviews, or travel abroad are limited but nothing is impossible. As Gabriel García Márquez once said, “even when the winds of misfortune blow, amazing things can still happen.”


Maria Fernanda Cantor is a 2nd year HRG student passionate about conflict management, peacebuilding and gender studies.

Follow Mafe’s story on Linkedin @María Fernanda Cantor


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