"If you really want to understand the country, try to spend as much time as possible outside the expat bubble"
Luc Bitterli is a trainee for Swisscontact in Bangladesh. In this interview, he shares what motivates him, his most challenging experiences during his internship, what he’s learned for his future career plans, and helpful tips for anyone considering working in international cooperation abroad.
Luc Bitterli was chosen to participate in the SDG Youth Programme in 2021. He was recruited as a trainee for Swisscontact to work with the Microinsurance Market Systems Development for Agriculture & Livestock in Bangladesh. Luc has a Bachelor in Economics & Political Science. Along with many varied part-time jobs, he has worked in a school for children with behavioural problems and/or with difficult social backgrounds. In this interview, he shares his impressions from working in Bangladesh, his most challenging experiences and what he learned and will apply to his future career plans.
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Why did you apply for the SDG Youth Programme and, what did you expect to get out of it?
I would say it is a mix of two things. Firstly, because I will spend most of my life working, rather than just working to get paid, I wanted to do something that comes out of an intrinsic motivation. Most people would probably describe it as having a meaningful job. Meaningful for me means that I have a good feeling because I could somehow support and improve other people’s lives. Secondly, I just love to step out of my comfort zone. I am convinced that for the development of your personality, it is important to challenge yourself again and again. This does not necessarily have to be thousands of kilometres from home. But in Bangladesh, which was at first, for me, a completely different environment, there has certainly been more than just one situation where I was well out of my comfort zone.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in Bangladesh that you didn’t know or expect before?
As most of the people I asked before coming here, I just knew Bangladesh from the “Made in Bangladesh” printed on t-shirt labels, the migrant workers in Qatar and occasionally heard news of natural disasters. Basically, I was only familiar with a single story about this country – the story of misery. If someone asked me today if I could summarise the many stories of Bangladesh that I have experienced so far, I would, of course, mention the heavy environmental and noise pollution, the massive inequality, the extremely high density of people and child labour. But honestly, what has impressed me the most is the enormous hospitality of the people. I could write pages about this beautiful part of this country. Let me just say that I’ve never been in a country where people have treated their foreign guests in such a kind way.
I just knew Bangladesh from the “Made in Bangladesh” printed on t-shirt labels, the migrant workers in Qatar and occasionally heard news of natural disasters.
And your most challenging experience or task during your internship time so far?
I became sick, so I had to go to multiple doctors for treatment. It’s common in Bangladesh for some doctors to prescribe way too much medication because, as far as I know, they get some financial incentives from the pharma industry and, to some extent, have a lack of ability for proper clinical decision-making. After some trial and error, I was admitted to a hospital where I stayed for a week but didn’t receive the treatment I needed. Finally, I discharged myself from the hospital as I suffered from an overdose of medication. As I couldn’t get proper treatment, I was forced to travel home and then return as soon as I was well again.
Has this internship experience changed your career plans for the future or given you new ideas or clarity about your next steps?
This internship has strongly influenced my decision regarding the next steps I want to take. Currently, I want to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the M4P/MSD approach and gain some expertise in topics such as financial inclusion. Therefore, I applied for and was accepted to do a Master’s degree in International Development focusing on financial inclusion at the London School of Economics and Politics. My goal is to eventually work as a project manager or consultant for an MSD project.
This internship has strongly influenced my decision regarding the next steps I want to take.
Is there something you wish you had known or that someone told you before your trip?
Bring a good sense of humour – it makes life easier. And maybe a load of patience, because you're often stuck in traffic for a long time in Dhaka. Regarding how you should spend your leisure time: as an expat in Bangladesh – and I assume the same is valid for other countries – you somehow might live in two worlds. There is the expat bubble world, where you can withdraw from the real Bangladeshi lifestyle and enjoy your pizza and cold beer together. This is totally fine and needed sometimes. But if you really want to explore and understand the country and its culture, try to spend as much time as possible outside of this bubble. Even if it’s much more difficult to make friends outside the bubble, it's worth it.
Even if it’s much more difficult to make friends outside the expat bubble, it's worth it.
Some video impressions from Luc’s private Documentary project in Bangladesh.