Friday, September 30, 2016

Careers Services: Helping students succeed

The excellence of the Career Services Office sets SAIS apart.

Throughout their time at SAIS, students receive extensive help and guidance to prepare to achieve their professional goals.

Today, we want to introduce you to Lucia Botindari, Career Counselor at Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe. We asked Lucia some questions on her role and the operations of the Career Services Office.

Q: What is your role at SAIS Europe?
Botindari: I'm a Career Counselor at SAIS Europe. Most students in Bologna are in their first year of study and, as part of my role, I help them identify and learn about the numerous career paths they can pursue after SAIS.

Regardless of whether or not students arrive at SAIS with a plan for their future careers, our Office helps them learn more about what will be available to them.

Lucia Botindari during office hours

Q: How does the Career Services Office help students?
Botindari: Our goal is to help students succeed. We want to make sure students focus on their careers from the day they arrive in Bologna.

We provide support through different channels: one-on-one counselling, training, career trips, and we provide a platform for networking.

Students who wish to benefit from the services of our Office are required to do a Professional Development Course (PDC) shortly after they arrive. The course is the foundation to a successful job search.Through the PDC and various workshops, students learn how to build their CV and compose cover letters. They learn interview and salary negotiation techniques as well as how to use social media to search for internship and employment opportunities.

In addition, we provide several skills courses, such as advanced finance courses, advanced Excel, STATA, and other software. These courses give students the practical skills that aren't necessarily part of the curriculum, but which are important to be more competitive in the job market.

After students complete the PDC, I meet with them individually and we begin the counselling process. The one-on-one meetings are mutually beneficial: students learn more about their goals and the job market, while I learn more about the students, which ultimately helps me, help them.

Each year, we organize career trips to London, Brussels, and Geneva. Each of these trips has a focus on a particular field. For example, one of the London trips -- we organize two trips to the UK capital-- is geared towards those interested in learning more about the Financial Services sector. The second trip to London, is more focused on consulting and political risk, while the trips to Geneva and Brussels focus on primarily, but are not limited to, the multilateral and non-governmental sectors.

Student panel on working at the U.S. State Department

As we plan our activities, we keep an eye on students' needs. In some cases, we've been able to organize courses and trips based on students' suggestions. For example, last year, a considerable number of students was interested in election monitoring and thanks to the help of our expert faculty and our highly motivated students, we were able to set up a workshop called "Election and democracy assistance".

What's more, we help students network. During the career trips, students have the opportunity to talk and meet with alumni. These meetings are highly beneficial for students who are able to hear first-hand what it means to work in a given sector or for a given company.

We also encourage students to network among themselves. Many of our students have several years of work experience under their belt and we invite them to share their knowledge and experiences by organizing student career panels.

During the Alumni Weekend -- a weekend where over 300 alumni return to Bologna -- we organize dozens of career panels and a Happy Hour to enable alumni and current students to meet. We take advantage of the presence of our successful and dedicated alumni who are happy to sit down for a morning with students to talk about careers.

Q: Which aspect of your job do you like the most?
Botindari: There are a number of things I enjoy about my job. However, if I had to pick one, I'd say counselling students is what I enjoy the most. I'm a social psychologist with a PhD in the field and my background allows me to help students in the long and complex process of self-discovery, self-assessment and growth. I find it extremely rewarding to be able to witness their metamorphosis.

Through a number of workshops and one-on-one meetings, I help students understand how their professional, social and personal skills can be applied to the job market. In particular, we look at the students' skills and aspirations to understand how they can reach the goals they've set for themselves.

I also enjoy the diversity there is at SAIS Europe. Our students come from all walks of life and from several countries. Each year, we have students of diverse demographics as well as diverse cultural, professional and educational backgrounds. Being in a such a diverse and multicultural environment is highly motivating as I, too, learn a lot each year.

Amina Abdiuahab

Friday, September 16, 2016

Summer School in Montenegro: A grounding and reassuring experience

The Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development (CCSDDis a joint venture between the School of Law of the University of Bologna and Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe. It focuses on research in the field of comparative constitutional law. Students from both institutions interested in international law and democratic development are able to work an internship doing research and teaching projects.

