This week on With Your Woman Wednesday, we’re featuring citizen of the world, Ana Laura Vianei. Born in Brazil and raised in the U.S. as an undocumented migrant, she moved to Canada in 2012 to pursue a degree in International Studies. She shares with us how she found her current passion amidst the uncertainty that comes with pursuing a liberal arts degree, her experience volunteering at a refugee and migrant house in Mexico, and her straightforward networking advice: Just do good work and people will notice.
I imagine the career paths you’ve considered have changed over your four years in university. What industry are you leaning towards as you approach the end of your undergraduate degree?
After flirting with going to law school or grad school, I gave up trying to figure out what I was going to do and hoped that I would have an epiphany before graduation. Thankfully, that epiphany finally came after I got off my butt and did some real work. Through the international internship program at my university, I was able to travel to Mexico and work at a migrant and refugee house and that experience absolutely changed my life and my perspective on what success means. It also made me more eager and engaged in the classroom, so the thought of law or grad school no longer seemed like such a soul-sucking cop out. Considering my personal history with migration and now my work experience, I feel like I have finally found the fuel to chase something I know will make me really happy and professionally fulfilled. But this wasn’t random. I started by looking for internships that interested me and that were in fields I wanted to learn more about. Thankfully, there were ideal circumstances: The university provides a grant that pays for interns’ living expenses, so I didn’t have to worry about making money, and I also had a free summer. Following that experience, I am now certain that I want to work in the nonprofit sector, ideally focusing on migration.
Our current job landscape involves a lot of networking not just to advance a career, but also to simply start one. What aspects of the university experience have proven helpful in this regard, and in what areas do you feel our institutions are lacking in terms of preparing students for the workforce?
My most important contact to date is someone I met during my internship at the migrant and refugee house in Mexico. It was a complete coincidence, and I was fully unprepared to meet this person that may potentially offer me a job post-graduation! What wasn’t a coincidence was my ability to impress him enough to warrant his request for my e-mail. I did my little job in that little refugee house very well, and I made the best out of my internship. I could’ve had a completely crappy experience filing papers for three months. Instead, I got out of it exactly what I put into it and what I put in was a lot of hard work, initiative, and enthusiasm. This showed to everyone I encountered during my time there, and it is what prompted him to approach me. So I think that’s the most important networking advice that no university or student leadership group can teach you – do your job, however menial it is, well, and people will notice. What I think universities, and my program in particular, are missing and could do more of is to help students meet alumni that can aid them with their careers. I would have really loved to meet people who graduated from my program and to hear stories about where they are now and how they got there.
Many students are unfamiliar with the ways in which they can leverage their degree by obtaining specific qualifications that position them to work in certain fields such as project management or supply chain management. Have you considered any post-graduate certificate programs?
I have very seriously considered project management as a really versatile and incredibly useful post-graduate certificate. I think it would give me an edge and make me more employable, but beyond that I think I would gain actual skills. Though I value my degree very much, especially after travelling and working abroad, I realize the need for practical skills and acknowledge my lack of them. Before my internship, I had decided that in the event I didn’t get a job straight out of university, I would pursue a post-graduate certificate in project management. I still think it’s a good option, but with my newfound enthusiasm for the academic field of migration and refugee studies, I may also consider graduate school.
Has your experiences living in different cities made you eager to pursue an international, perhaps nomadic, career or do you feel a desire to establish yourself in one city?
When I moved to Toronto I loved it so much that I never wanted to leave. After two years here, I cried like a baby after I decided to leave for a two month long Spanish course in Mexico. Then I fell in love with Mexico and cried like a baby when I had to go back to Toronto. I realized that I loved new places and I loved travelling for long periods of time. I want to spend enough time in a place to know it intimately in a way I wouldn’t be able to as a tourist. Having said that, I do want to establish a home base at some point, but who knows when that will be!
Is there a specific problem you’d like to tackle either through your professional work or on a volunteer basis?
Movement from place to place in the search for food and safety has been characteristic of our species since the beginning of time. Borders, and the fences and officers they come with, are a recent invention of the ever-cruel human mind. Because of pretty serious national security concerns they have become a necessary evil, but that does not mean that nations need to close their doors to those fleeing violence, poverty, or both. We see the consequences of this kind of public policy every day on our Facebook feeds and are beginning to become numb to it. My own history as a migrant and my experience working with migrants and refugees makes me want to help reshape immigration policy on a global scale.
What is your preferred spot for getting things done in the city?
I love the Glendon Library! Its big windows let in lots of light and offer a beautiful view of the Manor gardens.
Learn more about Toronto Discursive’s new Q&A series At Your Man’s House Mondays and With Your Woman Wednesdays here.