My Summer in Kabul

by on September 12th, 2012

Can you even call Afghanistan an “emerging market”? Hopefully, eventually, it will emerge.

As I reflect on my summer internship with Roshan, Afghanistan’s leading telecommunications operator, one thing clearly stands out: I learned more in the 10 weeks in Kabul than I did in the three years working prior to HBS.  If you’re considering an internship in an emerging market, jump in with both feet! Professionally, because resources are limited, you will get a tremendous amount of experience, in a wide range of topics and more responsibility than in a similar internship or job elsewhere.

And as if the professional lessons weren’t enough, the education about your personal life will be unparalleled. This summer experience was a crash course in what is truly necessary for my survival and happiness.

Happiness in Kabul became so much about managing expectations and finding pleasure in small things. For example, Alice Heathcote (OF) and I found happiness in a quick trip to the “gourmet” grocery store in search of smoked salmon: an opportunity to leave the compound, an opportunity to eat something different, an adventure!  The happier expats seemed to be those who built a life for themselves in Kabul, rather than spending hours each day staying connected with life at “home”.

As I consider post-graduation options, surprisingly I find myself needing to consider my personal life in addition to my professional one. All through LEAD I dreaded the days we spoke about work-life balance. Didn’t we come to HBS to focus on the work side?  My section-mates often heard me groan “take the ‘life’ conversations elsewhere!”

However, this summer painted a different picture: can I face having only a professional life? At Roshan I had a tremendous amount of professional satisfaction – the impact an ambitious HBS intern/graduate can make in an emerging market is measured hourly, not monthly or annually. The appreciation for going above and beyond comes from all angles, including straight from the CEO; and the office-politics are the best adrenaline rush I have ever experienced.

All this makes me want to jump at the opportunity, but I am cautioning myself to seriously consider giving up so much of my treasured personal freedom.

It’s natural to have anxieties while deciding to pursue career opportunities far from the comforts of home and the well-structured professional environments to which many of us are accustomed. But what better way to test yourself than with an internship?  10 weeks…10 weeks!  You can do anything for 10 weeks.  It’s not often we get to make such soft commitments in life, especially while also receiving an accompanying reward of such immense learning opportunities about so many elements of your life.  In fact, if you can survive 10 days on the Lebanon trek, trust me… you can survive 10 weeks in an emerging market.

N.B.: Roshan, Afghanistan’s leading telecommunications provider, is majority owned and operated by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.  Its priorities include the social and economic development of Afghanistan through Afghanization of its workforce and infrastructure and community investment.  The EC course Business at the Base of the Pyramid includes a case on Roshan.

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