Lisa Weihser, a German law student who graduated from EF Academy Oxford in 2012. In this Q&A, Lisa talks about her internships and has some great advice for current students and for those who have already moved on to university. Read on to find out how she chose her university in the Netherlands and how you can follow her path:
How did you hear about EF Academy and why did you choose to attend?
I attended a regular high school back in Germany and I was considering completing my Abitur (high school diploma). However, the school that I went to did not offer languages such as French anymore as the
demand was too low. Since I didn’t want to do only sciences and mathematics, I wanted to change schools either within Germany or abroad. Thus, I did some research and I decided to go to France with EF for a high school exchange year. After that year, I had the choice to re-do that year in Germany or continue to study abroad because the German system wouldn’t recognize my year in France. That was when I learned about EF Academy – EF’s international boarding school – and decided to go to Oxford.
What’s your favorite memory from EF Academy?
My favorite memory from EF Academy is the people that I met there. In particular, I was a part of a group of five girls from Germany, Norway, Israel, the Netherlands and Denmark. Since we were all living on campus, we spent so much time together and became very close. We literally did everything together and we created so many common memories. To this day, we are still in touch despite the fact that we now are spread out around the world.
What is one thing that you learned from EF Academy that you found valuable for university? For work life? For your personal life?
I learned so much during my time at EF Academy. The most important thing that I learned through the experience was how to be independent. We got a lot of help from the school but it was not like we had our parents around so we still needed to figure out many things by ourselves. This has helped me follow the path that I am on right now.
What university did you go to after you graduated from EF Academy? What do you study and why?
When looking at universities while I was at EF Academy, I started with looking at bachelor programs in London and the UK. I wanted to study law because I found it to be more specific than business. However, I wanted to study international law and not national law which turned out to be quite difficult to find. That was when one of my best friends from EF Academy, Victorine de Milliano, started to research different university programs for me in her home country, the Netherlands. She came across University of Groningen which offered a program in International and European Law. It seemed perfect for me so I went for it and it turned out to be a great experience for me. Groningen is a real student city and probably above 80% of the students in my program were from abroad. The Netherlands are very popular among international students as most of the courses are in English and the tuition fee is much lower even though the quality of education is high. Moreover, people from the Netherlands are very open-minded so it is rather easy to integrate. For me, the University of Groningen was the perfect next step since I believe it would have been hard to go back to Germany since I was so used to being in an international environment after EF Academy.
What have you been doing since then?
I am currently doing a two-year masters program at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, majoring in International Law with a particular focus on International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law.
I have tried to gain practical experience through different internships. My first internship was with the Permanent Mission of Cost Rica and it lasted for one semester. I found it through my university and I was basically helping them at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, as well as the Business and Human Rights Forum. It was a very interesting experience since I got to understand the work that diplomats actually do.
During my last semester, I participated in a project called “Law without Walls” that was initiated by the Miami Law School. The aim was to make the legal profession more innovative by exposing law students to the business world. During this project, I formed a legal start-up together with two law students from China and India. We were given the task of reimagining the admissions process for law school that is currently very traditional, where the candidates only need to send in their CV, cover letter, grades and potential recommendations. We came up with a new application website, where prospective students could ask current students about their experiences. We did not pursue the project further but I am still very happy with the experience because I learned a lot about web development and teamwork. Moreover, we also got to go to Miami to present solutions, which was fun.
Right now, I am interning full-time at the Geneva Center for Security policy. It is a very practical experience during which I learn about counter-terrorism, migration and radicalization. For example, I got to co-organize a course on how to prevent radicalization and violent terrorism.
What is your dream for the future?
I recently found out that I was admitted to start my traineeship for NATO in Brussels, as part of the legal advisor team. I had to apply one and a half years in advance in order to get the security clearance and everything. There were several rounds of interviews and in the end, I got it! I will start working in December 2017, which is very exciting!
In the long-term, the most important thing for me is to be happy. I don’t want to become a workaholic although it is of course important for me to be happy with my job. Balance between life and work is essential for me.
What is your advice to current EF Academy student who want to do what you do?
– Pursue your own path: For me, it was always important to find my own path. Whenever I wanted to do something, I would just do it.
– Get involved: If you want to study law, join for example ELSA (European Law Students Association). They organize a lot of summer courses and seminars, which is a good way to meet people that will work in the field in the future. Remember that the people that you meet during your studies will most likely be your future colleagues or even your bosses, so start building your network early.
– Chase your dreams and don’t be scared: My philosophy is that you will never know if you could have made it unless you try. Someone once told me: Whenever you apply for a job, don’t be afraid that you won’t get it. It will never be a failure because then it probably wasn’t the job for you. It was the same for me when it came to universities, I applied for 15 universities when I was at EF Academy Oxford. I didn’t mind all the work that I had to put in to write all the different motivation letters, because in the end I felt that it paid off because I could make the decision myself.
Who are the most successful alumni that you know of?
Victorine de Milliano: She is the Dutch girl that I mentioned earlier. Since she graduated from her bachelor’s program, she has traveled to Canada and Mexico and worked for “Doctors without Borders” in order to figure out what she wants to do. She has always been a person that I look up to and we have encouraged each other a lot throughout the years.
Any advice to fellow alumni at universities and starting their careers?
– Try to gain as much practical experience through internships as possible: Try to do as many internship as you can, even if they are unpaid sometimes. However, I would only recommend to accept unpaid internships if they are combinable with your studies.
– Use your university’s career service if they have one: Usually the universities are very well connected and they can probably point you in the right direction. Professors are also very important. If you know that there is a topic or subject that you would like to gain some practical experience in, talk to the professor that is teaching that particular subject. They can probably give you some advice or even have some contacts for you to get in touch with.
– LinkedIn is very important these days not only to keep in touch with people who you already know but also to get in touch with new people. If you find someone that seems interesting, be bold and don’t be afraid to reach out. You have nothing to lose, right?
– When it comes to applications, make sure to spend time on revising and refreshing your motivation letter. Everyone has grades and a CV so I think the motivation letter is a great place to actually stand out and to show how you are different. I always try to be very personal in my letters and connect my previous job to the future job and describe how I could add value. Make sure to eliminate all spelling mistakes because otherwise, you go straight to the bin.
– Don’t forget to tailor your application: A lot of students send so many motivation letters that they forget to tailor for the job description. Make sure to say what they are looking for to increase your chances. In some international organizations, they even have specific words that they are looking for. That is why I sometimes look at the LinkedIn profile of the people that already works there so I can tailor the lingo.
- Name: Lisa Weihser
- Age: 23
- Nationality: German
- How many languages do you speak? English, German, French, Dutch, Italian
- EF Academy campus: Oxford
- Graduation years: 2012
- Program: IB
- Residence or host family: Residence
- Favorite subject: French – I lived in France before and it was really nice to have some practical experience in speaking French.
- Favorite teacher: Joan Wilisoni, my biology teacher, because she was so good at making the subject understandable. Moreover, Joan was not only a teacher, but she was also always available for us, even outside the classroom.
- Favorite club / society: The Yearbook Club – we compiled the yearbook for our class, it was a great experience during which I learned about everything from photography to filmmaking.
- Final thoughts?
- A small reminder to everyone to keep in touch; let’s not forget about that just because we are living in different places!