I feel I have made enormous progress in terms of my personal development, leadership skills and self-awareness throughout the duration of the Laidlaw Scholarship. This progress was greatly highlighted to me through my international experience as part of the LiA as well as the challenges I overcame along the way.
My international experience was perhaps unique in that, rather than travelling to a completely new country, I returned to my home country of Poland. My six-week leadership placement was the longest length of time I have spent in the country since my move to Ireland in 2007, but I was nevertheless very familiar with the culture, spoke the language fluently and visited it at least annually for most of my life.
This had its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, I felt at home, settled in very quickly and immediately felt very connected to the community I was trying to help. On the other hand, Warsaw was vey different to the countryside town in which I grew up and I completed my LiA almost entirely through Polish – a language I had no experience using in a professional setting. I also found myself feeling disproportionately disheartened when inevitable challenges did arise, such as my lack of knowledge of Polish legal terms or local government structures, for example.
I quickly found, however, that the greatest challenges ultimately made for the most rewarding results. I learned so many new things about the social and political context in Poland which I had not previously had the opportunity to be exposed to and I found it immensely satisfying to be, by the end of my placement, in the position to explain them also to my own Polish family. Meanwhile, six weeks proved more than enough time to become accustomed to the Polish language in a workplace context and I was so excited to hear my peers discussing how they would have never thought I grew up abroad based on my accent (this accent definitely existed prior to my placement).
Throughout the LiA experience, I additionally learned how much of an asset my international background really was. From translating documents and conversations due to my knowledge of languages, to coming up with new project ideas based on experiences I have had abroad, I think my mix of Polishness and international experience was very well suited to the work of my chosen organisation. The benefits of the concept of global citizenship really stood out to me in this context. These benefits are something I also noted often throughout our cohort leadership sessions as part of the scholarship – hearing about the experiences of scholars from various international backgrounds always made for a particularly interesting and insightful discussion.
All of the aforementioned challenges and realisations in turn had a huge impact on my leadership development. My leadership transformation was of course a part of the greater process of completing the Laidlaw programme, but my LiA definitely marked a moment where my new capacities could really shine. I began the scholarship with a lot of willpower to do good, but looking back I had very few skills to back this motivation up with real work. Working on an initiative which is having a real, tangible impact on the Polish community was incredibly gratifying. Despite any challenges I grew incredibly confident in my work, was happy to step up to tasks outside of my comfort zone and ultimately had a lot that I was able and willing to offer the organisation. This is the kind of energy I definitely want to bring to my future endeavours and career in the long-term.
As someone greatly passionate about European affairs, working on an EU-funded project was additionally interesting and motivating in terms of my future plans. I received a unique insight into the kind of project work I could be involved with in the future and genuinely found it very exciting. I was often happy to read far beyond my requirements when it came to documents such as analysis reports, risk assessments and project applications because I found it so interesting! Overall both the Laidlaw scholarship and my LiA experience have affirmed me that I am on the right path and that I am able to do a lot of good while walking along it. I am ready to act and excited for what will come next!