The MGIMO School of Government and International Affairs

Alumni Interviews

Christian Wollny

Christian Wollny

Why did you choose to get higher education in Russia and at MGIMO?

Before I went to MGIMO, I had worked in the energy sector in Europe. During that time, I had initial interactions with Russia, Russian language and people. In 2012, I spent a week in Riga, Latvia to take an intensive course of Russian. I did not pursue it in the following years, but I gained a basic understanding of the language and found it very intriguing. After I completed my program (wholesale and export merchant), I looked all around Europe for an ideal place to study. A colleague recommended to me SGIA and its Bachelor program designed for international students who had never been to Russia before but would like to study international relations at “Russia’s Harvard,” while also becoming proficient in Russian. When I heard about this, I immediately applied. When I received the letter of acceptance, I was overwhelmed with excitement. The biggest adventure of my life was about to begin.

When you think about the years at SGIA, what are your memorable experiences?

I have had the privilege and pleasure of going through many memorable events thanks to MGIMO. I will only mention a few here, as I fear there isn’t enough space to describe all the four years of adventure and exploration. As a member of SGIA’s own Future World Diplomats student association, I organized an international conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. I had the extraordinary opportunity and honor of representing MGIMO at a conference on education in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I chaired Model UN events in Vlaspanostok, Russia and at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I even had the opportunity to partake in a Model UN in Havana, Cuba. As the Future World Diplomats club president, I received a commendation by the MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov for our club’s achievements. And over the four years, I had the pleasure of meeting numerous ambassadors, diplomats, and other dignitaries.

What goals have you set for yourself when applying to SGIA? Were you able to achieve them?

The only goal I was thinking of when applying to SGIA was “surviving Russia” for four years. After all, I had never been to that country before and I did not speak the language or have any local contacts that could help me out if need be. It turned out, of course, that Russia is less threatening or dangerous than most people will have you believe (I would argue it is even safer than some places in Europe and North America). I had a great time there and consider it a unique experience unreplicable anywhere else in the world. And given that I successfully graduated in June 2018, I can proudly say that I achieved my goal.

How did SGIA experience prepare you for your career and did it help you to find your first position after graduation?

I would argue that what I learned outside of the lecture hall was more important than what I learned inside. MGIMO and SGIA have a lot to offer to the interested and engaged students who look beyond just passing time in the classroom. SGIA gives you the opportunity to meet some interesting and/or famous people and travel around the world, experiencing firsthand what it means to be a diplomat. Come my third year, I had no real idea what I wanted to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to receive a Master’s degree afterwards, but the what and where eluded me still. That was until one day SGIA organized a guest lecture by a professor from the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. The quality of that presentation convinced me that my next destination would be the Master in Management Program at IE which is one of the world’s top business schools.

Could you share your thoughts on how best to prepare for a career in International Affairs?

You would need a solid background in social sciences, etiquette, and languages. I cannot stress this enough, but being knowledgeable in general history, philosophy and culture is essential to being successful in International Affairs. Pick up a history book and read it from start to finish. Make a Wikipedia list of the things you don’t know, so that you can look them up later. Read Kant, Hegel, and Plato. Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, von Clausewitz and the book “The 48 Laws of Power” should also be on your reading list. Be fluent in at least two languages, but make sure you perfect at least one that isn’t your native. Impressing a diplomat by speaking his tongue will go a long way. Learn how to network with people outside of your cultural / social sphere, you never know who you might meet. Lastly, always remember two things: Never let them see you bleed, and always have an escape route.

What kind of improvements would you like to see in the SGIA program in the future?

To be fair, when I started, my cohort was only the second at the School, the program was new, many things had never been been done at MGIMO before. What I would recommend though, would be implementing a “buddy” system between third- and first-year students, especially for non-Russian freshmen who may need help getting settled in the new environment. Extracurricular credit could be offered as motivation to third-year students, and I’m sure first-year students at SGIA who are new to Russia would appreciate that. Secondly, it would be nice to see more professors utilize the MGIMO intranet to upload and share their documents with students. Finally, I would like to see some coordination between SGIA and the Russian-language Program in International Relations at MGIMO, as their curricula are similar, but interaction among students is low, and that is a shame. After all, if the program isn’t going to ameliorate Russia-West relations especially at the personal level, what was the point of setting it up?

Christian Wollny was interviewed by Nana Kvaratskhelia (Class of 2019) in March 2019