Let me introduce you to our second-year student, Jessica Meyerzon (’22). She is originally from Seattle, Washington. She graduated from Lewis and Clark College in 2017 with a BA in International Affairs and Foreign Languages (Russian and Spanish). She was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Belarus and a participant recruiter for American Councils’ Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX), for which she traveled across Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Estonia. In addition to MAERES, she is pursuing a certificate in International Business Diplomacy and interning with the International Republican Institute (IRI).
Could you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to come to Georgetown CERES?
I am actually a heritage speaker of Russian. My parents are from Ukraine. My parents speak Russian at home, so it was kind of one of the reasons why I wanted to delve into the Russian language. I mean, at home, I got those conversation skills, but I wanted to formally learn Russian to improve my writing skills and my reading skills.
Then, through my studies of international affairs, and with my personal connection to the Russian language, I was more interested in pursuing work in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, somewhere where I could use my language skills and use my skills of international affairs. I had a friend who recommended that I apply for Fulbright. I actually applied to go to Russia first as an English teaching assistant right after undergrad. I did not get accepted to the Russia program. However, in the summer, Fulbright called me and said that they had a spot open for Belarus. And I was like, where is Belarus, let me think, yes sure, I think that can work (laugh). So I always like to tell people that I didn’t choose Belarus, but Belarus chose me, because people like to ask, you know, how did you end up in Belarus, of all places.
So that was the beginning of my journey abroad and work in the region. I did Fulbright in Baranovichi, a city in the Brest Region in western Belarus, for a total of nine months. Essentially, I taught English classes at the local university. I visited different schools in the area, and I met with a lot of high school students, even middle school and little kids as well, so they had a chance to interact with a native speaker and someone from the US. I was the only American in this city. At the beginning, I was very much like a local celebrity, which was a very weird feeling to have because I was like this average 21 year old, who just graduated from college. And because of this, I wanted to make sure that I was proactive in meeting as many different groups of people as possible. I invited everyone to participate in my English speaking club where we talked about cultural differences, so sometimes adults would come, too. It’s kind of like a community hub, and so I really enjoyed that experience. I mean, with the cultural differences, it was a bit hard at first to get used to living there, but over time, I think I made really strong connections with people there, and I am keeping in touch with some of them now a few years later. And especially with what’s been going on in Belarus, it has been really valuable to hear from them what it’s been like, just to get their perspective.
Could you talk about your job working in the region after Fulbright?
So essentially, during my Fulbright, I was already applying to other jobs. I heard that there was a kind of recruiting position for American Councils for International Education, so they had a seasonal job for the fall, so it was like for a total of four months. So for this, they have a high school exchange program called the Future Leaders Exchange program, and they were hiring recruiters to go to the region and recruit high school students to participate in this exchange program, but it was kind of like this program was a competition. So essentially the finalists were able to study in the US, the next year, studying at an American school and staying with a host family with all expenses covered. What happened was I went back to the region, so I actually spent one month in Kazakhstan, two months in Ukraine, and one month in Estonia. The most chaotic four months of my entire life, but in all the best ways, too (laugh)
So you were in Ukraine for a month, you said. Did you get a chance to visit where your parents are from?
Believe it or not- after my parents immigrated to the US, they never went back. So in my mind, it was a chance to connect with my roots, and I wanted to kind of find out where my mom grew up. My mom grew up in Kharkov in East Ukraine. And believe it or not, they only told me about those relatives that they even existed, when I happened to be in the country. They were like, “by the way, this one person is there, you should go meet and talk to them” (laugh). I did end up meeting those relatives in Kharkov. They showed me where my mom and her parents grew up and where she went to school, and I was shown old pictures of the family. It was a mind-blowing but bizarre and surreal experience. And then, my dad also has an aunt living in Vinnitsa, so I met up with her as well because my recruiting trip happened to be in the exact same city. I remember one funny moment, after I met up with her, you know, the Eastern European hospitality, when I was leaving she handed me three different bags of food to take with me, including a whole bag of apples. It was just like a very nice gesture, and I just thought that was a perfect example of the hospitality that I encountered in Eastern Europe. So these were quite enduring moments, and it was great to get in touch with my relatives in Ukraine.
