A Filipino with a German degree in the Philippines

The whole premise of studying abroad and getting an international graduate degree (in my case in Development Management) is to return home to apply the learning to the development of one’s home country – in my case the Philippines, or more accurately: Asia. As a DAAD scholarship recipient, this was the essence of the “Wandel durch Austausch” or “Change by Exchange” programme.

I had begun applying for jobs in the Philippines even before my DAAD Carlo Schmid Programme Fellowship was over, but didn’t have any luck – at least in terms of a job better than the one I had last. Before my DAAD scholarship I already had a MA in Political Economy and was already a consultant at the Asian Development Bank. I was hoping my studies in Germany and the fellowship with the United Nations in Geneva would give me better opportunities. A day after my UN duties ended, I took a flight to Manila, again hoping to improve my chances of employment by being in the country. But no.

By the fourth month after returning home, I must have sent out more than 100 job applications for different locations, different organizational types and slightly different functions. Sometimes, I would get shortlisted for an exam and interview but negotiations would fall through when it came time to agree on visa, salary, scope of work, etc. Once it was suggested that my international experience and work ethic might hinder my ability to integrate with slower and less efficient local processes. In other words, for jobs focused on Philippine development, the degree I chose seemed to be irrelevant. I was obviously useless for Typhoon Haiyan rehabilitation work so I didn’t apply for those either. I was already wondering if I should have taken up something more specific, such as environmental management, urban planning, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. There were jobs – some better, some less good. I was determined to put what Germany invested in me to good use for projects in the Philippines and/or Asia. With enough persistence, opportunities opened related to my master’s thesis on urban infrastructure and private sector financing, and related to my internship in Hamburg on sustainable consumption and production. In fact, these are opportunities that further German development cooperation because they involve either BMZ policy priorities or projects administered by German consulting firms.

The lesson here is that an international degree is (most of the time) not a magic wand that just opens life-changing opportunities and makes a person suddenly a better candidate. It’s the nuances and the substance of the degree – what the student puts into the program – that equip and enable a person to get a better job and perform better. The challenge then upon returning home was how to integrate as a different person in a landscape that has not changed at first glance. But step by step, effort and patience pays off and I did get the chance to apply what I learned in Germany at home and in the rest of Asia. Now, my next challenge is to find out if that unique learning from abroad is useful to my current engagement on financing climate resilient cities in Asia.

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