3 Jun 2014

MILE Alumni Profiles: The view from Brussels

Thomas Tzieropoulos, Elena Vyboldina and Mate Kander all found their way to Brussels after completing the MILE programme. In this joint interview they talk about the work they do there, and how they established an alumni group in the city.

How do you enjoy working in Brussels? Thomas Tzieropoulos: Working in Brussels is surprisingly exciting. The international job market in Brussels is extremely diverse and very dynamic, with a high turnover of positions (at least by current European standards). I believe this makes it quite an attractive place for young professionals. In terms of network and social relations, it is an easy place to meet new people: professionally, the numerous conferences, lunch seminars, think tank events which take place year-round provide for extensive opportunities to meet interesting contacts. Elena Vyboldina: I do enjoy working in Brussels. I came to Brussels 9 years ago with no intention to stay longer than 5 months - the period of my traineeship with the European Commission - and I am still here. The city has a lot to offer for an expat. The job opportunities within European institutions, lobby organisations, consultancies and law firms attract many expats from different countries. That creates an interesting cultural mix and very motivating environment. Mate Kander: Living and working in Brussels is actually quite fascinating. As Brussels is the heart of the European Union, citizens from the different EU Member States work and live here, which creates an exciting international atmosphere. That said, Brussels is not only host to diplomats working permanently in the different institutions but it is also a city of young professionals. Who do you work for and in what capacity? T.T.: I work as a legal officer for the European Free Trade Association, a small intergovernmental organisation which aims to foster economic integration for its four Member States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. In Brussels, we mostly deal with the administration of the European Economic Area Agreement, the world's most comprehensive Regional Trade Agreement. E.V.: Currently I am working for Eurometaux, European Non-Ferrous Metals Association as head of the International Trade and Economics Department. M.K.: Following my internship in the European Commission I joined the Trade Department of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), which represents the interests of 15 Europe-based car, van, truck and bus makers. I find it tremendously exciting to influence policy making as a representative of one of the biggest industrial sectors in Europe. My main responsibilities are to advise European automobile companies on trade policy issues and liaise with the European institutions to represent the interests of the industry in trade negotiations. In fact, I am following the same files as I was during my tenure at the European Commission. However, I am now sitting on the other side of the table while cooperating with my former colleagues to shape trade policy to the needs of the industry. How did the MILE programme prepare you for the job you are in now? T.T.: As a lawyer, my current job has showed me how international law works (or doesn't!) in practice. To succeed in that, I've had to move away from a classic 'academic' approach – whereby every conclusion that you draw must always be backed by copious amounts of scholarship – and instead trust my own ability to develop logical, well-argued reasoning. I think that this was the core competence that I acquired from completing the extremely demanding MILE programme, since its structure did require us to rapidly assimilate very large volumes of new information and to constantly synthesise it into high-quality output. Just as importantly, MILE helped me to develop self-confidence and conviction in my arguments. More specifically, as someone who works in economic integration matters, MILE gave me an invaluable asset by ingraining a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving – most notably as regards the political economy of international relations, and related legal issues. E.V.: I am working as an international trade professional and MILE created for me the opportunity to start a new and exciting career. I know that quite a high number of other MILE graduates work in the international trade field in different assignments. M.K.: My current job requires a thorough understanding of the functioning of European institutions and deep knowledge of trade issues. I certainly believe that I had a competitive edge for this position as few other graduate programmes provide such a detailed and specific education in the field of international trade. I apply the knowledge I gained from MILE every day in my current position. This might sound like a cliché but it is true: due to the MILE programme I could contribute to the work of my organisation from Day 1 in the office. Do you have contact with other MILE alumni in the city? T.T.: About a year ago, I met a couple of MILE alumni at one of the WTI's Brussels Dialogues. We later got in touch through the WTI LinkedIn page, and have been meeting quite regularly since. We all work in trade-related issues, but the span of our activities and interests is really diverse – just like a MILE class. We come from very different places, and we all have a good story to tell as to why we're here. We enjoy a good meal, a good drink and a good laugh together. E.V.: I am in contact with several MILE graduates that are also working in Brussels, and some of them I regularly meet in my daily work. The world is small, but the trade world is even smaller!  M.K.: I was not the only one from my MILE 12 class to move to Brussels after the end of our studies as I was joined here by three fellow students. At the same time, I knew that there were other alumni in town from earlier MILEs and it was just a matter of time before we found each other. So it happened that at different trade policy events I met with other MILEs currently working in the European institutions, other business associations, companies etc. After we established our ‘critical mass’, we started to organise regular get-togethers. So I am glad to announce that the MILE alumni group in Brussels is now up and running!