Name: Cristina Abellan
Year: 2019 1/2
Major: World Politics & International Justice
Currently: Associate at Kreab Brussels
Did you know? Was secretary of Fortuna
Lone: Hi Cristina, thank you for making time for us today to share your story! You graduated from LUC in 2019, where you did a double major in International Justice and World Politics. What moved you to double it up?
Cristina: Well, when I started I was pretty sure I wanted to do either World Politics or International Justice. But when it came to picking one after year one, I found out I wasn’t really able to do so. They actually complement each other very well, so I decided to find out how much additional work it would be to do an extra major. It didn’t seem like that much at the time. I could afford to take a little bit more time, and I decided to take an extra semester and do both. And frankly, if you made me choose today, I still wouldn’t be able to pick which one I preferred the most.
Sounds like you academically really made the most out of your time at LUC! What is you favourite memory from your time in the bubble?
Cristina: I really enjoyed my second year, when I was secretary for Fortuna. If I have to think of a specific moment though, I think I have two: the first one was the “controversial” Christmas Gala at Hotel des Indes. As stressful as it was, it was a lot of fun and it definitely brought the board closer to one another. The second one was the next Dies Fatalis. We were not organizing it, but the event was absolutely great.
Did you do any internships during your studies?
Cristina: I did, one in the summer between my second and third year with the Consulate of Spain in The Netherlands. I actually don’t know if it was very useful for what I am doing now or if it got me anywhere in that regard. But it was definitely an enlightening experience: it made me realize that I do not want to work in the public or administrative sector. A second internship I did was with the International Center for Transitional Justice, a political NGO that aims to help societies that have gone through civil war, genocide or human rights violations to get back on their feet. I was there for three or four months, and we worked a lot with Colombia at the time. I was writing reports, doing research and organizing events. Although I enjoyed it and learned a lot, it felt quite distant from the people I was working for. It was easy to lose focus on why I was doing what I was doing.
In Spain, it is mandatory to do an internship to graduate. And I think it’s good that people here try to go out of their way and do something, even if it’s something small. It is difficult to pick a Master’s degree or even a job if you don’t know what you like. Some people who do internships love to work in the same field after, but sometimes it’s not that easy. I had to realize what jobs I didn’t like before I could understand what I did want to do. It’s different to learn about it in class and to see what organizations and companies do day to day. So I encourage people to do internships if they can and if they can afford to do so, of course.
So once you had a clearer picture of what you were interested in, what did your path after LUC look like?
Cristina: It’s been a bit bumpy, as I graduated in February 2020, which was of course just before the start of the pandemic. At the time it sounded like the world was going to close up, but we were still looking at the situation from afar. I think it was Paul Behrens talking about it in his faculty keynote speech, and we all thought: “what are you saying, it’s going to be fine.” But yeah, here we are still.
Finding a job or next internship must not have been easy at such an uncertain time.
Cristina: No, but I got really lucky. I managed to land an internship in Barcelona at LLYC, a public affairs lobbying firm that lobbies for the Spanish government and regional government in Spain. Spain is close to a regional federation, so the regional governments hold some competencies. As lobbyists, we help companies understand what issues they have and how they can be solved with regulatory or political action. It revolves around the question: How do you translate what a businessman or businesswoman is saying, his or her interests, into what a politician can understand?
I found out there that lobbying public affairs is exactly what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go professionally. In the meantime, I applied for a Master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy of the EU at the College of Europe in Bruges. I went to the first round and did the interview, but I didn’t get in. Of course, it happens a lot, but we don’t tend to share those kinds of things with each other.
Then, they suddenly called me in August and asked whether I was still interested to start in September. They probably opened up more spaces or someone must have dropped out. I decided to go, and I can 100% recommend it if you’re interested in the EU, what they do and what they stand for. There was another LUC alumnus at the time, and I know this year there are two more who are doing a Master’s there. It was a great year, although we were still in the middle of a pandemic.
After the summer and getting my degree, I went back to the firm I had been interning with, but this time in Madrid. However, in the back of my mind, I still wanted to jump back to Brussels, because I really like the EU. Not only did I enjoy the topic during my Master’s, but I also thought I could be good at working on it. I contacted some people and networked a bit. And I am happy to share that I just moved to Brussels because I found a job there at a public affairs firm, where I will lobby the EU on the sustainability field.
