Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Careers: A learning experience in 'The Land of Fire'

Many SAIS students participate in study trips funded by academic concentrations. These trips, often to far-flung destinations, deepen students' understanding of key issues facing industries, institutions and policymakers in the relevant sectors and regions. Below, SAIS Bologna student Julia Heckmann writes about a recent trip she took to Azerbaijan with 13 other SAIS students.

Azerbaijan has both historical and contemporary significance in the upstream oil and gas sector. Its capital, Baku, is one of the birthplaces of the oil industry, and the recent development of the region’s offshore oil and gas fields and pipeline infrastructure has made Azerbaijan a focal point of the global energy market.

So I was very excited to participate in a recent five-day study trip to Baku. The trip was organized by a group of last year’s SAIS Bologna Center students who are concentrating in Energy, Resources and Environment (ERE), and it was funded by the ERE program.

Visiting SOCAR

The 14 of us explored Azerbaijan’s oil and gas sector and learned about the political challenges facing the industry by engaging with government institutions, industry representatives, diplomats, lobbyists and academics.

To get the most out of the trip and to prepare ourselves for our meetings, each student prepared background information on a specific topic or stakeholder ahead of the trip.

We started our week with a visit by to the headquarters of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR). The meeting gave us insight into the history of oil exploration in Azerbaijan, the prospects for new projects as well as the strategy and drivers that govern the company’s decision-making process.

Other visits included a tour of the Sengachal Terminal where offshore oil and gas is processed and sent off via pipelines, and a meeting with the head investor of the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ).

What does that spell?
We met U.S. Ambassador Richard Morningstar at the U.S. embassy where we discussed geopolitical and diplomatic issues, including the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagrono-Kharabach.

Besides looking at Azerbaijan through the ERE lens, we took in Azerbaijan’s culture, cuisine and natural beauty by visiting ancient rock carvings and mud volcanoes at Gobustan National Park. The natural gas fires around the “Fire Mountain” Yanar Dağ made it clear why Azerbaijan is called “the land of fire”.

The trip was both great fun and a learning experience. After visiting the country in person, experiencing the culture, seeing production sites with my own eyes and talking to stakeholders, I have an understanding of the region that I would not have gained by simply studying a text book.

Julia Heckmann (BC13/DC14)

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