Alumni Spotlight: Marina Muñoz del Valle on her journey in Humanitarian Assistance and Migration

Black and white picture of Marina in a parc

Name: Marina del Valle Munoz

Year: 2018 

Major: World Politics 

Currently: Camp Coordination and Camp Management Reporting, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

Athéna: Hello Marina and thanking you for sitting with us today! For the ones who don’t know Marina, she graduated in 2018 in World Politics and is now working at IOM. Could you tell us how you got there and what you have been up to since you left LUC?

Marina: After LUC, I moved to Kenya where I did an internship for six months at the Spanish Embassy. There I touched a bit upon every single area of the embassy such as the consulate, political section and provided support to the Permanent Representative for Spain at UNEP and UN-Habitat. This rotation mechanism allowed me to get involved in the different aspects of working at an embassy, which was a very enriching experience. At the time, I was considering becoming a diplomat, which in Spain takes at least four years of preparation prior to taking the public servant exam. For this reason, this experience was crucial for me to figure out if this was the direction I wanted to take.

After six months, I got an internship with the World Food Program (WFP) at the Regional Bureau for Central and East Africa under the External Partnerships Unit. My main tasks there involved monitoring funding shortfalls for the different projects that were being implemented in different countries in East Africa. Comparing both of my experiences, I realized that I didn’t want to take a diplomatic path and that I was actually really interested in humanitarian assistance and migration issues, which was something I already started to explore academically during my time at LUC. 

So I took the next step and did an MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development at SOAS in London. It was a great experience, as it allowed me to combine study and analysis of perspectives on development and their relation to the increasingly important field of migration studies. This was an interesting combination with my previous studies at LUC, majoring in World Politics, which allowed me to better understand the shape of political relations and their connection to peace and security issues; while Minoring in Anthropology during my semester abroad in the University of Sydney, Australia.

As I was finishing my master’s, COVID hit and luckily, I managed to get an internship at IOM in London.
I worked under DTM (Displacement Tracking Matrix Unit), which is a unit focused on data analytics of migration flows. This gave me quantitative skills that I got to combine with my more theoretical background on migration. Overall, I was monitoring the needs and mobility flows of Venezuelan migrants in 17 countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region. After finishing my internship, I got hired as an associate and continued working there for a year.

From there I moved with IOM to South Sudan to work with a different unit called CCCM (Camp Coordination and Camp Management). Our work there is mainly focused on the coordination of services from other partners in order to ensure equitable access to assistance and protection for all IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) living inside of camps in South Sudan while seeking durable solutions after displacement. My main tasks for this unit are to create reporting products as well as develop and conduct monitoring and evaluation plans to guarantee that our projects are having the intended impact in the communities living in the camps.

Marina and her co-worker at Bentiu IDP site

Athéna: Before we talk more about what you are currently doing, let’s go back to how you have combined your master’s with an internship. Was that difficult to handle? Especially in times of COVID, would you recommend doing this? 

Marina: So I was finishing my master’s, I was actually in the middle of my finals and still had my thesis left to write when I started my internship, which was challenging for sure. At the same time, I thought it was a really good opportunity as I always wanted to work for IOM after my studies and I was really interested in the position offered. So if it’s a position that is aligned with your master’s and your ambitions, I would definitely recommend doing it. I am not saying it will be easy but to me, I think it’s very important to apply the theory you’re learning in the real world. It’s completely different when you see how development, humanitarian aid and migration issues come together in the work environment. But I won’t lie, it was an overwhelming experience and it required some sacrifices.
I only did it because it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Athéna: Going back to what you are doing now in South Sudan, what is the main skill needed in your current work? 

Marina: In short, I would say qualitative and quantitative analysis but also project implementation and project development skills, suited to humanitarian context with an emergency focus. In an emergency crisis, it works differently than other contexts that are perhaps more development-focused. It’s really fast-paced, you have to adapt to needs that keep changing. Sometimes it’s difficult to evaluate projects that started with certain conditions that are not a reality when you try to implement your final monitoring and evaluation plan to see if you have met the targets established. So I would say it is also important to be flexible and be able to quickly adapt.

