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The story of two interns: one year later and over 19,000 kilometers apart Blog

27 February, 2024

Cover photo, from left to right, Cowater International former interns turned employees: Sofia, Samantha Julien (Sam), Aude, Elizabeth McGowan (Liz) and Astrid. 

Elizabeth McGowan (Liz) and Samantha Julien (Sam) both started their journeys as interns in the natural resources team at Cowater Nordics Stockholm Office (formerly FCG Sweden). One year later, they now find themselves over 12,000 miles apart, but still part of the same global team.

Sam is currently the Marketing Coordinator with Cowater Nordics in Stockholm and Liz is a Project Manager with Cowater New Zealand.

We wanted to learn more about their values, motivations and experiences with Cowater International.

1. Did you always want to work in international development?

Sam: Yes and no. Even as a kid, I knew that I wanted an ‘’international’’ career – my biggest dream was to be an ambassador. When I started my bachelor’s degree, I was more interested in public and international affairs and diplomacy. However, I took a few courses in international development out of sheer curiosity and found it quite fascinating. Fascinating enough to consider working in the sector. Something that has followed me since a young age is my passion for environmental issues, so it seemed natural to find a career at the intersection of environment and development.

Liz: Not at all! ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is something everyone asks you when you’re a kid. My answer to the question changed every year! Age 5: fairy, age 8: builder, age 13: poet, age 15: spy (I was deadly serious about this one), age 17: lawyer, age 18: this is when I realized, I had no idea. Then the daunting question ‘what next?’, staring you in the face as soon as you approach the end of high school. You can put it off by going to university, but after successfully completing your first year, it pops back up in most family conversations.

I went to London to do a Master’s in International Relations. I wasn’t sure where this would take me, but I knew I wanted an international career, and I knew I wanted out of academics, at least for a while. I also wanted to find a career where I could make a difference. I had done some work in consultancy, I’d done a little work in international development, and I’d studied the field during my master’s course. And then I discovered FCG Sweden, which is now Cowater Nordics.

2. What inspired you to start an internship?

Sam: After graduating, I did not quite know what I wanted to do. I felt like I did not have enough experience to apply for jobs, so I thought that an internship would give me time to think and decide. Something that made me curious about FCG (now Cowater) was that it works in the private sector. My other internships were in research centers, NGOs and international organizations. FCG (now Cowater) felt like the missing piece in the puzzle of my work experience. I also loved all the projects they implemented in agriculture, land management, forestry and other sectors. The internship seemed like the perfect bridge between my personal interests and my career aspirations.

3. What is unique about an internship in international development?

Liz: When I was offered the internship, I was so excited. I booked a flight, packed my bags, and moved to Sweden. I took a chance and tried something new! And so, I became an intern in the Natural Resources Department.

I was thrown into a world of acronyms and abbreviations and project references that took me a while to understand.  After a week of induction meetings and being introduced to my department and colleagues, I quickly began to understand what FCG Sweden (now Cowater) does. I had studied the theory and the architecture of international development systems, but now I was able to really understand on a practical level how international development worked. I learned about accountability and how the project managers here in Sweden can really make a difference in the lives of other people. I learned about past and active projects. I was involved in various Expressions of Interests and bids for opportunities funded by international donors, particularly in East Africa, in the field of sustainable development, land management, water resources and agricultural value chains. I communicated with international partners and experts and coordinated formal procedures to ensure our eligibility and competitiveness among other international companies. I was even able to take part in an evaluation of research proposals, trying to understand how research and ideas can be implemented to benefit smallholder farmers.

4. What types of projects did you work on during your internship?

Sam: On my first day, I did not really know what I would do as an intern, which was both scary and exciting. The first week is always quite similar for new interns: departmental presentations, meeting colleagues, learning more about the company, budgeting, and much more.  When I joined, my colleagues were working on a tender for Burkina Faso and I helped them identify experts, tailor CVs and revise some documents in French, which is my native language. Throughout my internship, I was heavily involved in preparing call-offs for our Agriculture, Employment and Market Development framework with Sida. During this process, I learned a lot from a colleague who taught me how to negotiate with experts, how to write a good proposal, and so on. I also worked on a big project on sustainable public procurement. I helped prepare workshops and organize venues for events in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda Colombia, Bolivia and Guatemala. It felt like I learned something new every day and that was very enjoyable.

