January 6, 2011

How I got where I am – Part 1: I was gonna be a student forever...

I always say education is key to everything. I was lucky to be born in a country where education is free. I was also lucky to have a choice over what I studied, although I sometimes wish I knew better when making my choices: if I studied engineering or medicine, it’d be so much easier to get a job in development! But how could I know? I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was 18… I did know that I liked English. I also knew that studying only English wouldn’t be enough. So I applied to more schools, mostly for economics. But then a friend of mine told me – about 2 days before the deadline – that the School of Social Sciences at Masaryk University in Brno seems really cool, that they have a lot of international students… and so I applied to study Political Science and International Relations there. Long story short, when deciding what to do, my dad, who is a civil engineer, told me: “You can go study economics later, political science seems more interesting.” And so I moved to Brno to study Political Science and International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences and English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Arts. Three majors + a job to pay the rent = a sure way to learn how to prioritize and work well under stress.

In the course of the next 5 years, I finished my classes, wrote two Bachelor’s theses and got two Bachelor’s degrees. I went on and enrolled in two Master’s programs: International Relations and English Language and Literature. I dropped English after the first semester because I simply couldn’t find the passion needed to study 16th century English.
In 2009, I graduated with a Master’s degree in International Relations, although it wasn’t a walk through a rose garden either (which is what we say in Czech when something isn’t easy). I began my master’s program with a semester abroad at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa where I took classes at the Political Science department. I learned about conflicts in Africa, democratization in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, conflict resolution, and about the culture, history and politics of South Africa. I think that I had never been so serious about school before as I was in Stellenbosch. I loved my classes.

My South African experience was so strong that I decided to change the topic of my BA thesis from relations between South Africa and Great Britain to South African townships, their history, their importance, impact on cultural and political life etc. (If you’re interested, you can read it here). It was so strong that coming back to the Czech Republic to return to theories of international relations and the focus on transatlantic relationships suddenly wasn’t appealing at all. I didn’t want to do that. I came back and kept telling people that I don’t care about this stuff because there are people dying in the world and we discuss 100-year-old theories! But well, every school has a different focus, I guess. I did my best not to quit school and still do what I was interested in. I picked my classes carefully, although the choice for me wasn’t that wide, and I decided to write my Master’s thesis on sub-Saharan Africa, the prospects of democracy in the SADC region and the impact of socio-economic factors on democracy, in particular. Finding a topic was easy, finding a supervisor at a school with a completely different regional focus, that was another story. I didn’t give up, though, and with the help of the academic advisor, I convinced Dr. Hlousek to be my supervisor, wrote it, defended it and was happy when Dr. Hlousek told me that he had learned a lot thanks to me (you can read it here if you want).

So I was done with school, but didn’t know what's next. I knew I wanted to “do good for people” but I didn’t really know how, the theories and my ability to name European political parties didn’t really help. And so I accepted the scholarship I was offered by the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and moved to the US to get a Master’s in Public and International Affairs (MPIA).
Not even a month ago, I graduated with MPIA. However, if you look at my transcript, you’ll realize that that’s not what I actually did. I think that I should be writing MID (Master of International Development) instead of MPIA next to my name, but these are just letters anyways. I finally learned more about development, what has worked and what hasn’t, HIV/AIDS, urbanization, education… the things I wanted to learn. Although there are many things I’d change at that school, I also think it was worth it, it was a good experience and I think I learned things I will use, one day. I also met many people with the same interests and many people who are extremely inspiring, which is more important to me than I’d ever think.

And that’s it as far as my education is concerned. I’m glad to be done with school, so no PhDs for me, at least not now. And if you expected “I have wanted to save Africa since I was 5 and that’s how I was choosing what to study,” sorry for the disappointment.

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