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Getting ‘Out of the Tower’?

International Opportunities and Ethical Values in the Search for Employment

By Danilo Dondici

My name is Danilo and I’m a post-graduate student doing research on late nineteenth-century prisons. I took a degree in history as a mature student in Rome, and then moved to England where I did a Master’s course in the same subject. After spending a year and a half in various part-time jobs I decided to take the risk and undertake post-graduate research. It has paid off as I’m heading towards the conclusion of my PhD. However, it hasn’t been a smooth journey, and despite my so far relative success I’m very aware of the challenges that lie ahead. For most students looking for a job after graduation is no easy task. However, I think work should not be all about getting a job that ‘pays the bills’. It is important to me that my work be beneficial for a wider community and socially inclusive. Of course work has to be paid adequately, but it can’t be limited to a question of income: it should also correspond, as far as possible, to my ethical values. I will use my personal experience to illustrate my point and focus on the international dimension, hoping it can give you some inspiration.

Last year (and well before Britain voted to leave the EU) I applied to the Brussels International Careers and Employability Programme (BICEP), organised by UEA’s School of Politics. Despite my being a mature student, and not in politics or language studies, my application was successful. There were various reasons for me to apply: I wanted to learn more about present-day European politics and institutions; but I also wanted to find out more about job opportunities in a much broader context and beyond academia. In fact, among the motives that led me to join the Brussels trip was a feeling that academia is in some respects disconnected from society. That is not to question the importance of studying and research, but after spending several years inside libraries and archives one may lose sight of what lies beyond the scholarly world. So I felt the need to get ‘out of the tower’ and browse the horizon, and did so in accordance with my passion for travelling and learning.

Of course a degree in itself is no guarantee of a better job, but we tend to forget that there are many opportunities linked to university life, and these can be as valuable as your final marks. Such was, for example, the Brussels Programme. Despite having some international experience, including two years working for the Italian Foreign Ministry, I was impressed by the programme. It was a unique opportunity to visit and sample the work ethos and environment of a range of international organisations, including the European Parliament, the NATO headquarters near Mons, the United Nations’ offices in Brussels, and the British permanent representation to the European Union. Moreover, the trip included a visit to some of the most important battlefields of the First World War, thus giving substance to the historical and political foundations of the programme. In fact, it allowed us to remember some of the original principles that led to the creation of international organisations as instruments to promote economic development and prevent further wars, especially among European nations. There were also opportunities to see some NGOs (e.g. One) working directly with governments and international bodies to address issues such as sustainable economic development, environmental problems, poverty, and education for refugee children. Most of us have probably heard of these institutions, but only a few have had any direct experience or a chance to talk to people who work inside them. The Brussels Programme gave me and several others such an opportunity.

At the beginning of our trip we were asked a specific question about some core values that we upheld in relation to civil society, politics, and work. This was to form part of a final report which was expected to be submitted by the end of the programme. In response to the question ‘What do you think when you think of Europe?’, my answer was roughly that it was an original democratic project to promote economic development, social justice and peaceful cooperation (instead of aggressive competition) among European countries. In the current political climate this may sound utopian, but the idea of a united Europe has a long history behind it, and has attracted lots of interest inside as well as outside Europe. Of course this project is far from perfect, but I believe it is a first step towards a more peaceful and better society. The visit to Ypres, Brussels and Mons made me reflect on this, and helped me understand better how history and present-day politics are interwoven. I felt inspired and motivated to carry on with my research and to further improve my language skills. This should not only fit in with my passion for travelling and learning, but also improve my employability and equip me with the skills needed to work and cooperate across international borders. Of course a week study visit abroad is not going to answer all your questions or determine your career path, but it can be a very effective way to raise awareness of what is available beyond the more traditional employment schemes.

I believe democratic values should be at the core of my work as a member of society and for this reason I saw in the Brussels trip an opportunity to find alternative routes to contribute to the wider community. The BICEP programme was designed to cater for a range of students coming from different degree courses. These included politics, international relations, security studies, European studies, languages, and public policy students. But, as mentioned above, this did not prevent me from applying, even if I didn’t belong to any of these categories. I was told the programme will be running again in 2016-17, so if you are interested in broadening your horizons and getting ‘out of the tower’ don’t miss this opportunity!

BICEP takes place each year around the Easter vacation. It's organised by the School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies  (PPL) as part of their International Studies Programme and a limited number of places are also available to other students whose schools have agreed to meet the subsidy. The subsidy is a contribution of about half the cost of travel and accommodation, which PPL and other schools taking part make for each place.

A date for 2017 has not yet been fixed but details will be finalised in the New Year. You can contact the School of Politics for more details (https://www.uea.ac.uk/ppl).