By Bonnie Bethea
“I realized there was nothing to do but go, so I did.” – Cheryl Strayed
In her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed vividly wrote about her experiences hiking 1,800 km at age twenty-two. Like many twenty-two year old girls, she was both devastated by the uncertainty of life and craving for more. One year into my masters, I too found myself at a crossroads. I had realized that, despite my interest in Transatlantic relations, there was more to the world than just the US and the EU. I had begun to look at the world through the lens of not what the US and the EU do but how is the rest of the world impacted by what the US and the EU do. Through the coursework and the friends that I made at the Brandt School, my interest in Eastern Europe grew beyond the conventional borders of the EU. After just two semesters, I became the young woman eccentric and brave enough to take an internship in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
I interned at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS), a research institution located right in the city center. By interning at the KCSS, I was afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the Brandt School’s network, because my mentor, Donika Emini, is an alumni of the Brandt School. Working for an alumni was a really special experience; we were able to share stories of cliche Brandt School experiences and I was constantly reassured that there is life after grad school. More importantly, because my mentor was familiar with the Brandt School curriculum, she was able to assign me projects that I enjoyed and felt fully capable of doing. Through the KCSS, I was able to expand my knowledge and experience with US-EU relations by applying it to the comparative cases of Kosovo and Crimea.
All the same, more significant than the internship itself was the experience of living in Kosovo for six weeks. I had never expected that I would go to Kosovo during my lifetime. I had so many preconceived notions and stereotypes of a place that I had only heard of because of the NATO intervention in the late 90s. In Pristina, I did not find the war torn country I was expecting. Instead, I only found peace. Kosovars’ kindness is contagious; I have never lived in a place before where you see so many people smiling and laughing all the time. Somehow, Kosovo taught me that all the self-induced anxiety that most young people experience is really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
To aspiring Brandt School students and affiliates, I write this because I think we should re-think what an internship really means. I encourage students to pick an internship based not solely on the prestige of an institution, but on the experience it would offer as a whole. I gained a lot more as a person choosing to relocate to a post-conflict country like Kosovo, where I knew absolutely no one, than I would have gained doing an internship back in New York State, where I am from, or even in Germany. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone will teach you resilience, independence, and confidence; traits I think both the public and private sector would like to see in an employee. To make it short and simple, just be daring and go. If all of the sudden you find yourself hitchhiking solo through the Balkans, then you may too discover an inner strength you never realized was possible.