What better way to start the second month of this New Year than with two inspiring stories of strong and independent women! This issue will present you our colleague from the ECO department Joana Elisa Maldonado and a distinguished alumna Sara Carrer, Senior Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Burson-Marsteller HQ.
Joana is a student in the ECO department, and comes from Cologne, Germany. A town merely 3 hours away by train from Bruges, making it a wonderful weekend getaway she believes. It is fair to say that most people associate economics with a boring career path, but this is not the case. Joanna has moved around quite a bit exploring her options within the EU. Having completed her undergraduate degree in Germany, with an Erasmus year in Paris, she then took off to London for an internship at the German Embassy in the UK. Then she moved to Southern France to do some volunteering work, when she was offered a traineeship at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Her drive and ambition pushed her to start a degree in Germany, but she soon discovered that her European spirit was pulling her away from Germany. After having travelled around with her various internships she decided to undertake a master degree in Leuven where she studied Economics. One thing led to another, and here she is in Bruges with us, living the ’bubble dream’.
She really made me laugh when she said she would like to stay in Belgium. As a part of this plan, she is improving her Flemish, studying the names of all the Leonidas pralines by eating them. She recommends ‘Manon’ and ‘Princesse enrobée’. I must say, that is a very creative way to learn a language, and I am sure it is quite inspiring for chocolate lovers. Joke aside, she did study Flemish for one year, and when she came to Bruges she was confident she could use her language skills with the locals but she had a lovely surprise, she could not. One day at the gym she realised that she couldn’t understand a word and even wondered what language people were speaking. Only to find out, with great relief, that people speak in a local dialect called West-Vlaams.
On a more serious note, when I asked her about her career goals she gave me a very honest and down to earth reply. This is what she said: ’Like most students here, I had the dream to work for the EU for a long time. However, I think I am getting old, because suddenly it becomes more important to me that I will live in a safe place not too far from my family. My dream job would be one that I like getting up for in the morning, where I have friendly colleagues and where I can make a difference’. It is very important to know what we want in life, because when we know, we do it with pleasure. As Rumi said ‘everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it’.
Sara is an alumna from the Montesquieu promotion (2004/2005), and is the Senior Director for Europe, Middle-East and Africa at Burson-Marsteller. Our alumni never fail to surprise and impress, and Sara is a good example of a woman that succeeded in building a strong career after the College.
As one would expect, she has a very international background having studied and worked in London, Geneva and Brussels. She holds a university degree in International and Diplomatic studies and a MA in European Studies at the College of Europe. After having left the College, she worked at the EU Commission and then she became a manager for the EU Affairs of the European Foundation for Management Development. Two years later she joined Burson-Marsteller and worked in the Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Practice before moving to the EMEA HQ team, Brussels.
But to go back to her experience at the college, she has very fond memories of living in Bruges, and to use her exact words ’despite living in Garenmarkt, I had a fantastic year’. It may be true that Garenmarkt is not the most exciting of residences, but since I live here as well, I must say it has its perks, especially during exam period. For Sara this was a year when she met a lot of people from across Europe and made a lot of close friends. She described it as a unique experience that broadened her perspective and created connections across Europe. It comes as no surprise when she says that she worked hard but also played hard, just as Alexander Stubb said at the opening ceremony. As you can see we have a reoccurring theme ‘work hard, play hard’. Note the exact order of the words though: work hard and then play hard, not the other way around. She will never forget the long nights working on her thesis, but also the late night partying on the deserted streets of Bruges, after the ‘Barroso’ student bar.
It seems that most generations have hidden talents, in our case we have the band ‘Le Repas Froid’, and in their case they didn’t go as far as creating a band, but at the end of the year, during the last national week, two fellow students wrote a song to commemorate their year at the College. It was so easy and catchy that everyone was able to sing it after a few minutes. She believes that was the moment when the ‘Bruges bond’ was created.
As usual I asked our alumni for words of wisdom to enlighten the future generation and this is what she said: ‘as part of my job I participate in the interview process. Sometimes I am amazed by the CVs we receive, and the positive attitude graduates have, other times I have the feeling that young professionals need to understand that every career is built step by step. No matter if you hold a prestigious diploma, it is important to fit in a team, to develop a strong team spirit, and to be humble. Only like this you can value even the simplest tasks and appreciate that those will help learning and growing. I wish all the students of the Chopin promotion a great year in Bruges and all the best for the future.’