Preparing for Takeoff: My Workplace Adjustment in Durban, South Africa

By Layla Clarkson

There’s a feeling I get before taking off on a plane. It’s a feeling of excitement and eagerness to get going and move forward towards what’s to come.

Greeted by the sunrise on my descent into South Africa

When I found about the work I would be doing with the Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE), which is part of the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, South Africa, I had that feeling I get before I take off on a plane. MILE is a city learning initiative that among many roles helps to bring government departments together on shared city issues, as well as partnering with academic intuitions to encourage knowledge exchange and knowledge management.

This feeling I’ve mentioned was routed in excitement and eagerness to get started on my main project at MILE. As explained to me at the start of my internship, my main project is to create a discussion document that relates the MILE Durban and the CityStudio Vancouver models. For reference, CityStudio is an innovation hub that brings together city staff, students and community members to develop city projects. In my first week at work however, my supervisor encouraged me to take some time to settle in and get to know the office before I started my main project. Consequently, I spent time studying the ins and outs of the MILE website as well as reading materials that MILE had published.

All smiles with the MILE team

As my first couple weeks continued I found myself committing to roles unrelated to my main project, such as helping out with MILE events. For example, I assisted with a Postgraduate Research Support Workshop series. This workshop series helps city officials who are doing Masters and PhD programs prepare for success in their degrees, including instruction on the value of academic research, how to write a thesis proposal, and data collection.

Another event I helped with was part of a series called the Built Environment Series (BESS). BESS aims to forge a closer relationship between MILE’s academic partners and city officials. The BESS model spotlights a ‘thought leader’ who presents a provocative paper to an audience of city officials, postgraduate students, and academics. One of my key roles for the seminar was helping to create a report after the event called a Learning Note. Learning Notes give an opportunity to analyze, reflect, and assess the impact of an event.

MILE has many workshops and seminars in effort to bring together city staff from various departments. I even got the chance to present some data that I analyzed on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at one of these sessions.

Presenting at a MILE Brown Bag session on the SDGs

Focusing on these other roles, I have actually only just started doing preliminary research for my main project that I was so eager to dive into at the beginning of my internship. Unexpectedly, I actually feel more prepared to work on it now that I have a greater understanding of MILE through taking on additional roles and seeing MILE’s work in action for the past two months. On top of that, I have been able to get more settled into Durban and unpack some of the complexities in the city which positions me to have a greater foundation for setting the context and relevance of the project.

It looks like now I am finally at the takeoff point for my main project at MILE. I still have the eagerness that I had in my first week, but I also have something I didn’t have entirely before: the preparation and understanding to move forward.

Durban, South Africa



One thought on “Preparing for Takeoff: My Workplace Adjustment in Durban, South Africa

  1. Jane

    Very thought provoking and insightful article, Layla. The understanding you have achieved will be a valuable learning for others just entering the field of international work and demonstrates your openess and capacity for self- reflection. Thanks for sharing! Jane McRae

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