Sande Ewart (BA’03)
Grad year: 2003
Degree: Bachelor of Arts (International Development Studies and Spanish)
Current role: Cuba Policy Analyst, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada
Alumni profile: It is always hard to imagine where we’ll be 10 years down the road. When I was a student, I saw myself as an NGO or think-tank kind of guy. I would have said I’d be researching or maybe even teaching development studies. I certainly didn’t see myself working for the government. However, this is where I find myself: working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (or as we will soon be known, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development). Like most people, my path was not a straight one, but was winding and sometimes uncertain.
I transferred to Dalhousie University in 1999 as an international politics student. Dalhousie, and International Development Studies, seemed to offer more opportunities to travel and see how people and other cultures live. Here, I quickly gained an appreciation for the grass-roots nature of development studies. In the 2001-02 academic year, I took advantage of the exchanges the faculty offers: first to Campeche, Mexico to study Spanish and Mexican culture, and then to Havana, Cuba to study the Cuban economic development model. These were my first experiences abroad and turned out to be great learning opportunities. I didn’t know it at the time but these experiences would help me with my career years later.
During my studies, I developed a strong interest in the decades-long conflict in Colombia. I decided to do my undergraduate thesis on the culture of violence in Colombia and, upon graduation, applied for a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) youth internship there. However, the internship was cancelled because of the security problems in the country, but that didn’t deter me – I was ready for a new experience, whatever it was. Thanks to my course work with through the IDS department – including courses on Central American history, Latin American politics and regional development issues – I felt qualified and prepared for a challenge. The experience and Spanish skills I had developed in Mexico and Cuba were also instrumental to landing a job in the developing world.
After Leaving Dalhousie
I landed an internship with an NGO in El Salvador, working with a community that was to be displaced by the construction of a hydro-electric dam. Following my internship, I returned to Halifax to pursue a Masters in IDS at Saint Mary’s University. Based on my experience, I focused my thesis on El Salvador and the lack of access to potable water, particularly (but not exclusively) in rural areas. When I returned to El Salvador, I was able to work with same NGO, and saw how some areas were starting to overcome these problems through community-based initiatives.
While I was writing my thesis, I worked in the summer as an analyst with CIDA’s Caribbean and Central American divisions. I kept applying to NGO positions but wasn’t hearing back, which I found frustrating. After I’d finished my Masters and was looking for work, an old classmate from Dal told me about an opening in the Central American division at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) where she had also recently landed a job. Interestingly, her life had taken a similar path as mine, including a stint in El Salvador…where, by coincidence, she had rented the same room in the same house where I’d lived. Cliché as it may be to say, the IDS world is very small!
In 2010, I finally had my chance to visit Colombia, on a one-month temporary position at the Canadian Embassy in Bogota. It was incredible to me to be able to see how things had changed in Colombia during the following seven years. I went back to read my undergrad thesis and was pleasantly surprised to find that what I had written a number of years before was still relevant. This was a fantastic experience that seemed like a long time coming. I also took advantage of my time in Colombia to propose to my (Canadian) girlfriend who visited me while I was there…but that’s a story for another time.
As of April 2013
Today, I’m completing the Cuba loop as DFAIT’s Cuba analyst. It has been 10 years since I first visited Cuba as a student and I am continually fascinated by all the things that have changed on the island (and all the things that appeared exactly as I’d left them). My old apartment, for instance, has been converted into a café, a product of the economic reform process.
I never would have imagined that I would end up working for the foreign affairs department, nor would I have imagined that I would enjoy it so much. It’s a great job for those that enjoy following political and economic developments around the world, and for those who like to travel. It’s hard to imagine where I will be in another 10 years. But who knows? With the merger between DFAIT and CIDA, maybe I’ll be back doing development work.