Name: Helena Gandra
Position: European Solidarity Corps – Communications and Advocacy trainee. Recently created my own fashion label.
Company: European Volunteer Centre, Brussels, Belgium
Fun fact about myself: I am totally crazy about football. Always good to break Stereotypes!
Today I want to talk to you about why I think risk and curiosity are the key elements to be successful.
Eight years ago I was getting on a plane heading into the unknown. I was 17 and about to go to Romania as part of an Erasmus+ School Exchange and after a three and a half hour flight I found myself on the other side of Europe for the first time. I remember the first impression clearly, the people, how they dressed, the food, and especially the cold weather. I had never seen snow in my life, this was a strange new environment and a bit of a culture shock.
When the exchange ended a strange feeling stayed inside me. I had been raised believing that my country was the best but now I wanted learn more about other parts of Europe. I wanted to know more about other people, their thoughts, their culture and why anyone would ever consider living in such a cold temperature.
I realised then that I had been bitten by the ‘curiosity’ bug. I have often heard the saying that curiosity killed the cat but I have also heard that cats have 7 lives. So really, at the end of the day, even if you are curious you still have 6 more lives to live. With that reasoning I decided to explore more of Europe and after experiences new cultures I decided to pursue a Bachelor degree in new city, London, United Kingdom, studying music composition. Most of my teachers thought that I was crazy, my friends did not really understand why I wanted to go but my family supported me even though they were afraid of letting me go. This was the moment when I realised, that no matter what anyone said or did, I wanted to explore and go abroad. This was my dream.
When you holiday you never really let go your own cultural habits to give place to new ones. But after moving there more permanently and fully immersing myself in the culture, London had changed me. The city had changed the way I thought, the way I dressed, the way I saw personal relationships, and even the way I spoke. For the first time in my life I was speaking a language that was not my own for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After finishing my degree this love for the unknown kept following me.
Continuing down my path of cultural exploration I moved to Germany to do a teacher’s assistant programme in a primary school. I found myself living in Hamburg not knowing a single word of German. I am not going to lie it was hard. I knew no one and didn’t speak the language, I could have easily quit at that point and gone back to Portugal. But instead of giving up on my dream I worked diligently to improve my German and make the most of my life there.
To fill my free-time I started reading and found that politics and economics peaked my interest. I realized I wanted to pursue them more formally and applied to study a Masters in European Studies at the Europa-Universitat Flensburg. At first I doubted myself considering I had no formal education. But here is my advice: never think too much, just go for it. If you think it is something you will enjoy and can work towards, even if you fail, at least you know you tried.
In the second year of my Master’s degree I was selected to do another Erasmus+ programme at the University of Wroclaw, in Poland. There I applied for an internship with Credit Suisse, the Swiss bank. At the time I was going through a hard breakup and was full of doubts, about personal relationships and about my goals. I started to wonder if anything that I did was making any sense. I was tired of others trying to influence my life and in this moment I promised myself that whatever I would set my mind to, I would do it. I focused, had a great interview and earned that internship.
While working for Credit Suisse my hard work was noticed and I received a phone call from the European Commission. They wanted me to do a bluebook traineeship in Human Resources that gave me the opportunity to relocate and contribute to my dream of exploring Europe. It was going into the unknown again, having never done anything in HR. But I decided to follow my heart and head to Brussels to start my new job. From there I moved on to a position in Communications and Advocacy in the European Solidarity Corps, a new initiative from the European Commission. Now I am the first Portuguese-European person in the Solidarity Corps.
Work hard, take risks, and go to new places. Life is whatever you want to do with it. Listen to advice, but never let anyone decide anything for you. If you are scared, if you think you will fail, there is only one way of knowing: try it! Even if you fail, nothing is worse than not trying. It all pays off in the end and that’s the advice I keep telling myself.
And, guess what? I just graduated in MA/MSc in European Studies!
“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
One piece of advice for other young professionals from my experiences:
Dare to follow your dreams and possibly fail. Keep in mind that attempting to live without risk leads to the biggest risk of all, the risk of not living.
Connect with me:
Twitter – @Helena_Gandra