Jennifer A. Patterson, IBEI alumni 2009-10
Name and Last Name: Jennifer A. Patterson
Master studied at IBEI: Master's in International Relations
Current working company, position and city: Regional Communications and Public Information Officer, Regional Office for Africa, International Labour Organization, Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)
1. Why did you choose IBEI Master’s?
After working for several years as a journalist in Canada, I decided to pursue a career in international development. My goal was to work for the United Nations. So I left my job as a staff writer and editor at a travel magazine and went back to school. I had heard about IBEI from a friend in Barcelona. I liked the bilingual programme, the small class sizes and the location. Geographically speaking, I also liked Barcelona’s proximity to Africa, and its links to Latin America -- two continents where I hoped to pursue my international career.
2. What is your experience at IBEI?
I really enjoyed my time at IBEI -- the classes of Ferrán Iniesta (African Studies), Pablo Astorga (Development Economics), Yannis Karagiannis (Statistics) and Salvador Martí i Puig (Latin American Studies) -- but I didn’t have the typical student experience. I was a single mother, and I had brought my nine-year-old daughter, Sofía, with me. Her school was tucked into the same old convent that housed IBEI at the time on Carrer d’Elisabets in El Raval. In class, I often sat by the window overlooking the schoolyard, so I could see when she got out of school. Then I would quietly slip out of class and go pick her up and bring her back to IBEI until my class was over. Juggling student life and parenting was a challenge, but it made life interesting too.
Living in Barcelona and passing the Senegalese street vendors on my way to and from class each day inspired me to write a paper on them for my African Studies class. That paper then inspired the topic of my master’s thesis on Senegalese migration in Europe, which eventually led to my work in Africa.
3. Describe your career path since graduating from the IBEI
After handing in my master’s dissertation, I travelled to Portugal on assignment for a travel magazine, then to Senegal. Soon, with luck and persistence, I was offered an internship at the United Nations Development Programme Regional Centre for West and Central Africa in Dakar.
It was a dream come true to finally be working for the UN. I enjoyed every moment of my experience there, and I worked with exceptional colleagues.
After the internship, I went home to Canada, where I landed a job as a magazine editor, before being called back to Africa for a role at the African Development Bank in Tunisia. I worked for seven years in the Communications Department of the African Development Bank, first in Tunisia, then in Côte d’Ivoire. I was named Acting Editor-in-Chief and Acting Director of Communications, covering the entire continent. Then, in 2019, I was hired as head of communications for Africa at the International Labour Organization, a specialized UN agency. I have been in that role for two years now.
4. How did the master programme prepare you for the work you're doing now?
The lectures, classes and readings gave me deeper insight into development issues in all their complexity and I continued to refer back to the research tools and resources we used. The knowledge I gained gave me a solid foundation for my work in communications at an international organization.
5. Is this more or less what you pictured yourself doing after the master programme?
Yes. My goal was to work in communications for the UN in either Africa or Latin America, which is what I am doing now.
6. What advice would you give to current students who want to follow this career path? / Some advice to future IBEI students?
Take advantage of the lectures and conferences at neighbouring institutes and universities. Make connections, you never know where they might lead.
7. What do you miss most about IBEI?
The friends I made, who are living and working in different cities around the world. I also miss the old Raval neighbourhood with its bookstores and museums and cafés, where we spent so much of our time between classes.