Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Careers: a trip to the European Union's capital

Streets, buildings and gardens covered with snow; restaurants offering seafood delicacies and local pubs serving 200 types of beer; chocolate fountains and abundant selections of cacao products; the smell of freshly baked Belgian waffles in the metro station.

A fairytale? No. That is what we discovered on a trip to Brussels during the semester break this winter.

The journey did not aim merely to unravel the culinary and cultural secrets of the European Union’s capital. We traveled north to Brussels to get a taste of the lobbying and policy-making at the heart of the EU. The Brussels career trip, organized annually by the Career Services Office at SAIS Bologna, offers a great opportunity to all EU and non-EU citizens to discover first-hand what it feels like to work in an EU institution, an NGO or a think tank.

Meera Shankar, director of Career Services, likes to arrange the trip so it falls right after first semester finals. That way students interested in doing an internship in Brussels over the summer can have an adequate amount of time to gather information and plan applications to the institutions of their choice.

We had a pretty tight agenda for our two-day trip. We visited eight organizations:

  • European External Action Service
  • European Policy Center
  • International Crisis Group
  • NATO Parliamentary Assembly
  • Fipra
  • Burson-Marsteller
  • Bruegel
  • European Union Institute for Security Studies

This gave us insight into an amalgam of organizations operating in different spheres: policy-makers, lobbyists, consultants and conflict management experts.

As a European Studies concentrator at SAIS, I was most interested in the European External Action Service. I had researched the Service and presented my findings to my SAIS peers before the trip -- just as they researched the other organizations and shared their summaries.

I very much appreciated this part of the preparation process as it gave me a good sense of how each of the different organizations operate, increasing my confidence during the meetings and allowing me to ask good questions. And as future SAISers will understand, learning how to ask the right questions is a crucial skill for a graduate student.

Katerina in front of the European Commission
In addition to the meetings with the organizations, we were able to meet SAIS alumni who organized a special dinner for us. Many alumni from the SAIS chapter in Brussels came, providing us with a good networking opportunity. It was helpful and more than a bit of a relief to hear others’ success stories and tips on how to climb the ladder once graduate school is over.

We current SAISers were happy to hear from others who were in our shoes only a few years ago and who had got off on the right foot in their professions. We left Brussels convinced we will be able to do the same.

Everyone could use a bit of reassurance once in a while, right?

Katerina Lovtchinova (BC13)

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