Thursday, May 1, 2014

The pull of Bologna and making connections

Some 300 alumni returned to SAIS Europe this past weekend to reconnect with classmates and faculty, rediscover the charms of Bologna in the spring and meet current students. Below, Leah Ewald writes about one of the highlights of the weekend -- career panels hosted by alumni and attended by students keen to widen their horizons and learn about job opportunities.

The noise level in the lobby was deafening.

SAIS Europe alumni and students were congregating before heading to classrooms for career chats. Fifty-one alumni had volunteered to speak to students about their career experiences, and we had to turn away many more due to lack of space. More than half the student body had signed up for the sessions.

As Career Services student assistants helping to set up the sessions, four of us set a record for the number of hours on our time sheets that week.

Alumnus Brano Kralik (BC09/DC10) leading a session on 
"International Development - Monitoring and Evaluation"
I learned three things from the experience:

  1. Kathleen, our student Excel instructor, is some kind of wizard. Figuring out how to get 200 people into the right place at the right time requires a lot of math and a vector map. Squinting at her jumble of dots, squares and tangled black lines, we managed to sort all the students into the panels they requested -- seven hours later.
  2. As spacious and shiny as this building is, there are not quite enough rooms to comfortably host 26 panels. So we began cramming as many people as we could into the offices of our professors and administrative staff. Accessing your seat required yoga pants in some cases. At one point Kathleen and I considered how many people we might fit into a closet.
  3. Our alumni are wonderful. In the weeks leading up to the panels, we emailed them a thousand times requesting biographical information, schedule information and requests that they get out of bed at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning to talk to us. We folded them into small spaces and changed the schedule twice, and no one had a single complaint. I attended two panels -- one on Global Health & Development and one on Development & Access to Water in Conflict Zones -- and was met with frank guidance, smiling faces and warm handshakes. I was told I could always ask a bolognese alumnus for advice. From the encounters I have had, I earnestly believe it.

   "Italy exists in my mind as a whirl of madness."

Leah Ewald above Bologna
Saturday night, students and alumni piled into a cafe to listen to future Director of SAIS Europe Dr. Michael Plummer’s band perform. Sunglasses and a leather coat were involved.

Italy exists in my mind as a whirl of madness -- crisscrossing medieval roads and slightly tilting buildings, irregular train schedules, historical eras stacked on top of each other with a light coating of graffiti, packed gelato shops, a teetering pile of homework, a garble of foreign languages, a sea of economic symbols that make slightly more sense to me than they did a year ago, the ever-present internship applications, a heating system in my apartment that I still haven’t figured out how to use, a million emails and, once in a while, a shady, quiet afternoon in the park … the sharp scent of incense in a dark cathedral.

Soon we will disperse from here. In another year we will scatter across the globe. I picture it like Kathleen’s vector map: 200 blue dots and a wild hatch of crisscrossing black lines, all zigzagging back and forth before radiating inward toward a central point in the heart of the madness, steady as it is pulled taut in all directions.

All vectors lead to Bologna.

Leah Ewald (BC14/DC15)

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