Athéna: Looking at your experiences, would you say that you were well equipped when you came out of LUC to face the challenges of each of your work experiences? 

Marina: LUC’s interdisciplinary curriculum really helped me to combine my fields of interest.

For instance, during my exchange in Australia I was able to focus on ethnic relations and anthropology studies. This was not only complementary to my courses in World Politics but has also been useful for the rest of my academic studies and now my professional experience.

I also see it in my work every day. The issues that we are facing are highly interdisciplinary. They are influenced by different factors such as climate change, lack of resources, political/ethnic conflict, et cetera.
For this reason, I think interdisciplinarity in studies is a necessity, not an option anymore. 

Lastly, LUC has also encouraged me to develop my critical thinking which is of extreme importance for example in the context that I am here when you need to respond to emergency needs and you have to come up with solutions on the spot. 

Athéna: What has been your most impactful work experience until now? 

Marina: All of them were impactful in some way. They prepare you for the next step, but working in the field, in a humanitarian context is a whole different experience.

When I started working for IOM, I was working remotely, creating reports but not being in the field and country itself. I wasn’t present when data collection was being conducted, I was simply working with the information that I was getting from the field. Now, working from the South Sudan office, I am part of every single step of my work.
I really see the impact that IOM can have as well as the realities of how things work in the field, which can be different from what one can picture when working from headquarters.

Athéna: How did you decide to go on the field after working in London? 

Marina: Since I became interested in migration issues, I always wanted to get field experience. As it is challenging, I wanted to do it when I was young and for a certain period of time. It’s not an easy environment to work in, especially when you are in regions where the government lacks accountability and there’s an ongoing conflict that jeopardises security. But overall, a field office is where you learn the most in my opinion, because as I said, it’s when you see first-hand how the projects are being developed. When you work in HQ, you don’t live the reality of the context you are supporting so it is also harder to understand what is needed, how to plan and implement changes when needed. So I didn’t want to be detached from reality, I wanted to see and understand the context itself from the ground. I would recommend this experience to anyone interested in pursuing their career in the humanitarian sector, at least to do it once, if they can.

Marina and her co-workers from IOM at Bentiu IDP site after the handover of a canoe for the women leaders group to face the current flooding

Athéna: Looking back on all of your experiences, what advice would you give to recent graduates and alumni? 

Marina: If you are coming out of university and are maybe panicking because you don’t know where to start, I would advise to not jump straight into a Master’s. I didn’t jump into my masters directly and took one year to work and try things I was interested in. I think it’s really important to get one year of experience doing whatever you feel like doing, exploring anything that interests you and try to understand where you would want to go next. Try out different things, learn new skills, meet new people and don’t panic. 

Athéna: Yes because as you said this is how you figured the master’s you were interested in and that your initial idea didn’t interest you anymore?

Marina: Yes, maybe if I hadn’t taken some time off, I would be studying to become a diplomat! Maybe after two years, I would have realized it wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t even be sharing my journey now. But I had the time to try new fields and find something that resonated with my values and interests. I am really happy to be working in the humanitarian sector and get a very hands-on experience at the moment.

To be honest, I have learned that taking time is key. After high school, I started directly studying a Chemistry degree, even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to study that. In Spain, taking a gap year is not as common as in other places in Europe so I did not even consider it an option. After a year I realized chemistry was really not for me and started considering other options through friends that were studying abroad. This is how I made my way to LUC!
So think about what you want to do, why you want to do it and try out/experience the practical side of what you academically studied before deciding what you want to do next.

Athéna: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story Marina!
Don’t hesitate to reach out to Marina if you’re interested in humanitarian work and migration issues. 

This post was part of a larger series of “portraits” of Alumni. Want to be featured, have questions for Marina, or about alumni in general?
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