April is here, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and College of Europe Students are writing their master thesis (hopefullyJ). We all know that the College is all about the ‘European Spirit’, but in this issue I decided to take a slightly different approach, that’s why I will present to you a Friends of Europe, Wang Ran, an IRD student from China, and Lefteris Coroyannakis (born and bred European) who works in Switzerland.
Wang Ran (王然) is a Chinese student from the EU International Relations and diplomacy department and has a very different background as opposed to most of us. When I asked her about the meaning of her name she explained to me that there are two different meanings: (1) stay real/ mother nature- in Chinese, the characters for stay real and mother nature are the same) and (2) the look of a king, that’s why her English name is Liona, comes from a lioness.
She was born in Beijing and has never LIVED away before, so Bruges is her first ‘living abroad’ (travelling and exchange programmes don’t count according to her, because they were less than 4 months). She loves her city very much, in a love-hate kind of way. Because it is the place of her roots, and in China ones roots have a great significance. While the ‘hate’ part comes from the crowded population and polluted environment, she misses her childhood when the sky was blue, the river was clean and everywhere was reachable with a small bike.
Wang graduated from China Foreign Affairs University, and she really enjoys studying at the College, especially because she is changing the lens from a Chinese one into an EU one. Like most of us here at the College, she has a free spirit, although she comes from a different culture. In 2012, she did some volunteering with AISEC teaching English in Cairo (Egypt) for 3 months. Afterwards she became a student representative in AISEC, helping other students to access AISEC projects, while studying International Relations. She then moved to Lille where she did an exchange semester at Science Po Lille, and this was the first time she came in contact with EU studies. But the fun and games did not actually stop, because she spent the semester travelling all across Europe. Instead of staying in hotels or hostels, she did couch surfing. Why? Because she wanted to learn about the European culture, the people’s life stories, besides visiting monuments, cathedrals and museums. All these experiences stayed with her, and that is why is now back in Europe, here in our little ‘Bruges Bubble’. When I asked her what her career goal was, she thought for a while and said ‘World peace, as my final destination of career’. I must admit I did not see that one coming, because most people talk about money, jobs, and titles.
As always, I like to ask students, what they hope to achieve this year, and this is her answer’ It’s a complicated question to answer, but to make a long story short, I would like to be a better-self, making life-long friends, and to learn about people’s life story what makes them who they are, besides learning about the EU . And after each deep talk (a jargon in AIESEC), I leant their stories, their thoughts. It’s the knowledge that can’t be taught in class. And it is a really nice way to make life-long friends.’ Time will tell, but legend has it, that people do make friends for life here in Bruges.
This is her message to you all:
天将降大任于斯人也，必先苦其心志，劳其筋骨，饿其体肤，空乏其身，行拂乱其所为，所以动心忍性，增益其所不能。 — 《孟子》
‘Before a great responsibility falls on an honourable men, it always first frustrates his spirit and will, exhausts his physical muscles and bones, exposes him to extreme starvation and poverty, harasses him by troubles and setbacks, so as to stimulate his spirit, toughen his nature and enhance his competences.’ — Mencius
‘So whatever we overcame, or we are facing and are going to encounter, they are all for our future greatness. Good luck for every each one of us!’
Lefteris is an alumnus from the Anna Politkovskaya & Hrant Dink promotion (2007/2008), having completed the MA in European Political and Administrative Studies. As many of our POL alumni, he has a legal background, having studied law at King’s College London. He recently transitioned to PwC Zurich’s sports advisory team after having worked for FIFA for five years. What strikes me the most about his profile is his versatility – read on and you will understand what I mean.
After surviving the ‘Bubble’, he went to Brussels to start his career. He was offered a government relations internship at US law firm Mayer Brown during a recruitment event at the College, and then got a traineeship at DG Trade in the Commission. He managed to defer his start at Mayer Brown in order to have that all-important experience within the institutions. Since he was eager for more, he then went on to apply for an LLM at Georgetown University, got accepted and deferred it to extend his time at Brunswick Group, which he joined after Mayer Brown. In the meantime, he heard of a job at FIFA through the alumni network. Despite having committed to Georgetown, he applied by simply sending his CV and went for “interview practice”. He assures me that a cover letter requirement would have dissuaded him from even bothering as he already had one foot in Washington, D.C.! He was offered the job, dropped his position (and USD 1,000 deposit!) at Georgetown and somewhat blindly accepted: this was football after all! He ended up switching roles twice within the organisation (from legal, to public affairs to public relations), and tells me that even though FIFA offers a very interesting and challenging environment, the learning process flattens out quite quickly and there is less innovation than in a more competitive markets than that of international sports federations. Nonetheless, the experience is unique and FIFA is a global brand, which can always attract interest.
We talked about life in Bruges as well, and he thinks it was a good bridge between academia and professional life. It taught him a lot about time management, having to juggle studying, writing his thesis and having a social life – delivering so much in a very short period of time. On a personal level, he learned more about himself, how to overcome his fears and how to structure his thoughts and externalise them. According to Lefteris, a degree from the College is like a rubber stamp that helped him penetrate the Brussels market.
Bruges is not just about studying, but also about having fun, and he seems to have had his fair share it. I like to learn some funny stories about our alumni and he fondly recounted the end of year boat race. He was part of the Garenmarkt team and was very happy to have won the race without falling off their dingy, only to be pushed into the canal while having a celebratory beer on the railings of the student bar balcony!
His words of wisdom for the new generation:
‘If you are concerned about being pigeonholed in EU world, don’t worry. The skills gained in Bruges are highly transferable. Start in Brussels, because that’s where most of the degree’s value is. You land in a city where you already know so many people, and it’s great to relive the College experience with the outside world. If Bruges and Natolin are like incubators, Brussels is a perfect setting to test the results. So, start in Brussels, but don’t limit yourself to it. Don’t feel constrained if there are good opportunities elsewhere, and make sure take them when they present themselves. Don’t stay in your comfort zone’.
Good luck with your thesis adn exams!!!