Diversity is strength
For many young people, becoming a legal practitioner would be their dream job, but Obert Hodzi was not satisfied. He continued his education in Germany and by the time he received a Master’s degree in governance and civil society, he was already filling important positions, such as political risk analyst in South Africa, transitional justice programme officer and governance programme advisor in Zimbabwe.
Frustrated by media representations of Africa and its relations to China and the world, he wanted to understand the sources and motivations for those representations. This led him to applying for a PhD Fellowship at Lingnan University, attracted by a smaller student-professor ratio and enchanted by the university’s architecture and beautiful campus.
To capitalise on his previous research on conflict and security and China’s role in the global security governance, he chose the topic of Rising powers and foreign intrastate armed conflicts: Trends and patterns of China’s intervention in African civil wars. At the same time, he also maintained research interests in democracy, governance and transitional justice.
“For me these are not just fields of research, they reflect my background as a Zimbabwean and the challenges that developing countries face. I see my research on these areas as my humble contribution to resolving global and domestic conflicts and security challenges,” he explains.
At Lingnan, he was warmly received by his supervisors, who introduced him to Hong Kong, and the ease of communication, the proximity and accessibility of the university management and leadership helped him to form lasting relations.
“It’s probably one of the few universities [in the world] where students can meet and chat with the university’s president on campus,” he says. He was also inspired by the collegial and student focused department of political science, where the professors spoke about their fields of expertise in a way that non-experts could understand.
“Regarding my research, they encouraged me when I felt I was not making progress and, at the same time, they challenged me to achieve the highest standard possible,” Hodzi says.
In spite of his expertise and in-depth experience, Hodzi was not safe from bouts of worry and a lack of self-confidence. “At times when I seemed not to be making any progress, feelings of inadequacy crept in. The thought that I might not be good enough is what I think was my biggest challenge,” he says. His wife, also a student at Lingnan, friends and the local church offered him a social support system that helped him to unwind, refocus and gain confidence.
He took turns with his friends from Hong Kong, Ghana, Sweden and Ethiopia to host dinner parties and took late-night walks at the Harbour. “My friends also proved to be a great source of encouragement when moments of doubt came - so I would say [my social life] was wonderful,” he says.
As a post-doctoral researcher at the department of world cultures, University of Helsinki, Finland, he had the opportunity to spend up to three months at renowned universities, such as the Renmin University in Beijing, The Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden and the African Studies Centre, Boston University, where he launched his first book last year: The end of China’s non-intervention policy in Africa.
His post-doctoral research grant is coming to an end this summer, but he can proudly look back on results in researching China-Africa security relations, Chinese outbound tourism to Africa and the Chinese model of development in Africa. He also developed and taught three courses.
The experienced researcher says, while doing his PhD, he got a senior research assistant position at Baptist University in Hong Kong, which was linked to his PhD research. In addition, he started writing his thesis in the first year, writing about 500 words every day.
“This will help you avoid pressure at the end and will free up some time for you to work on other projects that might add value to your PhD. So my advice is, start writing early and write every day!” he says, adding that competition for post-doctoral positions is becoming tougher and might require a couple of published papers apart from the PhD.
“Also, think carefully about the after-PhD life while you are doing your PhD and, if you want to continue in academia, have a research plan in place,” he advises.
Thinking back, the most important thing he has learned at such a truly international place is that diversity is strength, as students, academics and administrative staff worked in a team, supporting and motivating each other.