From Bologna to Brussels: Life Hacks from SAIS Alumna Electra Tsakalidou


Name : Electra Tsakalidou Year: SAIS Bologna '12, DC '13 Current Position: Public Affairs Consultant for FleischmanHillard, Brussels
Name : Electra Tsakalidou
Year: SAIS Bologna ’12, DC ’13
Current Position: Public Affairs Consultant for FleishmanHillard, Brussels

What do you get when you combine an ambitious Greek-French student, with a background in Arabic, EU policy, and a strong passion for environmental issues? You get a tenacious public affairs consultant at FleishmanHillard, who uses the tools she learned at SAIS to advise companies on energy-related decisions. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, Electra Tsakalidou.

Born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, Electra is a true global citizen. She has lived in Paris, New York, Bologna, DC, and she currently lives in Brussels. When asked where she sees herself in five years, Electra couldn’t name a place: “As a typical SAISer, I feel the world is my oyster!”

As an ERE concentrator at SAIS, Electra posits that a few classes in particular really prepared her for her job, and cultivated her ability to think about issues critically. One of these was Mara Karlin’s Crisis Simulation class, which Electra notes, taught her to “put emphasis on process,” and to “be creative while analyzing the global environment.” In addition, Electra says that she has adapted some of the concepts and assignments from that class to suit the needs of her clients at FleishmanHillard. Electra highly recommends participating in one of the weekend crisis simulations that SAIS facilitates, as either an organizer or a participant. She notes that this was one of the most engaging and rewarding experiences she had while at SAIS.

While many SAIS alums attribute the economics-heavy SAIS curriculum to much of their success, Electra feels that it was rather the well-rounded yet diverse nature of the SAIS curriculum that allowed her to specialize in one field while still learn about other important issues. Today, she uses everything she learned at SAIS, from “statistics, to macro, to policy in Central Asia,” to some extent in her life, while noting that the most important thing she learned from SAIS was to be curious. She believes that the unique SAIS coursework helped her to understand trends and “connect the dots,” in order to truly make sense of the international system.

With regards to future of energy policy, Electra is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. She acknowledges the current state of carbon emissions, but still believes that energy consulting is an emerging sector to enter; to anyone considering entering the field, do not be deterred. Energy policy is coming to the forefront of many major nations’ agendas, Electra notes, and with technology rapidly expanding, the means and tools of energy policy are constantly changing. Energy policy is an incredibly dynamic field, and Electra is excited to see how “new energy tools such as behavioral energy efficiency,” will affect the policy debate in the years to come.

When it comes to choosing classes for each semester, Electra offered a piece of poignant advice to current and future students: “Be creative with your curriculum without forgetting what you ultimately love.” She reminds us all to strive for that balance between refining the skills you have, and remaining open to learning about completely new things. “SAIS is a place for pushing yourself out of the comfort zone.” Take a class you know nothing about, bask in your own vulnerability, thrive in the challenge, and ultimately revel in your newfound knowledge. That, Electra believes, is what grad school is about.

Before bidding me farewell, Electra left me with some final words of wisdom:

  1.    Take Professor Plummer’s trade class (or at least get to know the guy)
  2.    Work hard; play hard as well (both are important)
  3.    Be less afraid (of taking new classes, of being creative with your writing, and of asking questions)

So to those of you who are Strategic Studies concentrators and currently writing a paper on the criminal tribunals of the former Yugoslavia, or if you are in International Law and assigned to read a book about the origins of socialism in Tanzania (this was me last week), maybe take a page from Electra’s book and see the beauty in this. Relish in the fact that as SAISers, we are given the rare opportunity to learn about something completely new, on a daily basis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Correction to author’s name and company name at 11:13 GMT on 14 December 2015.

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