Let’s talk about your International Business Diplomacy Certificate. How do you incorporate that in your MAERES?
So essentially, after my experience abroad, I went back to Seattle and did more of an administrative job at the University of Washington in Seattle. I wanted to start my graduate studies, and I knew I wanted to continue studying this region specifically and just get deeper knowledge on Eurasia, Russia, and Eastern Europe, but I also wanted to find a certificate where I could gain practical skills. So I found this IBD certificate that gives students exposure to the private sector to international business. I think what I’ve learned from this certificate is that you cannot really address complex global issues without understanding how both the public sector and private sector work but also how they are able to intersect and collaborate with one another, so it’s really important to understand both sides of the coin. So this semester, I am taking Business Dynamics in Eurasia with Prof. Gunn. That’s a direct kind of overlap between CERES and the certificate. And through the IBD certificate I was able to apply to the Wallenberg Fellowship, so it was a very unique opportunity.
As you mention the Wallenberg Fellowship, please tell us about it.
Yes, so essentially, three students from Georgetown were chosen to be in Sweden for the summer to do an internship and take seminar classes with the Stockholm School of Economics. It’s kind of a university exchange program, and three Swedish students end up going to Georgetown in the fall semester, also for an internship and some courses. So I applied and somehow got in, but I think the program is for exactly people like me who have different kinds of experience, like I can still apply my skills to a real world business environment or corporate setting.
It was lucky that we were able to actually go to Sweden, though my internship was virtual. I was able to get the cultural exchange and experience in Sweden. So my internship was with Ericsson, a telecommunications company, which, in my mind, I never imagined myself working with. I was with the internal accelerator team, and what they do is to help employees at Ericsson develop startup ideas within the company, so the company gives them money and funds to develop startup ideas. I conducted interviews with employees who were based in the Middle East and Africa, and the point was to do audience research for the company. I conducted like more than forty one-hour-long interviews. That was a very deep dive of qualitative research asking nitty gritty questions and putting together an analysis to give them insight.
Tell us a bit about your capstone, please.
So my capstone topic is on Russian and Chinese cooperation on Liquefied Natural Gas projects in the Arctic, but also just looking at the broader energy relationship between Russia and China. I chose this topic because I had two great classes on energy here: Energy and Environment with Prof. Sabonis-Helf and Energy and Security with Prof. Lloyd. Those classes inspired me to look at the Arctic, which is a fascinating area of the world, considering climate change and the implications of the melting ice. Prof. Lloyd is my advisor for the capstone. He is an energy expert, but not so much of an Arctic expert, so because of that, I actually reached out to a few experts in the field. They have all been extremely responsive and super helpful. So you know, for first-year students who are considering their capstones, if you know experts in the field, maybe talk to them even before developing your project idea to get another perspective or help with framing your research question.
How is your job search going?
Because I really enjoyed my experience interning at IRI so far, and it’s been especially interesting given the developments in Ukraine, you know, it is important to continue to support democratic movements and protect democracy in Ukraine. In addition to that, I’ve looked at research analyst positions. I actually got an offer from Ascendant Program Services. The company runs feasibility studies on projects. For example, if they want to fund in Eastern Europe, they run diligence and risk assessment research to figure out whether it’s feasible to fund the projects in the regions. Some of them are in the energy sector, and some are in the information communication technology sector, so a variety. But the energy sector is definitely what piqued my interest, and why I applied, so hopefully I would be able to apply my regional knowledge and language skills. It is like an intersection of my interests, you know, the energy sector, the region, and in the private sector.
(Jessica has accepted this job offer since the interview. She will be working with Ascendant Program Services, LLC as a Research Analyst for Middle East/Eastern Europe under their contract with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Congratulations!!🎉)
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)