Advice from alumni: David Gitnacht
David Knabe Gitnacht from Switzerland graduated from EF Academy Torbay in 2013 and after earning a degree in Law and International Relations from the University of Sussex, he moved to the Netherlands where he is currently earning a Master’s Degree in International Trade and Investment Law from the University of Amsterdam. Read on to find out how an internship in Arizona and Brexit had an impact on his studies and career path:
Why did you decide to attend EF Academy?
My story is a bit special. I graduated from my home school in Geneva before coming to EF Academy. I already had done the IB program but I didn’t have enough points to get into the University of Geneva (they appreciate the Swiss system more than IB). What my mom did for me is that she looked at programs that would allow me to go out and have other opportunities to take the IB. It was also about seeking another experience in my education. I wasn’t fluent enough in English when I finished high school even though I passed the exams. That’s why it was important for me to improve my English skills and because of that I went to Torbay. I’m very thankful that she gave me that opportunity to study abroad.
Why did you pick Torbay instead of Oxford or NY?
The admissions consultant recommended Torbay and I think she was right. Torbay is smaller and there is a close link between the students since it’s a small city. There is also a strong sense of community and you feel comfortable when you go to school because it’s in a nice area.
What is your favorite EF Academy memory?
I met Reham [featured in this Future Friday] because she was in the residence with me. The residence is part of all my favorite memories. We went to dinner in the city, and we did activities together like bowling and going to the cinema. I really enjoyed my time at Torbay.
What was the difference between the IB program at your high school in Geneva and the one at EF Academy Torbay?
When I did the IB program in Geneva, we were more than 100 students, while in Torbay we were few students. As a result, the teachers could focus more on each one of us. Also, the teachers encouraged us to seek our potential and helped us reach it. More than that, Torbay gave me the ability to improve my critical thinking which is a key academic skill that you need to have for university education.
Also, I was less mature and motivated in Geneva than when I was in Torbay, so when I went abroad and decided to retake the IB, I took things more seriously and took them into my own hands.
What did you find challenging about the IB program?
What is challenging is that there’s a lot to do – it’s a lot of assignments and studying for exams, so the most important thing is time management. That’s the most important thing you need to know to do well in the IB program.
What advice do you have for current students?
I would advise them to figure out what they want to do in the future before starting the IB program. They need to have a sense of what they would like to do at university or in their career because that’s where it always starts. Once you know what you want to do, it’s easier to enjoy and choose the subjects. If you do math HL, physics HL and chemistry HL but you study Law, it’s not going to help you at university. I know it’s early, but it’s important that you start thinking about it.
What is one thing you learned at EF Academy that prepared you for university? For your career? For your personal life?
As I said above, Torbay helped to develop my critical thinking and independence. Chris Nicholls my history teacher had a key role in that. He’s a great teacher. Chris teaches TOK, history, and he is involved in a lot of activities at the school. Most importantly, he taught us how to be critical in the sense that you don’t have to accept what people say, but you have to build your own perspective based on the credibility of the sources. You have to make yourself stand out from the rest and that’s an important skill in history but also in law. The arguments that you make have to come from critical thinking – so, that, and the ability to think on my own. That was the most important skill that I have learned while I was at EF Academy.
How did you choose your universities for undergrad and grad school?
For Sussex, I applied to four universities and a lot of my friends were in London so Sussex was a good choice. The academic advisor at EF Academy Torbay gave me a list of universities in the UK where Law is very highly regarded. I applied to these universities and decided to go to Sussex. It wasn’t easy at the beginning. This is when you really start your adult life. You have a lot of liberty but also important responsibilities. I am happy that I chose Sussex for my Bachelor’s Degree in Law.
My choice to study at the University of Amsterdam is sort of a funny story. When I was doing my studies at Sussex, I wanted to do something with international economic law and I was more interested in European competition law. But after what happened with Brexit, I switched to international trade law. The education in Amsterdam is more affordable than in the UK. It’s a very good university and widely recognized, the quality of life is high and I love the city. The people here are very nice and my classmates are all very nice as well. It’s a great university.
What got you interested in law and international relations?
What I like about law is that it’s a subject that touches everything – it’s not something that is on its own. I’m more interested in the international relations aspect of law, the relations between the states and how they cooperate with each other and how they follow rules in order to determine if they should use force or engage in diplomatic or economic relations. I’m very interested in human relations and cultural differences. I consider myself to be an international person, and I like places where people have broad perspectives. That’s what I like about the field: it brings people together to make a decision and follow the law.
What internships have you taken on since graduating from EF Academy, and which has been the most important to you?
After I graduated from EF Academy, I did an internship with an NGO called Centre Europe-Tiers Monde (CETIM). It was my first time doing an internship. My role consisted of managing administrative tasks and contacting other NGOs for potential collaboration in common projects. What the CETIM does is to bring claims to the UN in Geneva from people who are struggling with corporations or governments. It was interesting because I learned how NGOs operate and how they use contacts.
Then I did another internship in Arizona that was more related to the legal world. I assisted an attorney who is involved in immigration and criminal law. I went to courts, prisons, detention centers and I worked on real cases. It was an amazing experience and it helped build my awareness of immigration issues in the U.S. It was a very valuable experience for life and also in terms of my career.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of?
That’s a difficult question – I think my greatest achievement is making all these friends that I still keep in touch with, friends from EF Academy, Geneva, and university. Once you finish your education, you sometimes don’t talk to the people you studied with and you fall apart for years. But what I’ve done is that I’ve kept a good network of people and I try to keep in touch with some of them. Sometimes it’s difficult because you have studies and other, new friends, but I’ve done it and I think that’s a great accomplishment.
What is your dream for your future?
I have many goals, but I would like to become a mediator. I want to be an independent professional but also to work in an international institution such as the United Nations. Resolving conflicts between parties and finding a compromise is a satisfactory feeling in the sense that you support progress in a relationship. It’s about human relations and bringing people together to find a solution. That’s the reason why I want to have a career in mediation.
Home country: Switzerland
Languages: French, English and Spanish
EF Academy campus: Torbay
Grad year: 2013
Favorite clubs: Football and French Club
Favorite subject: History
University: University of Sussex for Law and International Relations (LLB), University of Amsterdam for Master’s Degree in International Trade and Investment Law (LLM)