Mathilde is a “small woman with many multitasking responsibilities in spite of her young age”. Somehow she was confused about what path to follow, but she always was oriented to move abroad from France to make her career and life a reflection of her principles and values; she likes intercultural linkage, she spent a lot of time living and working in Brazil in the field of Finance and also in Tourism, and she studied hard to achieve her goals and to become the person she is today: a volunteer in a focused Programme for the development of South Africa.
When we spoke to her we found an interesting point of view that could reflect the perspective of a lot of us, young people, who would like to change the world for the better, but, somehow, we do not know where to begin; maybe that happens thanks to fear that we cannot know where we will end, but, as we usually say, “the greatest beauty resides in our experiences out of our comfort zone” – and Mathilde is one of those amazing young people who has made the greatest decision of her life to this point.
Hello, Mathilde. Could you introduce yourself and let us know what dreams you were having a few years ago, when you were still studying, and who are you today?
I am simply Mathilde, I am French, 27 years old, with a lot of ambition but with a human touch with people. I studied international business in Paris, a career that led me to my current job. I have always been passionate about exploring the world, ever since I was a kid, because my parents always brought my sister and me with them when they were traveling. In my studies, whenever I could, I tried to travel as much as possible. This is why I decided to go to Madrid to study for 6 months through the Erasmus Programme, in 2008. This gave me the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world, I made really good friends, and it really enlarged my horizons.
To finish, I also did an internship in Rio de Janeiro, before I came back to Paris to finish my studies. Just after I graduated I found a temporary job in Rio de Janeiro, and then I got back to France. A few months ago I went to South Africa for a French Programme called VIE, in order to develop a French company for 1 or 2 years. Somehow, my dream is on the right path now.
During your studies: which challenges did you face? What obstacles did you have to overcome? Five years ago, while still a full-time student: would you imagine that you would be living in an environment as different as Africa, far away from Europe?
I think the most difficult thing as a young person is to choose what you really want to do. At the age of 26, I still do not know exactly what I would like to do; I have dreams, objectives, and ideas, but not a clear focus. I know that I want to have several jobs, for example, and this is why I did an international business school, which prepares you for different kinds of work and job environments, and teaches you a way to think in addition to instilling academic knowledge. So I would say the most difficult thing would be to choose your studies, and stay focused on it, above all with the huge variety in Europe today. I already knew that I would live in another country, it has always been my vision, so 5 years ago I just knew it; the “where” was a question mark, but I am happy with what I do currently.
Why did you choose this job exactly? Do you see yourself working for a long time in this field?
I chose this job because it gave me the opportunity to go to South Africa, which is a big challenge and even bigger responsibility too since I am the one who is launching the company in Southern Africa. There is a lot of work to do, and if I do not go to work, nothing works – it is systematic. I like feeling this way: being busy, focused, centered, and completely devoted to my mission, and this is why I would not skip a day of it. I love what I do, so it is not an effort, but a pleasure. However, I am working in the mining sector, this is not a sector where I will be working again, it is very masculine and very technical for me – but the skills I am developing are really high level.
Tell us something about South Africa: how life looks there? How do young people live there?
There is a clear difference between people who were born under apartheid as opposed to those born after it, we are assisting in a really important change now in South Africa: people mix much more than they used to do and they are anyway open to foreigners. It is a really interesting process which teaches me about integration and international cooperation. But there is still a very heavy hangover from the apartheid period that can be seen in a lot of different ways, including for young people.
How do you get in touch with people there? Is it difficult to form ties?
I do not have any colleague here since I am the only one here from the company. I have met with a few young people, but it is still hard to share things since our lives are so different one from another. It is very interesting to chat about education and our feelings regarding apartheid for example, and when we have the chance to get in touch I admit it is extremely nice and pleasant.
Give us an example of your life there – do you travel a lot? Do you have free time to spend socially?
I am traveling very often. Here we have a lot of options in terms of trips for weekends, from snorkeling to safari. It is unbelievable and I am feeling so lucky to have the opportunity to be able to discover so many different and beautiful places. Spending the weekend in Johannesburg is really good too, it is full of surprises, there are always some options in terms of exhibitions, parties, or social events.
And here a common question (maybe): don’t you miss your family and friends?
I miss my family but I cannot describe my feeling here, honestly. I am really feeling free, more adult and responsible than before; somehow I changed, I became a woman. I handle my life the way I want to, I am trying a lot of different activities: dancing, painting, music … I will come back to Paris one day but not immediately. I still need time to discover the beauty of these lands.
How would you encourage young people or recent graduates to take an opportunity similar to yours?
The program I am doing is a VIE Programme: every European can do it, we have a very interesting status, we are paid in Euros, our living quality is incredible and the skills you gain are priceless, believe me. I really encourage every young European to apply for similar opportunities. It is only available once in our lives, and we get a wonderful chance to meet new people and discover new countries.
South Africa is a very beautiful country to live in. I immediately felt at home here. People are helpful, nice, and gentle, but we always need to keep in mind that our background and culture are very different. I would not change my life for any other, and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to have such an amazing experience, as each one of us can do.
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