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Lawrence Robinson (Arabic, German and Middle Eastern Studies - Flexible Combined Honours 2014).

Catching up with Alumnus Lawrence Robinson

Lawrence works with the Refugee Hub as Senior Policy Co-ordinator for the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. His role involves working to bring new, more sustainable and reliable models of refugee protection to Europe and other countries. Here he tells us what he’s been doing since graduating and reflects on the highlights of his studies at Exeter and the skills and experiences it gave him.

Immediately after graduating from Exeter in 2014, I went to Morocco to work as a teacher in a small English language school in the north of the country. One year later I moved to New York and began engaging in more and more work in the field of human rights and social justice. I volunteered for one year with an Arab American community organisation and then had the chance to undertake internships with organisations working on conflict prevention at the United Nations. I was fortunate to come by a professional opportunity working to build coalitions of NGOs to protect civilians from armed conflict through advocacy towards the UN. With this experience I decided to develop my knowledge further and pursue a Master’s degree in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University.

The programme allowed me to read widely on issues of human rights law, practice and policy, as well as to conduct field research in Tunisia on the transitional justice process. After helping Physicians for Human Rights to establish an advocacy department in New York, I moved back to Europe to support the development of refugee sponsorship programmes across Europe with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (GRSI). In this role I serve as the Senior Policy Coordinator for the Refugee Hub within the GRSI’s multi-stakeholder partnership.

During my time at Exeter, particularly with studies on the Middle East and North Africa region, I was exposed to discussions on democratisation, human rights, and social justice, particularly during my year abroad in Egypt in 2011/2012. I developed an interest in exploring work in the NGO sector and was fortunate to have opportunities to explore work in the field of international human rights advocacy, research and policy. In my work I most enjoy working to create strong partnerships. Generating positive and sustainable change requires a range of actors and healthy collaboration between them if it is to be successful. I most enjoy the parts of my work that are geared towards long-term success in that they are based in this spirit of healthy partnership and collaboration. Relatedly, I also enjoy having the chance to meet and learn from so many leading activists and thought leaders driving for change in their communities. The regular exchange of ideas and spirit of continuous learning are critical parts of the work and areas I try to embrace and enjoy.

In my programme I enjoyed the opportunity to take intensive Arabic classes, including my Year Abroad in Egypt, and the opportunities at Exeter to build on those experiences in the MENA region with academic courses that were up to date with relevant socio-political developments in the region. My Arabic classes connected clearly with my courses on social and political issues in the MENA region, allowing for a holistic learning experience that brought together studies on language, culture, society and politics creating a multi-dimensional academic experience that was critical to my approach to future learning processes. The stand-out highlight of my degree programme was the year abroad segment in Cairo, Egypt 2011/2012. My year group was very fortunate to have the chance to study in the region immediately after the emergence of the 2010/2011 revolutionary movements. We had intensive Arabic courses in Egyptian dialect and modern standard Arabic allowing us to engage with the country and the dynamic conversations that Egyptians were having after the fall of Mubarak.

Exeter offered one of the most reputable Arabic courses in the UK and also the most flexibility through the Flexible Combined Honors programme. Exeter allowed me to design my ideal programme and range of courses across German, Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. I was able to design an engaging and unique academic programme that catered exactly towards my learning objectives and to also explore new areas that broadened my awareness and outlook. I found my lecturers to be really invested in my learning process and always happy to help with my engagement with the course content. The Exeter campus, and particularly the Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, also offers a really welcoming and engaging space for learning and general student life.

I do not have to use my Arabic skills and my knowledge on the MENA region in my day-to-day work, but those learning processes have been essential to my career in human rights advocacy and policy. Most critically, the courses and learning processes encouraged me to read and consult widely which are critical skills for my work in partnership-building, research and advocacy. Language skills beyond their practical use also signal an openness and meaningful interest in international cooperation which is becoming ever more critical to most careers, but especially in international human rights work, which rests on international connections and global thinking.

To enter into the international human rights sector, I think it’s important to read widely and take advantage of any available learning opportunities, both academically and in practice. The field is at is best when it is continuously listening, and so this trait of learning is critical to successful work. Entering into the field can be the hardest aspect there is an all too exclusive entry path that rests on personal connections and previous experience. Therefore, while it is important to invest in academic experience and critical thinking, it is also essential to pursue any and all opportunities to gain practical experience and develop connections to people working in the sector.

I am not sure what my plans for the future are. I am trying to enjoy and actively engage in the work that I am doing currently: working to bring new, more sustainable and reliable models of refugee protection to Europe and other countries.

Date: 15 February 2021