Berlin is Berlin. It’s the next place you go to start over
Mélina Jamain, BSc International Relations and Social Policy graduate, has got the bug. She spent one year of her college life over in the U.S., her placement year in Berlin and has traveled to all the smaller stops in between. She’s one of the success stories; landing a placement at a top NGO, helping tackle corruption globally and is living her passion.
‘My interest in social science really kicked off in America,’ she says, ‘I was living in Nebraska, a very conservative state. At the start of my student exchange, I was biting my tongue A LOT, but by the end, I was challenging people’s deeply held views. It was then that I thought, I could make a career out of this.’
An international career
Post-America, Mélina wanted a university with a strong community focus. If Nebraska had shown her that she wanted a career in social science, then her university needed to shape and channel her passion for world issues.
‘I wasn’t looking for an echo-chambre,’ she says, ‘I was looking for something metropolitan, open and friendly. Somewhere that welcomes those from outside into its community. I found Aston online, I hadn’t even seen the campus when I applied! It was a risk, but it paid off.’
Mélina knew that a placement year was critical for her career, ‘The most challenging work in NGOs and charities is amongst the most competitive,’ she says ‘finding a placement was tough. I didn’t use conventional means. I actually got my job at Transparency International through social networking.’
Getting an international placement
Melina had used a Facebook page dedicated to young professional starting out in social policy work. An ad was posted by a member of the community and Melina acted.
This method is becoming ever more popular. Professional networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and other platforms are replacing conventional jobs boards. It’s hardly surprising. A professional platform like LinkedIn is ‘live’, perfect for sharing projects you’ve worked on and connecting with like-minded recruiters, even if you aren’t actively looking for a job. By comparison, a CV is a little contrived.
‘I applied via Facebook. I didn’t have any experience but by some miracle got an interview and then the job! I was shocked.’
The position was in Europe’s ‘bohemian capital’, Berlin.
Living in Berlin
‘Berlin is chilled. I used to ride around the city on my bike, enjoy the beer gardens and travel with friends to flea markets every weekend. It was incredible.’
This bohemian feel is thanks to the hundreds of creative agencies and start-ups now flocking to Berlin. These young sparks are going it alone and setting up businesses because they don’t fit, and have no desire to, into the old-school corporations in the centre of town.
Working in Berlin
Her position with Transparency International connected her with Governments across the world, raised funds for anti-corruption projects and made a real difference to people’s lives.
“My drive is to make a difference. Yes, I need enough money to live, but I can’t imagine working in a career where I wasn’t making things better.”
Her time at Transparency International was pivotal for her career in NGOs, “My boss was a micro-manager without being micro,” she takes a moment to consider this statement, “she was always checking how I was getting on but never told me how I should do stuff. The choices I made were my own.”
Melina’s manager understood people. She was someone who took the time to understand motivations, goals and ambitions. It’s surprisingly rare. She understood that Melina needed guidance, but not hand holding.
“My manager would sometimes get it in the neck from colleagues for giving me too much responsibility, ‘Why did Melina make this decision?’ or ‘Why did she do X when she could of done Y?’ My manager would reply that it was my decision, that it was what I had decided to do. She knew how to build people’s confidence.”
When the bug bites, Melina knows it’s time to move on. Right now she is working a temporary contract with Unite Students, the UK’s biggest student accommodation provider.
“I’m not sure where I’ll go next,” she says, “I’ve got my degree and international experience at an NGO. The world is waiting. I can take my time and consider my options.”
One thing is on her radar though, “Perhaps I’ll work for bank”, she laughs through the irony. “You’ve got to understand corruption from all angles, right? Think of the difference I could make working in Financial Compliance.”