Chris: British Council Future Leaders Scheme

Chris started working at British Council through the Future Leaders Scheme in 2013. Starting in London, Chris has now worked in Libya and Tunisia with British Council. 

"I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to hit the ground running" - Chris

Sitting in my apartment in Tripoli, Libya, after having to evacuate the British Council office in an armoured car following a security incident, I was wondering whether it was all worth it. Then the electricity cut off. Looking back though, I wouldn’t have changed my entering the British Council graduate scheme for anything.

When I heard about the British Council graduate scheme in early 2013, I was working as a Project Manager at a translation company in Leeds after finishing my MA in Translation Studies (Arabic>English) at Leeds University. Having been enamoured by the Middle East from an early age, I had also done a degree in Arabic at Exeter and become familiar with the seemingly interminable problems of the region that we so often see on the 10 o’clock news.

The scheme offered 11 graduates the chance to use their language and cultural awareness skills to land exciting and demanding roles in 10 countries around the world. The application process had several stages- first there were the online questions and psychometrics, followed by a telephone interview (tell me about a time when…), and then another in a foreign language. When you apply for the grad scheme, you have to apply for a particular country available, and you’ll need to have the language of that country if it is taught widely at UK universities. Otherwise you can take the foreign language tests in any language (there was a guy who was applying for the position in Bangladesh but did the language tests in Chinese- the point being that you show you could easily pick up the local language).

Following the telephone interview I did in Arabic, I took 2 written exams including writing a business proposal in Arabic, and then there followed the assessment centre in London. After being ushered in a room and given a fictitious scenario of a development project in Africa, an actress entered the room and took the role of social entrepreneur. Having to convince her how to run her project while acting was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, but as I suspected, the observer was looking out for signs of cultural awareness and negotiation skills. In any British Council offices you will see referencing to ‘valuing difference’ and ‘connecting cultures’. Indeed, the British Council is the UK’s cultural relations organisation although it is most widely known outside the UK for teaching English. This focus on cultural diplomacy as a means of ‘soft power’ was what intrigued me about the Council’s work and joining the grad scheme. Alongside politics, so much can be achieved in society, arts and education projects- the three areas the British Council works in.

One of the most interesting things I’ve done is to lead two delegations of Libyan professors and Higher Education representatives on tours of universities in Scotland and England to discuss opportunities for partnerships. I also got to help out on the Libyan street theatre project, an initiative supported by the EU and aimed at bringing the arts to the public. This culminated in a performance by the newly-trained actors at the Greenwhich+Docklands International Festival in June.

Alongside project work, I also had the opportunity to get involved in the roll out and maintenance of the British Council’s new website offering in Libya. These gave me invaluable skills that I’ll be able to take forward to use on other digital projects.

Unfortunately the security situation in Libya has not improved a great deal, and I was recently moved to Tunis. The British Council is truly a global organisation and I look forward to continuing with exciting projects in the field of higher education. Politically and socially (beaches and sunshine anyone?), Tunisia is an exciting place to be. It is where the Arab Spring first started, and the future looks promising. The British Council has a lot to offer here and I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to hit the ground running through the graduate scheme. 

The Future Leaders Scheme is aimed at for UK young professionals. Work abroad opportunities for students and recent grads can be found on our website