In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented global economic downturn resulting in increased unemployment figures. While it continues to be a challenging time to enter the job market, the good news is that current economic predictions are showing signs of recovery and many organizations are hiring.
“Destinations” is an interview series featuring recent CEU graduates who secured jobs during the pandemic. We spoke to Alicja Bozko who graduated with an MA in International Relations in 2020 and is now working as the Assistant to the Head of Office at the Council on Europe in Vienna. Below is an edited version of our August 26 conversation.
What was your path to CEU?
I learned about CEU when I was doing an exchange program at one of the Hungarian universities in Budapest. It was after Lex CEU was introduced, during the time of city-wide protests. I supported CEU’s mission and admired the CEU community for taking a strong stance on something that mattered. Of course, the academic excellence of the IR program also played an important role in my decision but I mainly selected CEU for its remarkable community. Here, not only do we learn from our professors, but also from each other. The number of people with extraordinary backgrounds who I met at CEU is astounding. Since graduating we keep in touch about our lives and career paths.
How did you begin working at the Council on Europe in Vienna?
What really helped me to start my professional career right after graduation was an exchange program in New York during the second year of my Master’s degree at CEU. The Department of International Relations provided us with an opportunity to participate in Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (BGIA) in New York, which combined internships with studies at Bard College. There, I interned at a United Nations-based NGO, which gave me valuable experience from the UN Headquarters and especially the UN Security Council. I'm grateful to CEU for the opportunity to get practical experience in the field of international affairs during my studies. I can honestly say it was life-changing.
After graduating in the summer of 2020, my path led to the European Union Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I worked there from September to March on a six-month traineeship contract. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the work of the OSCE and the EU’s diplomatic service. Since May, my current position is as the Assistant to the Head of the Council on Europe Office in Vienna. It’s been a fascinating experience working within the field of international relations and diplomacy.
What do you do in your current role?
Similar to my responsibilities at the EU Delegation, I conduct research, draft reports and political analyses on the OSCE-related topics including human rights in conflict situations, migration and the rule of law. I also coordinate the liaison activities between the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the United Nations Office in Vienna. Recently, I was also in charge of preparing the visit of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to Vienna and assisting the SG during her visit. My main day-to-day activities involve attending various OSCE meetings and conferences with the Head of Office.
What advice do you have for new graduates seeking their next career step?
I can say from my personal experience that it's not easy to graduate in the middle of a pandemic when job opportunities are limited. It is important to remember that right now we may feel more isolated, spending most of the time alone in our rooms in front of computer screens. When you're applying for jobs in this type of environment and coming up against some rejections, it can be discouraging.
I want to point out that for every success I ever had, I also had many failures. This is something that we all go through and we should be talking more about. I think it’s important to have a frank and open discussion about the many challenges we come through to get to where we are.
To those who are graduating now, I would say, be persistent and resilient. The process of securing a job may impact self-confidence and even one’s mental health, but the right opportunity will come if you stay persistent and keep moving through the struggles.
Another thing I recommend is not to compare your path to the paths of others. When people graduate, it’s common for classmates to talk to each other about what they go through. One of your colleagues may get a job while you’re still applying, so I think it's important to remember that everyone's career path is different. It may take some time to get the right position, but sometimes it's better to take those few months and not accept a position that doesn't suit your interest and background. I myself rejected a few offers which may have looked good on paper but didn’t specifically fit my interests and wouldn’t advance my career path in the long run.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with CEU’s global community?
I’d like to point out that the CEU community is active in many places around the world and it's good to stay in touch with the CEU network for many reasons. I also want to thank my professors and all of my classmates who shared this journey with me throughout my Master’s program and beyond. The field of international relations and diplomacy is not an easy one to arrive at full-time employment, so it's important to stay resilient, keep in touch with your community and support each other.
CEU’s Career Services Office serves students and recent graduates through resources and assistance to help them make an impact around the world and chart their next steps. Check out the office’s annual Destinations Reports to learn more about the career outcomes of CEU graduates.