Admissions blog

Postcard from Phnom Penh: Professional Year experience in Cambodia

Scenic views from the Bokor Mountain in Kampot, Cambodia.

Get to know Danial Riaz (MPP 2023), who spent a year in Phnom Penh working for the GIZ.

A Professional Year is an optional 9 to 15 month work placement between the first and second year of study at the Hertie School that MPP, MIA and MDS students can apply for to expand their professional networks and gain work experience during their master’s. Many students on a Professional Year work at private or public organisations in Germany or beyond and often obtain full-time positions at these same organisations after graduation. We spoke with Danial Riaz, an MPP student from Pakistan, about his Professional Year experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Read on to find out more!

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Danial. I am a current MPP student (2023) and I come from Pakistan. I completed my undergraduate degree in economics and philosophy, and then I worked in various private sector roles, most recently with a solar energy company back in Pakistan. There I worked on many energy projects in the renewable space, often with large cement or textile factories, and also with the provincial government bodies on some regional initiatives. After that, I began my MPP at the Hertie School with a focus on Policy Analysis. I have now completed my first year at Hertie and my Professional Year in Cambodia with the GIZ, a development service provider commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Why did you do a Professional Year?

First, as an international student it can be financially difficult at times, so getting the chance to save some money was important for me. Second, as I already had experience in the private sector, it was refreshing to work in development and see how different things are there. I also hadn’t worked with Germans before and I was curious to see what that would be like!

What did you work on during your Professional Year?

I worked in the GIZ’s Phnom Penh office on a multinational project called FABRIC, which focuses on improving the financial, environmental and social sustainability practices in the Asian textile industry. For example, we focused on fair purchasing practices and the minimum wage of factory workers; making workers aware of their employment rights; providing support mechanisms for women workers against abuse or sexual harassment; and driving initiatives in climate action, including greenhouse gas mitigation, wastewater management, chemical management and the overall energy efficiency of factories.

A photo from a denim factory that I got the chance to visit. 85% of the garment sector workers in Cambodia are women.

What were the highlights of your experience?

Traveling to a different country, meeting new people and experiencing a new culture were my highlights. I also got the chance to see the textile industry from different angles, because I previously only focused on the energy side of things. I was also lucky to take some training and certifications in chemical management and climate action. Overall, the experience was great.

What does an average day look like, and what’s it like living in Cambodia?

A typical day could involve getting up early, grabbing a tuk-tuk, or even renting a scooter to get to work. On the way, I would grab some breakfast. Cambodia is great for getting fresh coffee or juice in the morning from a market stall. Once in the office, I greeted my colleagues and usually used my morning to go through emails, while the early afternoon was for meetings. It also really depended on the project I was working on. After a long day, I always liked to get a fresh coconut on my way home.

The feeling in the capital city is very relaxed and chilled out. Surprisingly, I also found out that karaoke is a really popular thing there, even at 10 am. Sometimes I would hear someone singing karaoke while checking my emails in the morning. People there seemed very outgoing and expressive – at least musically.

I also loved trying all the tropical fruit, such as dragon fruit, passion fruit, mangosteen, rambutan and of course the infamous durian! I also took some time off to explore centuries-old temples and to learn about the country’s rich culture as well as its dark history involving the Khmer Rouge. There were some beautiful waterfalls and easy hikes that offered a great opportunity to bond with nature.

On the downside, there were a lot of mosquitos throughout the night! And also a lot of lizards if you have an issue with that, but I always escorted them politely outside of my room via my window.

Fresh tropical fruits were a major highlight of my time in Cambodia.

How did you get your Professional Year position?

Luckily, I already had a lot of experience working with the Asian garment industry before I came to Hertie, and I think my knowledge of this sector played a big part in helping me find this role.

It can be quite tough finding relevant opportunities for policy students. It’s very important to know the language requirements for different jobs, and Hertie does help distinguish between English and non-English speaking roles. I also got some support from the Careers Office during their office hours to get advice and new insights on my overall strategy in finding a Professional Year opportunity.

Practically speaking, I sent out lots of applications, including a CV and cover letter, to lots of open positions. For quite some time I was stressed that I wasn’t going to find a position, and then suddenly I was offered four within the GIZ. I had to do two interviews for my current role. It’s really just a case of being patient, playing your cards right, seeing what skills you have and what you can best offer to an employer.

What are your plans after graduating from the Hertie School?

I would be interested in sticking to the public or developmental sector. There are some challenges, however, for international students who want to find a job in these sectors primarily because such organizations strongly prefer hiring permanent staff domestically (or from within EU).

Working back home is also not very straightforward, as the public sector, at least in Pakistan’s case, is still unfortunately highly influenced by nepotism and corruption. It is not an ideal environment to aspire to work in after investing a lot in my education.

So I’m not 100% sure where I will end up, but the good thing about Hertie is that you can develop specialised skillsets – such as in health, energy or security – which can give you a big competitive advantage regardless of where you work in the future.

In one word, how would you describe your Professional Year?



Find out more about the Professional Year and how you can integrate work experience into your master's at the Hertie School.

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