Friday, 31 January 2014

IDS Winter Graduation: Sometimes the struggle is the solution

By Lawrence Haddad

Yesterday was Graduation Day at the University of Sussex and the IDS graduates were there to receive their degrees from the Chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar, a wonderful actor and writer. 

Blackmail pictures of IDS students (and a few IDS staff) here

The Chancellor, as usual, made some great jokes and told some great stories (he is a professional after all).

I love how he always tells the graduates about how, as an 18 year old, his application to the University of Sussex was rejected, and then he waited for all those people who made the decision to retire (or go mad) and then came back triumphantly as Chancellor (theme: don't let others define you -- and don't give up). 

Also there was the story about the mouse in a bowl of milk who struggled so hard to get out it turned the milk into butter and so the mouse was able to walk out of the bowl (theme: sometimes the struggle is the solution).

Finally, there was this advice: when you boil vegetables, save the remaining water, freeze it and turn it into little cubes and use it as stock later on (theme: I have no idea!). 

One of the parents I talked to afterwards was struck by the fact that the IDS students are the only ones who actually shake the hands of the Head of Department calling out their names (usually me) as they march onto the stage.  I think it reflects the fact that IDS is a family and the students are every much a part of that. 

So, my warmest congratulations to the 100 or so IDS students who graduated this year. 

We know you will continue doing great things out there in the world, with the world, and for the world.

Just remember the mouse.

This post originally appeared in Lawrence Haddad's blog Development Horizons.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

My year at IDS: Learning, friendship and an English winter

By Nadia Masood, MA Development Studies 2012-13

It all started during an official visit to Manila in December 2012 

After dinner my brother, who works for UNICEF suddenly asked me what my future plans are. I said, “What do you mean? I am working quite well and satisfied with my Government job in Pakistan.”

He said still, I need a foreign degree to polish my professional skills and this can be done best at IDS in the UK.

I thought he was kidding: me starting studies after a 6 or 7 year gap? No way. Plus, I am already too occupied with my new official project running successfully, that I thought perhaps this is not the right time to study. Anyway, after so many discussions, I decided to go to IDS for a Master's in Development Studies. Also, I knew this institute because of the work of Robert Chambers, and having a foreign degree from the UK is perhaps the most suitable option for international students from Asia.

I came here with lots of fear. First, as I will be studying after a gap of 6 years. I had completely forgotten academic writing, plus the education system is completely different in the UK, so coping with that was also challenging. The second concern was facing the rough, cold weather of the UK since I belong to warm country like Pakistan, where the temperature goes as high as 50°C. Dealing with winter in the UK is real trial, I must say. The third fear was living in a new place and adjusting to life in student housing with people from different backgrounds.

I landed in the UK and moved onto campus

My new flatmates, all Sussex students, helped me to adjust. Then at IDS, meeting James Prescott, the course administrator, my course convener Hayley MacGregor, and attending orientation sessions with Robert Chambers helped to lessen my fear. 

Finally, when I met my fellow students, most of them with experience between 5 and 15 years; the same as me, I said to myself “Yeah I am at the right place at the right time.” 

Gradually the year passed - which was mixed in terms of fighting with illness, struggling with assignment stress, and on a personal level, losing 5 close relatives. However, due to extremely helpful teaching faculty and library staff, and above all my lovely class fellows, I was able to keep going. IDS is an open space where every person is somehow an encyclopaedia. The more you talk with them the more you gain knowledge and information. I guess those practical discussions that IDS offers adds more value to your learning than anything else. In terms of the course, I liked how MA Development Studies offered a critical analysis of the theories, concepts and debates, and the best part was that during the second term it offers multiple course options, which helps one to choose their areas of interest, such as governance, politics, gender, and health.

After finishing my studies, I managed a smooth transition to London as I got job immediately. Although I always planned to work back in Islamabad, this temporary experience helped me to get an insight in to the work environment of the UK. Now, after spending a few months in London, I must say that Brighton is good for studies and student life, while for jobs London is best - though luck also plays a major role too.

Moreover, during this time I was also able to meet the new batch of students from Pakistan that joined IDS in September 2013. It was lovely meeting them, and I hope that every year the number of students from Pakistan will increase.

Now, the time of graduation and my time to leave has come

Yes, I am extremely excited to be awarded the degree. Hard work has paid off and I will be sitting among all those lovely people who came here with same nervousness and excitement regarding a new country, new people, and above all new studies. I am extremely happy that the purpose for which I came to IDS has been achieved and I am leaving on a happy note. Though I am going to miss my life at IDS, at the same time what I have learnt from IDS and my IDS family will surely add more value to my professional career in future.

Thank you once again, IDS.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The tea stall

By Rupinder Kaur, IDS alumni MA Poverty and Development

It’s funny how easily we get into routines. Change an office and suddenly there is a new routine.

So, as part of my new routine in Delhi these days, I walk to a local tea shop just outside my office. Well tea-shop is somewhat exaggerated - it’s basically a guy under a tree making tea on a stove, and yes, he keeps some savoury items in small plastic boxes that you can bite into as well.

So, I see him 5 times a week these days, smiling whilst adding that extra milk and sugar to my tea. Some days my inquisitive nature gets the better of me and I throw these volley of questions at him - how much do you earn, is this even enough to buy you food, do you have a family, what will you do when it gets really hot, etc. etc.

So yesterday, exasperated after my round of questioning he put up his hands and said, "Look, I don’t do this for a living! I am a full time night security guard."

Oh, so then I had to ask this one last question, "Why are you sitting here under this tree day in and day out?"

"For fun" he says, "for a life. I can’t sleep 12 hours, so what do I do when I am not sleeping? I am a migrant, so no family is around. It’s boring, you know."

And there it was, my tea guy reminding me how similar our lives are.

So he puts up a tea stall to meet and see people, have someone stop by and chat with, basically be out of the house. I do the same - join activities and clubs to meet people, some of whom become regulars in my life and border close to the definition of a friend.

He reminded me of Abhijeet Banerjee (of MIT poverty Action Lab), telling a story of a villager in his book Poor Economics. Abhijeet was surprised to discover that a low income farmer in an Indian village had very few material possessions and when he got some money his first investment was a television. "Foolish man" some would say, but as the author probed, the farmer said "I have to make my life fun and enjoyable in whatever circumstances I am in. So I will invest in the things that bring me joy". In his case, the telly.

Human behaviour, the way we choose to live our lives cannot be simply understood by logical interpretations of carefully gathered evidence. It is in fact a chaotic symphony of philosophical bending, personality type and current circumstances. At the end of the day we are all trying to enjoy this creation in the way we know best.