What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before coming to SIPA I worked for the Consulate General of Romania to New York for a few months. This was my first paid full-time work experience and it offered me valuable insight into the workings of a government institution. Before that, I did two unpaid internships with the Permanent Mission of Romania to the UN and the Romanian Cultural Institute. My internship at the Mission was extremely valuable in preparing me for my SIPA experience and it reinforced my passion and enthusiast for the UN. I joined SIPA one year after I finished my undergraduate studies, so my work experience was relatively crude compared to my fellow Seeples. During my undergraduate studies I was a Division I tennis player and I majored in Psychology with a Social Justice minor.
What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
I arrived at SIPA with high expectations and I have not been disappointed. I love everything about it (except the building – why does it remind me of communism?), but my favorite part is the variety of courses. I love every single one of my classes and I have learned and grown immensely throughout my time here. Whichever concentration you pick, there is a great balance of theory, research, and practical skills that will support your academic and professional objectives. My assignments are both challenging and rewarding; I wanted a graduate program that would force me to push past my limits and that is exactly what I found. It’s not always pretty (see mini internal breakdowns over micro midterm for reference), but I think growth rarely is and it is definitely the reason why I am here.
An equally amazing part of SIPA are my peers. Every day I somehow find myself more and more in awe with the range of experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, and achievements of my fellow classmates. I am used to working in culturally and ethnically diverse environments, but never before have I felt such a strong connection to a community so intellectually vibrant, open, and fascinating as SIPA. In all honesty, I learn from my peers almost as much as I learn from my classes and they make the SIPA experience completely unique. It is a perpetual learning experience, except we learn over drinks, at picnics, events, or city escapades.
What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?
I knew Ivy League schools were notoriously competitive and cutthroat, so I was convinced I was going to have to watch my back, be careful with what I said, and show little vulnerability. What I found was drastically different.
Since day one, everyone has been so incredibly open, friendly, and helpful. Even during debates, there is an underlying sense of trust and respect for each other, something that I deeply value. We share opportunities, events, webinars, job postings, and we consistently help each other out when in need. I have always craved a strong sense of community, and I was surprised to find it here.
All universities claim to have a diverse, vibrant, and connected student body, but I know for a fact that that is not always true. It is, however, true for SIPA.
What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?
At the beginning I struggled with Impostor Syndrome, feeling insecure about my professional experience (or lack thereof), and placing less intrinsic value on grades. Growing up in the Romanian education system, I grew accustomed to judging my academic abilities and potential based on my grades. For years, a large part of my motivation has been to obtain perfect grades and excellent scores. I loved learning, sure, but the grades were a priority. While this has definitely helped my applications and my academic and even sometimes professional path, I knew very well this misguided fixation had to end in graduate school. Apart from the fact that no one really cares about your grades once you are a grad student (unless you want to go for a PhD), grades will not help you professionally if you are not confident in your skills, knowledge, and capabilities. One of the best advice I received during Orientation was to forget about grades and focus on the skills that I want and need. What really matters at SIPA and for employers are the skills, experiences, knowledge, vision, and initiatives you can add. Shifting this mindset has been tough, but necessary.
An important realization I had early in my SIPA experience was that everyone has their own path. My lack of full-time work experience weighed down on me at first, making me feel a bit smaller than everyone else, as if my perspective was less significant. When you arrive, you are tempted to compare yourself to your peers. It’s only natural, we’re all a bunch of type-A overachievers. Once you start doing that, you eventually land to the conclusion that it is entirely pointless, because your peers have such different backgrounds, interests, skills, aspirations, and qualities, that comparison becomes futile. In shifting my attention to the skills I want to build and the issues I want to work on, I was able to get over this insecurity and feel like less of an impostor. Turns out I even fit in quite nicely. Who would have thought?