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Michaela Šimáková: “The College made me who I am today”

Updated: Oct 27, 2018

by Laura Mora (EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies)

Alumna of the Falcone and Borsellino 2014-2015 promotion and former IRD student representative, Ms Michaela Šimáková, who also worked as an academic assistant, was appointed president of the Alumni Association in July last year. La Voix interviewed her for the launch of our first edition on “New Beginnings” to find out more about the association she leads, to hear about her experience at the College, and to delve into what we can expect after leaving “the bubble”.

The Alumni Association

1. Can you explain to us briefly what the Alumni Association is and what its main objectives are?

The Alumni Association is a kind of tool or platform where College life continues after graduation. In fact, College life never leaves you! You will meet people and alumni continuously during your professional career.

The Association tries to keep up the spirit of the College. I am proud to say that there are almost 14,000 anciens all over the world, many of whom are interested in promoting l’esprit du Collège through different kinds of activities and events. We even offer a mentoring programme. I must clarify though that all this is voluntary work. Apart from our amazing part-time administrative assistant, every person involved in the association has his or her own job, but they are passionate about the College and hence devote their free time.

I would also like to take this opportunity to spread the word. We are always looking for new ideas and projects. Of course, we are happy to support a good idea with the resources needed to launch innovative projects.

2. As the most recent programme offered by the College, it seems that it is harder for IRD students to find a job. As an alumna of the IRD programme, are you thinking of introducing some measures to help improve this situation?

In this regard, the main problem with IRD is the very focus and attractiveness of the specialisation itself. The field of International Relations is basically linked to International Organisations or National Diplomatic Corps. So, our influence is limited in terms of helping you with the inherent competitiveness of getting a job at NATO, for instance, given the high demand. In fact, the IRD programme itself is the most competitive one with the highest number of applicants, and the same goes then for the labour market. It is an exciting field that attracts many people. It is definitely worth the hard work, which ultimately pays off.

We try to provide the alumni with concrete skills that may help them pass the selection process of the UN, for example, as well as mentoring. We also try to engage and involve the alumni networks in the institutions. I think that in every single cabinet of every single organisation there is an alumnus or alumna of the College of Europe! So, when the College organises events, conferences, workshops or some training courses, we try to identify the right guests. We also offer networking events. However, ultimately, it is your own challenge to get to wherever you dream of going!

Your experience at the College

3. If you had to summarise your year at the College in one sentence, what would it be?

It is hard to sum it up in just one sentence! I would say that the College empowered me and made me who I am today, a fully-fledged and proud European. It is definitely an empowering experience on different levels.

4. What was the most valuable thing that you learnt at the College?

If I had to choose one thing, I would say that I embraced a strong European identity. Being in such a multicultural and intellectually challenging community made me realise that this is the world I belong to and the one that makes me happy.

5. If you could change anything from your College experience, what would it be?

I would say that even though I was happy with IRD, I saw that a few years after I graduated they introduced the MATA programme. Maybe I would have applied to that programme if I had had the chance. I think that spending some time on the other side of the Atlantic would have been really interesting. Of course, I was happy in IRD – it made our minds travel across the globe. I honestly believe that each and every programme is unique and gives you the curiosity to keep learning every day.

6. We get the feeling that it is impossible to manage all the classes, obtain good grades, have a social life and get involved in extra-curricular activities such as La Voix. Did you feel that way, too, and if so, how did you balance the many aspects of College life?

Indeed, these are ten months of intense living. In the end, you manage it without even knowing where the time went. My advice would be to go with the flow. Enjoy every single moment. If you are studying, enjoy the study hours; if you are just hanging out, enjoy that too! It is about being passionate about what you do in a given moment. So, in the end, you manage it because you are passionate about and absorbed in everything that you are doing. And it is also important to remember that you are not alone – you go through all of it alongside a lot of amazing people.

Life outside “the bubble”

7. What has been your trajectory since leaving the College?

My trajectory started in a very original way: I just stayed at the College (laughs). I left the College at the end of the academic year and I then became an academic assistant. That role really took me out of my comfort zone. I would never have said during my studies that one year on, I would be standing on the other side, lecturing the students.

Also, becoming an academic assistant gives you a lot of opportunities to conduct research. In my case, the part of me that is a researcher was happy to work on different research projects and publish on things that fascinate me. But there is also the part of me that loves to be in the real world, out there changing things with a hands-on approach.

8. Indeed, you then joined NATO...

Yes. After one year as an academic assistant, I took a bit of a step back and joined NATO as a young professional. In a way, I took a risk, leaving a good job to start from scratch again. I think it was the right decision – again, it took me out of my comfort zone and satisfied my curiosity. Often in our field we need to find the right path; we should not be afraid to take one step back to do so.

I started working on topics that I felt passionate about: women, peace, security (UNSCR1325 and other related resolutions), children and armed conflict, and the protection of civilians. NATO moved to the new headquarters, so it was an historical and exciting moment for the Alliance and I lived it from the inside. After a while, I started working as a consultant on political affairs in the Security Policy division, working on good governance in the security and defence sector.

Again, though, I missed the College connection. With a group of friends, I launched an alumni Women’s Group within the Alumni Association. Since being elected president of the Alumni Association more than a year ago, it has become a second full-time job for me, albeit on a voluntary basis. Apart from that, I am trying to take my time and focus on smaller, empowering projects. I remain curious about how to further fulfil the potential I acquired at the College.

9. How did the year at the College prepare you to handle your current job?

It basically prepared me to deal with people. The main thing you will realise after the College is that it is not what you learn from the books that matters but how you apply it. This is particularly true in how you deal with the human factor under different circumstances. Of course, during the year at the College you study a lot, but you also live with other students, which I think is a really important experience. After graduating, you enter the job market and you need to start marketing your skills and expertise in order to find a job. That is all a question of psychology, too.

To sum up, the year at the College prepared me to work and communicate with others effectively. It also helped me to forge my values, as well as a deep “European” feeling.

10. What would be your main recommendations for students who are hoping to apply for a job in an International Organisation?

I think the most important thing is to have a clear vision of where you want to go. It is important to have realistic and feasible objectives to follow at a given time, a strategy on how to achieve them, and to not be afraid to take a step “back”, as I said before. This field is very competitive. Be persistent and do not compromise on your dreams – you have worked so hard to get to where you are now.

It is also helpful to look for mentors, for someone more senior who has a clearer perspective and relevant experience. Do not be afraid to approach people – tell them you are interested in their advice! I think it is extremely important to remain genuine and authentic, to connect with others by being yourself.

Last but not least...

11. What is the one tip you would give us to help us survive this year?

Again, I would give you two tips because I really like to talk a lot (laughing).

The first tip would be: Enjoy every single moment. Enjoy being present. Do not be afraid and do not stress out; be mindful of every single moment. That said, a small trip away from the campus every now and then is recommended to appreciate it even more upon return.

The second one would be that you get some sleep! You need a lot of mental energy to be part of this innovative and creative generation, and you need to be in good shape to be able to enjoy every single moment.

Last but not least, I will add a third piece of advice: Get to know the other part of the promotion – the fellow students at Natolin. Having this link would make your year an even more amazing one!


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