Around a year ago, I received a long awaited e-mail: I was invited for the Wallenberg Program interview. Looking through the Georgetown University course offerings, I could hardly contain my excitement: negotiating foreign direct investments, navigating emerging markets in cross-border deals, structuring financial aid packages for poor countries – Georgetown School of Foreign Service courses fit perfectly with what I wanted to study.
One year since the day of the interview, I have to admit the program influenced me in more ways than I could ever imagine. I did take my dream courses, and I also made friends from all over the world, went through a continuous networking exercise, and met opinion leaders in international development and public policy. Here are the three ways the Wallenberg Program broadened my mindset:
1. Embracing the networking culture of Washington DC
To say I used to feel uncomfortable about the notion of networking would be an understatement. But when in Washington DC, do as the Washingtonians do… Well, you got it: network! During my internship at the World Bank last summer, I made it a rule never to eat lunch at my desk (which, btw, is a terrible American habit). Rule number two – to never eat alone – was almost self-enforcing: if you go to the World Bank cafeteria, you can hardly find anyone eating alone. Hence my lunches became social.
DC culture surely nudges you towards more networking, but that is not sufficient. I was also lucky enough to have great role models. Learning from my peers showed me the way forward every time I got frustrated. When you keep stepping out of your comfort zone, there has to be some place safe, where you can look back and reflect. I am incredibly grateful for all the personal development conversations I had with other Wallenberg fellows, and with our Georgetown advisor – I really learnt a lot from them.
2. Realizing that changing the world is possible
Throughout the summer, my encounters with fellow interns made me believe the world can actually become a better place with all the young energy devoted to doing good. Washington DC probably has the largest concentration of international development professionals in the world, and in fact, meeting those people always infected me with optimism and the will to act.
3. Learning from experts
With major international organizations and most influential think-tanks all collected in one place, Washington DC amazed me with the abundance of strong views on everything – from US environmental policy to the EU refugee crisis. Even more amazing was the opportunity to discuss these topics with opinion leaders. For example, as Wallenberg fellows we visited the US Department of State to talk about US foreign policy in Ukraine, we also met with the President of Freedom House Mark P. Lagon to discuss the impact of democracy on development. And both of these occasions were great opportunities to learn through discussion and to think critically.
It’s still hard to believe that six months of the Fellowship are coming to an end. One thing is certain, however: I’m emerging from this experience with a broader mindset and greater leadership ability than I had a year ago.