As part of the activities, the CCSDD, headed by Prof. Justin Orlando Frosini, organizes trips to Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and to Igalo, Montenegro.

Today, Chelsea Rodstrom of the U.S. and a current student in the Master of Arts (MA) program at SAIS, tells us about the trip to Igalo, Montenegro.

Early in the summer, I came across the opportunity to take part in the Summer School in Montenegro organized by the CCSDD. When I learned that some of the focus of the discussions would be on Brexit and the migration crisis, I became extremely interested in participating: as an American going to study international affairs in Europe, this was the perfect opportunity to delve into European issues.
Chelsea Rodstrom

Besides my interest in law --I had previously considered law school and worked at a law firm in New York and volunteered with an organization that handles asylum cases -- I was interested in the general issues of the migrant crisis and the fallout from Brexit.

For the majority of the week-long summer school, we examined how European constitutional systems and international law affect current economic, social and political crises. The British, Serbian and German professors led hearty discussions on the merits of each system, while we students engaged in relating these systems to the fallout from the economic crisis, Brexit and the migrant crisis.

Peppered into the practical round-tables and debates were contentious and abstract discussions on human rights, globalization, and the philosophy behind integration schemes and the EU Project.

We became especially impassioned while contextualizing the varied international legal systems within the debates on Brexit - inclusive of the merits of both the Leave and Remain platforms in the UK debate - the consequences of integration and disintegration of the EU, and the pending international migration crises.

After our daily lectures and round-table discussions, we spent time getting to know our colleagues - which included lawyers and students - from around the EU and potential EU member states like Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia. Learning about the Balkans from Serbian, Montenegrin and Albanian perspectives was especially invaluable and informative; likewise, the organized events, including a tour of Tito’s Villa and Bunker and a lovely boat trip, were enormously helpful in familiarizing a non-European to the history and current integration debate in the Western Balkans.

As someone who focused on Latin America studies in university, I was surprised to find many parallels, politically and from an integration standpoint, between Latin America and the Balkans.

Chelsea and her classmates in Igalo
The end of the week forced us out of the academic and somewhat removed realm of intellectual debate and threw us all into the harsh realities Europe is currently facing. On Thursday morning, one of our French-British colleagues was heartbroken in class, worrying about her family that was vacationing in Nice when the horrendous attack occurred late the night before. Just 36 hours later - at our goodbye dinner - we learned of an ongoing coup in Istanbul and Ankara. We all tried to comfort and offer solidarity to our colleague from Turkey, who was unsettled by what was going on in his home country.

The summer school in Montenegro was a grounding and reassuring experience; it brought us collectively to the conclusion that working together and in a critical manner is no longer an option - whether legally bound by a framework or not. Rather, it is imperative that Europe remain vigilantly cooperative and united on security, migration and economic issues.

Chelsea Rodstrom
SAIS Europe 2017

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cooperative degrees: The MAIA with Leiden University

SAIS offers several degree programs. One of them is the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA). The MAIA is offered at the SAIS Europe campus and it's a two-year program with a research focus. Students can pursue this program by spending two years at SAIS Europe or by spending a year at a partner institution and a year at SAIS Europe. 

Over the years, SAIS Europe has established partnerships with four European institutions: The Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, Austria; the University of Bologna, Italy; Sciences Po Lille, France; and Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Students enrolled in the first year of the master's program at one of these institutions can apply to spend the second and final year at SAIS Europe and obtain (in most cases) a master's from the institution of origin and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from SAIS.

Today, Colm O'Flynn of Ireland, tells us about his experience with the MAIA program. Colm spent his first year at Leiden University and his second year at SAIS. Over the course of the two years, he earned a Master in International Studies from Leiden University and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from SAIS.

When I first started my Master of Arts in International Relations at Leiden University, the cooperative degree partnership between Leiden and Johns Hopkins University SAIS had just begun.

