Hannah Lewis

Geography with Spanish

Hannah is a geography with Spanish graduate. Her volunteering experience while at university paved the way for her current role as a student outreach co-ordinator for International Alert.

What is your current profession?

I work for International Alert as the Student Outreach Coordinator.

Describe your role.

I’m based in the training team at International Alert, which trains people interested in developing their practical skills for peace work. As student outreach coordinator I work with universities around the UK who offer courses to build up the practical element that these courses offer.

How did you get to be in your current role after leaving the University of Leeds?

After coming back from France (see below) I volunteered part-time for six months for Sustain, a sustainable food charity based in London. This was my first experience of working in an office, which was a huge life shock, but was completely necessary. I then found out about an internship scheme with Quaker Peace and Social Witness. They employ a small handful of potential peaceworkers each year, and then second the peaceworkers to other peace and justice organisations. I am one of this year’s recruits, so while I work at International Alert, I am actually an employee of QPSW.

What did you do immediately after leaving University?

I spent 2 ½ months volunteering on organic farms in France. It was a great chance to improve my French, learn more about agriculture and it gave me time to think about what I wanted to do next.

What did you do whilst studying that helped pave the way into your chosen career?

While I was studying I really wasn’t thinking at all about my career. I think diving into co-curricular activities was a great way to find out what I was interested in. I still don’t like to think of what I’m doing now as my ‘career’. So perhaps it was allowing me the freedom not to be bogged down with
the future that let me get on with what was actually interesting me at the time.

What skills and attributes did you develop as part of your course?

Of course there are so many skills and qualities which I developed throughout my course. There are academic skills like writing, analysing, debating etc, but also general skills like team work and communication. I remember towards the end of my third year really spending a lot of effort on an essay – I spent ages writing it, but was pleased with the essay when I had finished. I think it had something to do with gaining the confidence on a subject to then be able to write confidently about it. Studying Geography gave me a very broad outlook on world issues, which has given me the ability to understand systems and structures.

What skills and attributes did you develop from your co-curricular activities?

Outside academic work, I spent most of my time at Leeds in the Green Action Food Co-op. My years at Green Action were a very formative time for me: it was there that I developed my ecological lifestyle. Meeting other people with similar outlooks on life was a very affirming experience, and encouraged me to keep doing what I believed in.

What advice would you have for students studying today?

I really didn’t realise what a luxury studying was until I left. So I’d encourage students to make the most of that time, and really use the time to develop themselves academically and socially before they enter the world of work and have less time to do the things that really make them tick. A friend of mine also gave me a great piece of advice whilst I was in my third year. He had graduated a couple of years previously, and really encouraged me to have some kind of a plan for after the end of exams. I don’t think it’s important to plan for a long time ahead, but finishing uni can be pretty daunting, so having at least something concrete in the diary after the summer can make it easier to deal with.