Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Student Profile: Maria-Alexandra Martin

Name:  Maria-Alexandra Martin
Program/Class: MA 2016
Concentration: International Economics and Conflict Management
Hometown: Timisoara (Romania)

When considering graduate school, what was appealing about SAIS?
The decision to return to academia and pursue a graduate program was though, I admit, considering that I was already working for several years. I considered SAIS for three reasons. Firstly, it offers a concentration in Conflict Management, which is very much aligned with my career goals and my professional background. Secondly, the program has a strong economic component. For a person without an econ background, working on post-conflict recovery and state building, it gave me the chance to better understand why and how certain policies work or do not work in fragile environments. Last, but not least, the program is well-known and highly appreciated by practitioners in the IR field. The alumni network is incredible and scattered all over the world, creating a strong sense of SAIS identity. When I took the final call and chose the program I will enroll in, these criteria were decisive.

Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
As mentioned, I am a Conflict Management Concentrator, with a minor in European and Eurasian Studies. Prior to joining SAIS, I have worked for the European Union External Action Service in Georgia for almost 3 years. My field experience was rewarding and enriching, but I felt the need to link the developments on the ground with the geostrategic framework. And I could not find a better fit to build on my expertise. At SAIS I am able to challenge the conventional wisdom, bring in new and innovative perspectives, engage in constructive debates with my professors and my peers and configure my own professional trajectory.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
After graduation I plan to continue my work in post-conflict stabilization and state building. I am particularly interested in Eurasia region: Ukraine, Moldova, Russia and the Caucasus. I am currently job-hunting and targeting positions with the international organizations such as NATO, OSCE, the World Bank or the UN. And most probably, I will return to field work for another five years. I leave SAIS much richer than I ever imagined. I am more inspired, committed and driven to make sure that women and men, children and elderlies around the world will suffer less because of armed conflicts. I better understand why international responses are delivering mixed outcomes and what can be adjusted in this regard. I am able to analyze a problem from multiple angles and craft complex solutions. I also have an important network of peers, professors and young professionals. With them I will work to ensure that sustainable peace around the world becomes our daily reality; inequality gaps are shrinking due to inclusive economic models; every child goes to school; and gender equality is not just a catchy campaign headline.

What is some advice you would give to someone considering applying to a program like SAIS?
SAIS is offering a solid framework to learn and experience. But it is up to each student to find her/his own way to make the best out of the chosen program. Personally, I knew well in advance what classes I will take, what activities I want to get involved in, the projects I’d like to run. It was easier for me to follow a red line that leads to a certain professional objective. But I’d say the following: study one year in Bologna at SAIS Europe, be open to opportunities, they might take you to unchartered territories, and be prepared to work hard, it will pay off; think of SAIS as your lifelong laissez-passer.

What do you see as beneficial about studying in Bologna and DC?
I do encourage everyone to study one year in Bologna. You will experience a different approach, more euro-centric. You will understand how things work in Brussels, Geneva, Berlin or London (and believe me, it is different from DC). There are a couple of professors that you will not have the pleasure to meet here, such as Prof. Harper, Prof. Kuhne, Prof. Vendrell, Prof. Hedberg, or Prof. Mayer (look them up). And the Bolognesi are known in DC campus for their close friendships and their Bologna-bonding (discovering Italy together is indeed very special). In DC you will be much more focused on studying, interning, finding a job. The quality of your personal relations will be different. It is a permanent race against time that is very similar to real life. Having experienced both campuses, you will feel much more comfortable in new instances and will easily adapt to future professional challenges and requirements.