5. What motivated you to move to Sweden and New Zealand?

Sam: Before starting my internship, I had decided I wanted to stay in Sweden. I first came to Sweden as an exchange student in 2017 and I completely fell in love with the country. I loved the culture, the fika, the societal values, the nature, the people…everything! Once back in Canada, I spent 3 years thinking of the best way to return there, which eventually led me to pursue my master’s degree in Lund. After graduating, I was determined to remain here and ended up only looking for opportunities in Stockholm. I was lucky enough to find the internship opportunity at FCG a few days before it closed. I gave it a shot, got the position, and more than a year and a half later, I can confidently say that I did the right thing!

Liz: Due to my mum’s profession, I moved around a lot as a kid. I think travelling so much from a young age gave me a permanent travel bug and a different attitude and perspective to ‘the international’. I have always wanted to travel the world and live and experience different cultures and different environments. After finishing my studies, I started looking for a way to gain work experience for an international career. The internship in Sweden was the perfect opportunity. Moving to a new country on your own is a challenge, but one that I was willing to throw myself into and prove to everyone, including myself, that I could succeed.

I have been able to travel to visit project sites, interview experts and meet key clients and stakeholders. As much as I loved working in Sweden with the Stockholm team, when I was given the chance to transfer to New Zealand it was something I could not refuse! It was an opportunity to gain invaluable work experience and international exposure, work in a new environment and cultural setting, with different clients and stakeholders and manage projects in different technical sectors.

6. What is the working culture like at Cowater? With such an international spread and offices in different countries, do you really feel part of a global team?

Sam: I wholeheartedly believe that I could not have asked for lovelier colleagues and a nicer work environment. From my first day as an intern to well over a year later, my opinion has not changed. When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by everyone, especially by my colleagues from the ‘natural resource management’ team. I found everyone to be open and available to answer my questions. Throughout the internship, I felt like my colleagues genuinely believed in and trusted me, which increased my self-confidence.

The feeling of belonging also applies to Cowater as a whole! Being Canadian myself, I was extremely happy when I learned about the acquisition of FCG: it felt like ‘’home’’, even though I am miles away from there. I was able to get in touch quite quickly with colleagues from Ottawa and Brussels to exchange on our ways of working. We have a global meeting every Monday where we learn about the other offices, their current projects, recent field visits, the tenders they are working on and so on. My position at the Nordics office also allows me to frequently contact colleagues from different offices to inquire about potential collaboration. I personally think that it is quite fun!

Liz: I fully agree! I couldn’t have asked for more lovely and accepting colleagues. I felt like part of the team and never felt less valued as an intern, the youngest in the office, or as a foreigner who couldn’t speak Swedish (… yet). I had a great time inside and outside the office at after work, lunch and Fika!

While each office has its own working culture, speciality areas and national teams, I think the fact that Sam and I still work together is a testament to the fact that we absolutely do feel like part of a global team. The offices will often come together to work on projects that cross over our different sectors and regional expertise.

7. How did the internship help propel your career?

Liz: I’ve learned it’s ok not to know straight away exactly what you want to do or what career you want to pursue. It’s ok not to have your life planned out from the moment you leave high school. But more importantly I’ve learned that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I took a chance to apply to the internship at FCG Sweden and the results have changed my life.

Not only did I love the work I was doing as an intern, but I have really felt valued and useful, and I feel like I can truly make a difference through my work with FCG Sweden (Cowater Nordics). I have continued to develop professionally and personally and learned something new every day. I have taken on different roles within the company and am continually building up my experience and finding my specialisation.

8. Would you recommend this internship to others trying to build a career in international development consulting?

Sam: In general, internships offer a valuable chance to expand one’s professional network. Engaging with colleagues and experts from various countries can be extremely useful in one’s career. Interns not only learn more about various subjects such as project management, procurement, and different sectors, but also receive valuable guidance and make connections that could be relevant to their career ambitions. Cowater International, being a large company, interns have the opportunity to interact with professionals from multiple offices and assist them as needed. This can help build international communication skills and makes good CV experience overall.

Now that we are part of the Cowater International family, which is considerably bigger than FCG was, there are new opportunities for our interns! There are far more opportunities to collaborate and meet colleagues across our corporate offices in Auckland, Berlin, Brussels, Helsinki, London, Madrid, Manila, Montreal, Nairobi, Ottawa, Singapore and Stockholm. These collaborations are also an amazing way for interns to learn more about various clients, with the offices having their own donors of focus.


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