Although I was aware of the partnership, I hadn't really thought about applying to SAIS. I was already enrolled in a great graduate program at a top European university and pursuing a second master's degree seemed at the time redundant. My attitude quickly changed following a presentation at Leiden University by a representative from the SAIS Admissions team. I began to immediately realize the incredible opportunities the cooperative degree program offered and, although I was somewhat dissuaded by the tuition fees, the long-term career benefits won me over. I applied in January 2015, and was lucky enough to be accepted a couple of months later.

Colm receives the traditional Italian laurel crown
 by SAIS Europe Director Michael Plummer
Looking back on both degrees, I see how they complement each other. At Leiden University, the approach focused more on the theoretical aspects of International Relations. The class was smaller and the onus was very much on the student to keep up to date with the course material. This said, when I struggled with some course content, the professors always made themselves readily available to answer any of my questions. Indeed, much of what I learned at Leiden helped shape not only what I would study at SAIS, but also my broader outlook on global political developments, particularly with regards to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Coming from a European program, it took me a little time to adjust to the American system. The SAIS program adopted a more hands-on approach with language classes, weekly problem sets and economics sessions with the teaching assistants, all supplementing an already busy class schedule.

Initially, I was concerned about the strong economics focus of the SAIS curriculum – as a student in the MAIA program, four out of six of my courses were going to be on economics—but, I was able to adjust to the more quantitative elements of my studies during pre-term (a four-week period before the start of the academic year where students can take intensive intermediate-level economics and math classes) with the help of Dr. Erika Meucci, the “mathematics magician”. In the end, I grew to very much enjoy the economics-based focus SAIS is known for.

In addition to the academic experience, the value of my SAIS degree can be found in my classmates. I was fortunate to meet and befriend some extraordinary students while at SAIS. Whether I am looking for a job or a couch to crash on, this network will be invaluable for me going forward in life!

I now work for One Acre Fund, an East Africa-based NGO that specializes in agricultural development. It is very difficult for me to imagine working here in Kenya without the experience of having studied both at Leiden and at SAIS.

It was during my studies at Leiden that I first developed a real interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. While at SAIS, I began to take a deeper dive into some of the more pressing political and economic issues specific to the region.

Before I started at One Acre Fund, I had little work experience. I am convinced that my diverse educational background helped push through my candidacy to the latter stages of the interview selection process.

Colm O’Flynn
SAIS Europe 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

A hitchhiker's guide to applying to graduate school

The world of graduate school is galactic.

As you've heard us say before, there are so many programs out there that choosing the right one(s) is not easy.

Today, we want to share some tips on applying to graduate school. Our online application for 2017-18 is not live yet -- but the online application is not the starting point.

As you consider your options, it is important that you take a moment to think and to ask yourself
some questions. The answers will point you in the right direction.

Graduate school is an investment and you want to make sure you invest in something you will enjoy and that will give you the returns you're looking for.

Take some time to research different programs. You might think you know what you'd like to study, but challenge yourself and think of programs you may not have thought about before. They might hold something for you.

Once you've understood what you'd like to focus on, inform yourself. As we said in a previous post, to make a good choice, you need to have as much information as possible.

We at SAIS understand applicants have lots of questions, which deserve thorough answers. Don't be afraid to get in touch with us, we will be happy to answer your questions.

Start putting together your application documents. To apply to SAIS, if English is not your native language, you will need to take the TOEFL, IELTS or the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE). 

Consider taking the GRE. Non-U.S. student applying to spend their first year at our campus in Bologna are not required to take this test. However, we do encourage applicants to challenge themselves and to take the GRE.

Start jotting down ideas for your statement of purpose and begin to think what might be the focus of your analytical essay. The statement of purpose is the document where you will explain what motivates you to apply to SAIS and how SAIS can help you reach your goals. The analytical essay will serve to show your analytical and writing skills.

Think of who might be the best people to write your letters of recommendation. Choose your referees carefully and be sure to give them plenty of time to write their supporting letters.

Think of how you might finance your studies. While we do offer generous financial support, most students make ends meet through a combination of resources. Be sure to start your search well in advance.

The above seems to be a long list of things you need to do. But, "Don't Panic" says the catchphrase from Douglas Adams's science fiction. 

Amina Abdiuahab