Two weeks after leaving Paris, I received the published report that I worked on while interning at Robin de Bois, an environmental non-profit organization. “A La Trace”, or “On the Trail”, reports incidents and events concerning the trafficking and poaching of endangered species worldwide. Looking at that document, I remembered the day I received the email telling me where I would work and instantly doubting myself and questioning if I was good enough for it. I remember being so nervous on my first day at work that I could barely speak. I remember feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed during the first few weeks. But I also remember how happy I was every time I realized I was achieving the goals I had set for myself.
Working in such a meaningful project made my experience in France unique as not only I was able to improve on my French and immerse myself in a new cultural environment, but I was also able to contribute to a document that is widely used in the world of international environmental politics. As a political science student who is passionate for International Relations and public policy, being exposed to an international organization was an incredibly enriching experience as it inspired me to keep working towards establishing a career abroad. I am extremely thankful to all of my co-workers and my supervisors who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel part of the Robin de Bois family in such a short amount of time.
One of the major takeaways from my Political Science classes at Pitt is the significance of effective communication in the world of international relations and politics. Without it, creating solutions for world problems becomes a much harder task. My time at Robin des Bois allowed me to see first hand how good communication is powerful and necessary in international organizations. Their projects are complex and require an amount of team effort and communication that I had never experienced before. The material that the organization produces also needs to be written in an effective form that allows other institutions to benefit from what they publish. Overall, understanding how an NGO works, learning to adapt to different communication styles, and improving on organization and management skills allowed me to put in practice the knowledge and skills that I have been working on over my two years at Pitt and apply them to the real world.
Aside from my professional growth, one of the main goals I had set for myself while interning abroad was to leave my comfort zone, face new challenges, and push myself to be a more confident person. Living with a host family and working with people that mainly only spoke French to me was crucial to the improvement of my language skills as well as my confidence. They created a space that I felt comfortable enough to speak no matter what, even if grammatical mistakes were made. Both my host family and my coworkers would make sure that I fully understood what was going on while also encouraging me to speak and learn something new every single day. Looking back, I am very happy to see that I was able to leave the walls of my French classrooms and make concrete progress on my language skills. Not only did I work on grammar, vocab, and sentence structure, but I also highly improved on comprehension and confidence to speak even when I found myself in uncomfortable situations. As someone who learned English as a second language and understands that fluency only truly comes with full immersion and motivation, it is gratifying to see that while not fluent, I accomplished my goal of becoming a more confident French speaker.
As my time abroad reaches an end, my biggest takeaway is that I am fully responsible for my own progress. As obvious as it sounds, sometimes it is easy to forget that things will not change just because I want them too. Facing so many new challenges and purposefully choosing to work on them reminded me that I am stronger than I believed I was and that I must put effort into everything I set myself to do, even if it sounds intimidating in the beginning. I am proud of myself for facing my fears and making the most out of this experience, and I hope to keep this mindset during my remaining college years and in my future career. I am grateful for this opportunity and extremely thankful to all of those at Pitt and in Paris that made this possible and contributed to a few of the best months of my college life!
Maria De Carvalho