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Understanding the Inner Workings of the European Union

Amina Frassl Headshot
Amina Frassl, MAIR Candidate ’23

What encouraged you to apply to Johns Hopkins SAIS and what were you doing before you came here?

Prior to SAIS, I studied journalism and politics (and minored in European studies) at NYU. In 2019, I attended a panel discussion covering German reunification, remembrance, and populism in East Germany. One of the panelists was Yascha Mounk, an associate professor at SAIS in DC. I liked what he had to say, so I looked him up and researched the school. However, I wasn’t actively thinking about attending grad school until COVID hit. At the time, I was a junior at NYU and realized my time was running out. I felt like I hadn’t covered enough ground during my years at NYU. I didn’t yet understand how the world really works (not that I do now), what informs global players’ incentives, and what forces shape the world we live in today. Moreover, COVID proved once more the significance of cooperation, multilateralism, and international relations (global efforts to invent a COVID vaccine, vaccine distribution efforts, Next Generation EU). I also worked part-time at an expat magazine based in my hometown – Vienna, Austria – called Metropole, where I reported on Austrian and EU politics. Through my writing, I became particularly interested in the workings of the European Union. Yet, to understand the economic union fully, I realized that I needed to comprehend the member states’ economic interests. That’s what ultimately brought me to SAIS. SAIS is the only graduate program in international relations that puts such a heavy emphasis on economics. Since SAIS Europe is also based in the heart of Europe, I couldn’t think of a better place to learn about the EU and its place in the global order.

Through my writing, I became particularly interested in the workings of the European Union. Yet, to understand the Economic Union fully, I realized that I needed to comprehend the member states’ economic interests. That’s what ultimately brought me to SAIS.

What program were you in and what do you hope to gain from it?

I arrived in Bologna as a MAIA, but I switched to the MAIR based on my interest in economics and finance, a functional focus in the MAIR program. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection of politics and the global economy throughout my studies at SAIS.

Tell us about one of your favorite experiences from your year in Bologna.

The simulation in Marco Dell’Acquila’s Renewables class has been my favorite experience at SAIS thus far.  He puts you in groups and assigns you a country in an emerging market for which you have to develop a portfolio of renewable energy projects within 24 hours. It’s unlike anything else at SAIS. It’s challenging and requires teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Leading up to the simulation, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I felt like I lacked the skills. I didn’t know enough about renewable energy, the science behind it, the legal ramifications of renewable energy projects, nor did I know how to finance these. Yet, no one did. We were all in the same boat, which made this an incredibly fun experience. My group managed it exceptionally well. We split up the tasks – I handled the financials – yet still collaborated and supported each other along the way. It wasn’t easy. For example, at midnight, we had to shift gears since our original plan wasn’t going to work out. Yet, we never lost hope. And guess what – we won the simulation! You should have seen the smile on my face when one of the judges complimented our financial statements. I came to SAIS to push myself. The simulation did precisely that. Moreover, it was a challenge, which is exactly what I’m looking for.

Do you have an internship/job lined up for after SAIS/this summer?

Yes – I’m interning at Lazard Asset Management as an equity research analyst in London this summer. My tasks include analyzing and valuing publicly listed companies and providing investment recommendations. I arrived at SAIS without ever having taken a finance course. Though ironic, my courses have indeed prepared me for my internship, which gives to show that SAIS is much more than just a regular international relations school. For example, I took Corporate Finance in the fall, where I learned the fundamentals of financial theory. In Renewables, I wrote a paper comparing renewable energy companies' risk-return ratio to that of conventional energy firms listed on the New York Stock ExchangeIn European Financial markets, I applied financial theory to understand the causes of the eurozone crisis.

As a graduating student/second-year student what is some advice you’d give to future students?

Network! Speak to as many alumni, current students, and professors as possible. As someone who came to SAIS directly from undergrad, I lack the real-world experience that some of my peers possess. I’m still figuring out who I am and where I’m supposed to be. Speaking to as many people as possible has definitely helped me reorient myself and get on the right path. SAIS gives you easy access to a network of incredibly interesting individuals willing to share their stories, give advice, and provide insight into their careers.  I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. Remember that SAIS is a big family. Everyone has been in your position and is happy to help and support you in your future endeavors.

What career pathways do you see for yourself following your studies at SAIS? How has your experience here changed you and your views for the future?

I’m still figuring it out, but fingers crossed I manage to land a career in finance. I’ve had an inkling for a while that finance could be for me. Financial markets inherit journalism’s fast pace and unpredictable nature. In fact, the news cycle directly affects markets and so do political events. Ever since I saw how interconnected global events and markets are, I cannot unsee it.
I’m super excited to see how my internship goes this summer. However, I’m leaving all doors open. I love to write and to be honest, I miss writing because it’s my medium of expression. Right before I joined SAIS, I was afraid to leave my magazine job because I felt I was losing my voice. In the future, though this is a farfetched dream, I aspire to have my own column where I give my two cents on politics, markets, and international relations. Besides, if finance doesn’t work out, I would be delighted to become a reporter for The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal. Moreover, I’m also super interested in podcasts, so maybe that’s an avenue I could explore in the future.

Do you have anything to add about your experience here?

SAIS has opened so many doors for me ! I had no idea what was possible before I came here. But because SAIS is so multidisciplinary, you really start believing that everything is possible. Moreover, SAIS is a big family. The people have really made it the learning experience that it is. I have learned so much from my classmates, and despite my youth, I dare say I have been able to give some advice too. We support and help each other, and I would not trade that for the world.

Enjoyed reading Amina's experience? Learn more about our Master of Arts in International Relations.

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