For the past month, I have assumed the life of a Northern Ireland Civil Servant. As a requirement of my degree, Leadership for Sustainable Rural Development, I must complete a sixteen week work placement. By my good fortune, I have been placed at the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). More specifically, I have been placed at the Rural Development South Division in Newry, a town south of Belfast. Of course, having to travel out of town several days a week has its own challenges, but overall, I have found my experience enjoyable, and am happy with the professional experience it is affording me.
My work days are long, but I’m sure that experience isn’t just unique to me. Rather, it’s a new experience that I’ve been slowly adjusting to. I’m awake and out the door just as the sun is beginning to shine. I travel by bus and the journey lasts a little over an hour. Unfortunately, I am unable to read on a bus for more than five minutes without motion sickness, so I generally spend the trip reflecting, listening to music or napping. I love pastoral scenery, and this island is definitely not lacking in that department. In all honesty, I’m glad that I’m able to get out of Belfast regularly. As much as I love it (and believe me I do), I’m not a city girl at heart, so the trip to a smaller town is welcomed.
My assignment is to prepare a business case for a new Investment Readiness scheme. Thus far, I’ve spent a great deal of time informing myself on the topic. But, as much as I enjoy reading and research, I’ll be the first to admit that it can quickly become monotonous. Fortunately, the office is full of characters that make the work day much more bearable. There’s no shortage of tea, coffee, biscuits and sweets whenever I need a break. And we all enjoy having a chat in between intensive sessions of focusing on our work. My co-workers have really gone above and beyond to make me feel as though I’m a part of the team.
One of my favorite aspects of the job is the opportunity to learn more about Northern Ireland politics. As an aspiring rural developer, it’s very beneficial for me to see firsthand how legislative decisions can impact development efforts in rural areas. My division of DARD almost exclusively distributes European money. Generally, they implement programs by contracting to local agencies. Therefore, in Northern Ireland, the Public and NGO sector are rather closely tied to and dependent upon one another. I can’t say that I’ve drawn any personal conclusions about the implications of all of that. Honestly, at this point, I’m simply absorbing information. I am, however, sure that DARD plays a pivotal role in improving the life of rural citizens in Northern Ireland. So, I’m happy to be in such an influential environment.
I don’t mind the long days in order to gain such a worthwhile experience. One of the reasons I gravitated toward my degree program was because of the opportunity for professional experience. Now, as I’m in the midst of that experience, I am more than satisfied with my decision.