"An important lesson to be learned was how little we actually know as undergraduates, and how much there is to be discovered through professional work experience".
In the third year of IE’s International Relations program, students from the Segovia campus study at the Madrid campus. Xenia Greenhalgh was among the new faces that entered my classroom as part of the exchange. Over the course of the academic year, Xenia has not only enriched our in-class political discussions with her South African perspective, but has also shown herself to be resilient, assertive and passionate.
Xenia is an IE Ambassador, class representative, and leader of the IEO Political Think Tank. Additionally, she co-organized last year’s Leap conference and completed Spring Week with Gatehouse Advisory Partners, a consulting company which advises clients in assessing and responding to geopolitical risk.
The Spring Week at Gatehouse Advisory Partners
What was your greatest challenge during the Spring Week?
The greatest challenge was having to adapt to a 9-to-5 work schedule. As students, we have a very flexible daily routine, and can punctuate work sessions with other activities. The stimulating work was motivating, though, and as time passed it became easier to wake up early and travel to London’s city center with the morning herd of rush hour commuters.
What do you consider the highlights of your week?
It was a short two weeks with many incredibly enriching moments. Two particularly salient examples are my visit to Chatham House, and engaging with Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
At Chatham House, I was fortunate to attend a conference on Governance, Leadership, and Legitimacy in East Asia. A panel of experts, with varied professional backgrounds, on the Role of Democracies and the International Order was especially thought provoking, when a Chinese member contested traditional thinking that liberal democracy is necessary for development. I was able to meet him after the discussion, and briefly discuss his thoughts on African political systems, as well as his point of view on China’s future leading the international order.
In addition to this privilege, it was an honour working with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the company Chairman, on a number of tasks. It was a challenge not to fangirl so explicitly in the presence of a retired British diplomat with such an impressively influential career in conflict resolution.
Were you able to apply what you’ve learned at IE to the job?
With Gatehouse consulting on shifting geopolitical contexts, I was able to draw on much of my international relations knowledge gained during my time at IE. I also found useful the business-minded thinking we developed in various compulsory IE modules, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the university. While I did feel prepared for the internship, an important lesson I learned was how little we actually know as undergraduates, and how much there is yet to be discovered through professional work experience and our colleagues, with whom we are lucky to interact.
Her advice for future IE students
What advice would you give future IE students who wish to pursue International Relations here?
IE has an excellent program to prepare you for the working world, as well as an extensive network to tap into when looking for work. However, it is just as important to pursue practical experiences as to be studious. It is a challenge to find opportunities due to the multidisciplinary and novice nature of the field, so it would be my recommendation to students to send out as many applications as possible, across varied industries and job descriptions. While IR students traditionally do not have clear career paths, as an accountant or an engineer would, it is an advantage that we are professionally adaptable to almost any context. It is time to stop seeing IR as a “career-less” degree and to instead be inspired by the constantly evolving and globalized world we live in, in which almost any company or organization stands to gain from an IR perspective.