That is great, congratulations! For your work as an (intern) lobbyist, were there any skills you gained at LUC or particularly missed when you had finished your studies at LUC?
Cristina: The tricky thing with public affairs is that there is no degree in it. No one teaches you how to lobby in university. It’s a lot of soft skills that I had to learn on the job, as is the case for many jobs. I didn’t necessarily feel unprepared compared to other colleagues though, because we all had the same problem. But I think what LUC taught me and what they appreciated was my ability to be resourceful and adapt, to change topics really fast. That is very useful when you lobby for different sectors. And in my personal experience, people also really appreciated the international mindset. The office I worked for was mainly focused on the Spanish market. So the second something got out of the Spanish realm, I felt comfortable dealing with that because I knew what I was talking about. We often forget the value of having a fully international education and understanding the different cultures we’ve worked with and studied with. That is very valuable in today’s world.
And even though you enjoyed your work with LLYC, you decided to search for a Master’s programme. How did you come to your choice for the College of Europe?
Cristina: Since I was doing a double major, where one of the tracks overlapped with IJ and WP, I had to take some courses that were not necessarily my first choice: structure and functioning of the EU and comparative legal and economic Integration. People told me beforehand it was a very tough and legally focused track, so I was going there a bit sceptical. But frankly, I loved it. Probably because I am a very methodical person, solving these EU law cases was like solving a puzzle to me. I really enjoyed that, as nerdy as it seems.
I was already flirting with the idea of applying, but I knew it was tough to get in. I started looking at alternatives first but didn’t find any that were as complete as the College of Europe. I ended up rolling the dice and applying, knowing that I had a job offer from LLYC to fall back on. Hanne Cuyckens, who is an IJ professor, is an alumna of the College of Europe as well and helped me with the application.
Did the study meet your expectations?
Cristina: It was a difficult year, with the online courses and everything. But the courses are really interesting, and the teachers all have experience in the field as ambassadors or even EU High Representatives or Vice-President. We were basically taught by stars. They make it in a way so that you are learning and working a lot, but don’t feel too overwhelmed. You are learning much more than you think and you get really close to people really fast. If anyone is interested in applying there, they give out a lot of scholarships as well.
Afterwards, you decided to go back to LLYC to work as a lobbyist again. Was that your plan all along?
Cristina: Partially. My former boss was a young and very cool person. He gave me a lot of direction and freedom to give my opinion. When I got a job offer from LLYC but also my offer from the College of Europe, he actually told me to go, because he knew that it meant everything for me. And when I finished college, he asked me whether I was interested in coming back. And I was, but I was more interested in going to Brussels. Frankly, I think I panicked a little bit, thinking that I would not find a job in Brussels and came back to LLYC. Maybe it was a rash decision because afterwards, I got two offers from Brussels I had to reject. It is fine though, I still learned a lot from the time that I was there.
And now you have actually moved to Brussels! What will you be doing there?
Cristina: It’s going to be a bit similar to what I was doing in Spain, but this time I will be lobbying the different elements of the EU, so the Commission, Council, and Parliament. And I will be in the sustainability energy team. The nice thing about lobbying or public affairs is that the topic you deal with can be unique or new, but the skills you need are the same. In that sense, it will not be completely new, but much more in line content-wise with what I’ve been doing at the College of Europe.
Looking back on all your work and studying experiences, what would be your one piece of advice for people who are just about to graduate?
Cristina: It pains me a little bit to say this one because it’s something my mum says as well. So I have to give her credit: when we graduate from LUC or a Master’s, it’s almost irrelevant what we do and what turn we take. Many people, myself included, are scared to be “wrong” when they take an offer or a gap year, afraid to lose a year. Whatever you do, you’re not going to be wrong, because at this age, with our education and hunger to make the world a better place, you won’t be doing anything that’s going to be wrong. Take a deep breath. Even if it’s not the ideal decision, you’re still going to get something out of it.
This post was part of a larger series of “portraits” of Alumni. Want to be featured, have questions for Cristina, or about alumni in general? Do not hesitate to reach out to Evolucio via our website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org.