François-Guillaume Jaeck was an LFS student for 10 years. He prepared the French baccalaureate with the Chinese international option and graduated in 2013. Based in South Sudan, he’s joining us today to share his story.
Hi François-Guillaume, thank you for taking the time to meet up online today. Currently in Asia for a holiday, we are quite lucky to be on the same time zone. That’s not where you live though, right?
No, I’m enjoying some time off in Asia to see friends and family but I live and work in South Sudan, which is in Eastern Africa.
What do you do there? How long have you been based in South Sudan?
I have been working in South Sudan with a United Nations agency which is called International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for two years.
How has your background impacted your decision to go to South Sudan?
If someone had asked me four years ago if I would go live in South Sudan at some point in my life, I wouldn’t have known how to answer. I made this decision when I was finishing my previous mission and needed to jump onto a new one.
I’ve always wanted to do a job that would mix compassion, action, and adventure. Many jobs offer this combo, outside of humanitarian work. But I think the socio-political aspect and the particularities of a humanitarian job played a key role in my decision. I had to make some choices. At some point, I wanted to become a vet. (Laughs)
I decided to take a different path, and when I started my bachelor’s in Burmese and Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, my interest for humanitarian work really increased. I was able to spend a year abroad in Burma (Myanmar) and had the opportunity to do an internship in development in Vietnam. I also volunteered in Thailand before settling in Yangon, Burma where I did an internship with the European Union.
When I went back to London to finish my bachelor’s, I did one more humanitarian internship in London, before starting a master’s in Conflict, Security and Development at King’s College London. That is when I felt like I really wanted to go back to Myanmar, as I had fallen in love with the country. I went to Thailand to find a job and then started an internship with the IOM in their regional office in Bangkok. I was sent to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh six months later, to work in the Rohingya refugees’ camps. I started specialising in camps coordination and management and was able to maintain a close bond with Myanmar, because a lot of the refugees came from Rakhine, a state in Western Myanmar. Burmese was very useful, and I learned a lot about camps management, community engagement, and emergency work. When I saw there was the opportunity to work in South Sudan two years later, I applied for the position and was transferred.
There are several units within the organisation in South Sudan, each of them specialises in one specific theme. I mostly work around managing and organising camps for the country’s internal deplaced people.
What are the things you love about your job and those you find challenging?
I love my job for many reasons. I am not someone who enjoys spending my whole day in an office. Adventure and working in the field are important to me. Plus, time flies when you work outside. (Laughs) It is a job which allows us to work with the people we must serve. I love having the possibility to travel, to reach places which usually would be difficult to access.
You directly work with local communities affected by different conflicts, natural disasters, where political contexts do not help them. It is a personal objective close to my heart. It is a privilege to be filled with humility, to be moved, and inspired by the compassion, the strength and resilience of the communities with whom you work. We learn everyday and try to make an impact.
There are also challenges. It is often difficult to separate the humanitarian aid from the political context of the world and the country you work in. It can be frustrating to face political realities.
These frustrations sometimes make us forget the initial reason why we do what we do. We have to remember why we do this type of job, and how we can make a difference at our level.
Life conditions can sometimes be difficult depending on where we work. Accessing health care, curfews, and lifestyles strongly vary from one country to another. Personally, I think we face regional political instabilities in South Sudan. Our environment can be hostile, and life quite austere, which doesn’t necessarily help to reach a balanced lifestyle.
Sanitary crises exist in different parts of the country (cholera, hepatitis B due to stagnant waters, malaria due to mosquitoes). The further away we are from the capital, the lesser present the government is. There is a mix of issues but the country’s government, the partnered governments, the local and international NGOs, and the UN agencies all work to find solutions.
I feel lucky to have the possibility to travel a lot, and I was based in the North of the country for 8-9 months.
How was your experience at LFS? What memories do you have of your education here?
I like being honest on my opinions (Laughs), but I must admit I absolutely adored my time at Shanghai French School. I was very lucky to study there between 2003 and 2013. I remember my first 2 or 3 years were spent in the old school on Jinhui Road. When we arrived on Qingpu campus, it was simply incredible. LFS was truly a positive experience for me.
How did the school encourage and help your development?
I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of the French system at the time, I found it too rigid and too supervised, but now, I realise I was lucky to be so supported by the school team. I was in OIB Chinese (French baccalaureate with an international Chinese option), I was in a good class. I am half-French half-Taiwanese, so I really had to perfect my Chinese, it was important for me and my family. Classes at LFS are of high quality. We were truly lucky to have teachers so engaged with their students. Sometimes it was difficult, but we were always supported.
I also enjoyed the extracurricular activities. We played music, we had a band, and a rehearsal studio. The school had football and rugby teams, we also had access to the swimming pool. We had many things to do outside of class.
What pieces of advice would you give the students who will read us?
I think you need to be ambitious while remaining humble and remember that age doesn’t always mean you know better. You must keep learning, keep asking yourself questions. You will find some answers quickly and will struggle to find others.
I would also recommend not to overthink what job you want to do later. Don’t close doors by trying to find “the” job. What helped me was not to wonder what job I wanted to do, but more so what difference I wanted to make in the world at my level. I wanted to help people, and many jobs lead to that: you can become a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. Many doors open when you keep an open mind.
If you had one life advice to give your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
(Laughs) That’s difficult. I would probably give myself a similar advice. I would tell myself not to only focus on class councils in High School. I would listen to myself, be ambitious, but most importantly, I would remain humble, whatever I decide to do. You should always remember how lucky you are to be where where you are. Humility and ambition are both possible.