Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber
Gulnur Telibayeva (2018-2020) is a Kazakh Euroculture student. Upon the validation of her Bachelor degree in International Relations at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Almaty, Kazakhstan, she applied for the Euroculture MA in order to delve further into the question of European integration. She spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Uppsala, Sweden. For her third semester, she did an internship at the headquarters of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria.
Euroculturer Magazine: What were you expecting from the Euroculture MA, and did it meet your expectations?
Gulnur Telibayeva: It was the first time that I moved so far away from my family and hometown for so long: it’s been a huge mix of emotions, expectations and fears. I remember how excited I was for the degree itself. Naturally, it’s a very comprehensive Master, so I had prepared myself to think about my own priorities. My aim was to focus mainly on the topics of politics and cultural diplomacy. Since there’s a wide range of classes and a lot of freedom for your research paper choice, I have been pretty satisfied with the knowledge I have been gaining. I guess I didn’t expected that much individual and independent work. But this is probably due to simple differences in education system backgrounds. It gets tough, but it’s completely worth it!
EM: Did you struggle with something after starting the programme?
GT: As a non-EU citizen, from a very far away land, the difficulties are quite standard: housing, visas, moving around all the time, and holidays. My first struggle was housing in Strasbourg, which I could not find for more than a month after my arrival. Thankfully, I have had extremely helpful and supportive friends in my class. It’s very hard to avoid scams while looking for apartments, when you don’t speak the language and when you have no local guarantors. Visas can be a painful process too, when you move around every semester. You need a national visa for each country where you want to study and it takes a while to travel back home and issue a new one every time. Don’t even ask how stressful it was to get my Austrian visa for my internship: think of three rejections and an approval only one day before my flight! Holidays and birthdays can also be tough when you are far away from home. But, again, those wonderful people in your class may become your second family if you’re as lucky as I have been!
EM: Why did you choose the internship track? And why did you choose this internship in particular?
GT: I knew I wanted to start my professional life after the MA, and I decided that the internship in the framework of Euroculture is a very good opportunity to get some experience somewhere big: the United Nations! I got a placement at the headquarters of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria, as an External Relations Intern, in the Office of the Director for External Relations. Considering my crazy enthusiasm for the UN and for international relations, this was HUGE. I did a lot of thinking, though, before accepting the offer, because I have never been close to the field of industrial development. But I found a good link between UNIDO’s mandate and my previous research in development aid, which I got a chance to continue as part of the internship too. It’s been a very educational experience.
EM: What was your function during your internship?
GT: I usually describe my function as “background diplomacy” (and I love the sound of it). I worked under the supervision of the Director for External Relations, who is basically one of the key people in this organization made of 170 member states. It’s insanely exciting for a simple 9-5 job, and very rare for a UN intern to have someone of such a high level as a direct supervisor. Let me take you on a little journey through my usual work day. My typical day started with reading the morning’s news updates on my metro ride to the office. Following the news timely was highly important for my job, since any piece of information is useful in diplomacy. My regular work was usually doing background research, looking for potential steps and simply brainstorming. Sometimes, we worked on briefing notes – the documents with every tiny piece of information needed for negotiations with other parties. We also worked with other divisions, worldwide offices, member states’ representatives in Vienna, and we regularly met with the Director to brainstorm and build further strategies. Some mornings, I also went to conferences or big meetings happening in the building. The possibilities are endless, considering the number of UN agencies and organizations in the office. All events were accessible for interns. I also attended meetings with colleagues from other departments or diplomats.
EM: How was the working atmosphere during your internship?
GT: The work day is quite short, the core hours are only from 9.30 to 15.00, but everyone works at least until 17.30. On a typical evening, I worked until around 19.00 – I am quite workaholic-ish. The office also has a bar, a place for all the interns and staff to mingle after a hard day of work. Once you go to that bar, you can end up at some live concert in one of the offices upstairs or some event you had no idea about, but still go for because of the free food… Anything can be found here! Some evenings, we would also go to embassies’ and other organizations’ official events and receptions – this is also a great opportunity to meet interesting diplomats sipping on some nice wine.
EM: Would you like to do the same job once you finish the master? Why?
GT: Working at a big international organization is definitely something I can imagine myself doing. The UN has been a big part of my life since 2014, so yes, I would love to do the same job after the Master, because it has everything I want: a diverse and huge community of amazing professionals, a good cause to fight for, commitment for the world’s well-being, a lot of politics and diplomacy, and structured, strategic thinking. Working for such a big organization, you become a very tiny part of a gigantic mechanism, but you still feel like a part that actually counts. And, at least with my job, it felt like I was doing something very important as I could see the developments and results frequently.
EM: What have you learned about yourself during the program so far?
GT: This past year and a half has been extremely enlightening in terms of my own needs and priorities. The MA has brought huge changes in my life and has given me a clear vision of what I want to do and be. It comes as a result of all the elements of the life I currently lead: all the different people I have been meeting, the places I have been seeing, things I have been learning and researching, experiences I have been trying. Discovering yourself when stepping out of your comfort zone must be something quite usual, but I feel that if we manage these two years and derive the right lessons from them, we can have drastic changes and growth as a result, not only in our professional, but personal life.
EM: How would you describe your fellow students?
GT: In the Euroculture programme, I have been extremely lucky with the people I met. I have such a bright, creative, talented, caring, open-minded and understanding group of friends and classmates! Both in Strasbourg and Uppsala, our classes have been made interesting and educative thanks to the discussions we have had and the ideas we have shared. It is important to communicate your troubles and struggles to each other. For instance, when it comes to your research: group mates can notice things you would never see and give very useful and constructive feedback. Do not be afraid of getting close and making friends! I know lots of people are, because we move around so much and we might be afraid of losing the people we have grown very fond of. But the strong bonds you could build and amazing people you could get to know are worth trying!
Thank you very much for your participation, Gulnur!
Picture Credits: Personal file