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Going Places that I Didn’t Even Expect

Priya Swyden

Full Name: Priya Swyden
Degree: Master of Arts in European Public Policy
Campus: SAIS Europe

Before joining the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), what were you doing?

Before coming to SAIS, I was working in the Policy Planning Unit at NATO in Brussels, Belgium. I started at NATO in March 2022, only a few weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so it was a pivotal and really interesting time to be there. I had the chance to help my supervisor with the drafting and revision process of NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept, which only comes out once a decade.

Before NATO, I spent two years living in Geneva, Switzerland where I received a two-year MA in Global Security. It felt a little non-traditional to go back for a second master’s degree so soon, but I really wanted the SAIS experience and knew I wanted to keep pursuing a background in transatlantic security and relations – so the European Public Policy degree felt perfect.

What led you to Johns Hopkins SAIS?

Several things led me to SAIS. I knew I was interested in building my regional expertise in Europe so that I could eventually come back to the United States to work on transatlantic relations and security policy. So the MEPP program was really appealing to me. I also wanted to take advantage of the amazing career support that SAIS offers which I didn’t really get in my last MA program. Plus, I loved the idea of living in Italy for a year! I have always wanted to learn Italian so coming to Bologna was a great opportunity to do so through the language classes at SAIS.

What has been your favorite experience at SAIS and why?

My favorite experience at SAIS was the January 2023 Sarajevo study trip hosted by the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development. I learned so much about post-conflict politics, reconstruction, and development in Bosnia, and made wonderful friends during our five days in the country. I will never forget meeting with the Women of Srebrenica and hearing their stories. Not to mention, the SAIS Europe annual trip to the Vienna Ball of Sciences in Austria followed immediately after, which was so much fun and something I’ll always remember. I also loved the opportunity to participate in the SAIS career treks and had a great time on the Political Risk trek in London in January 2023.

Priya Swyden

What do you plan on pursuing after graduation? or Where do you see yourself 5-10 years after graduation?

I currently work as an Associate at Beacon Global Strategies, a strategic advisory firm that helps companies better understand and navigate developments in national security, defense, technology, and geopolitics. If you had asked me in Fall 2022 (when I started SAIS) where I would be working after graduation, I don’t think I would have said at a national security consultancy – so this was unexpected but the best position I could have asked for post-grad. I never would have been connected to Beacon or gotten this job without SAIS, and I’m really grateful to be working among some of the top national security professionals in this field.

In the future, I think I would like to be a Foreign Service Officer working at an Embassy abroad orI could see myself at DoD or the State Department’s Europe and Eurasia desk putting my MEPP degree to good use. It is also my dream to be a published fiction author in the next five years!

What is one piece of advice you would give to students in the process of choosing graduate schools?

Pick the school with the classes and extracurriculars (study trips, career treks, etc.) that interest you most. If you do, more than likely it will turn out to be SAIS.

What was one of the things you learned during your time at SAIS that transformed your perspective or way of thinking?

I have time to figure everything out. In this field, there are many different pathways that can take where you want to eventually end up. For example, until I got to SAIS I didn’t truly understand or appreciate just how much the public and private sector intersect along the geopolitical and policy nexus. After taking a Political & Economic Risk course, I understood this connection better and found that I was deeply interested in it, which informed the places I applied to - like Beacon - for jobs post-grad. For me, a SAIS education has taken me places that I didn’t even expect – and that’s a good thing.

What is your favorite SAIS tradition?

Friday apero at Giulios café! Closely followed by the SAIS Europe Thanksgiving potluck.

Whose support has made your journey at SAIS possible and why?

I have endless gratitude for my mom for always supporting my aspirations and for believing that there is no such thing as too much education. Also, my SAIS friends, and especially Alex, who completed this journey with me.

Priya Swyden

Who have you learned the most from during your time at SAIS and what have you learned?

I learned so much from each of my professors at SAIS, especially Dana Allin who taught me how to write compelling narratives, and Professor Michael Leigh who I now consider a lifelong mentor. He is brilliant, and I’m grateful that I had the chance to work as his teaching assistant. I also learned so much from my peers, especially those in Professor Leigh’s Scenarios for the Future of Europe class. Their creativity in the scenarios exercise taught me to think outside the box.

If you are looking to learn more about what it's like to be a current student at Johns Hopkins SAIS, we encourage you to schedule a virtual appointment with one of our Admissions Fellows.

Enjoyed reading Priya's experience? Learn more about our Master of Arts in European Public Policy.

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