Bringing Our Elites Back Home: Mentorship Programmes for Romanian Students in the UK

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Last Saturday, I have attended a mentorship programme organised by the League of Romanian Students Abroad (LSRS-UK). It was the third student event hosted by our Embassy in the last couple of months, after the Conference of the Romanian Students, Professors and Researchers in the UK and a mentoring seminar organised by the Romanian National Union of Students in the UK (RONUS-UK). At the RONUS-UK event a keynote speaker was Paul Brummell, the future British Ambassador to Bucharest. He won the souls of the audience with a few sentences in Romanian. His presence is a testimony of the exceptionally good cooperation the Embassy of Romania has developed with the FCO and the British Embassy in Bucharest. We have ambitious common projects for an ever closer partnership between Romania and the UK and the current British Ambassador Martin Harris will always have a place in my heart.

The last weekend event brought together more than 150 mentees and mentors, with the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, as a keynote speaker. The outstanding British politician paid tribute to the Romanians living in the UK for their contribution to the British economy and the dignified way they crossed the difficult period of 2013. He praised the high quality of the Romanian students in British universities and offered to host in the House of Commons the LSRS-UK next mentoring event.

There are more than 6,000 Romanian students in British universities and as Ambassador I have regular contacts with them. In six years I have visited almost 40 British universities (some of the best in the world) where young Romanians are enrolled. I try to understand their dreams for the future and their expectations in relation with Romania.

Recently, I was present at the University of Bedfordshire (I had inspiring talks with Vice-Chancellor Bill Rammell, a keynote speaker to the Conference of Romanian Students last October), the London Metropolitan University (thank you, Professor Stephen Perkins, Dean of Business and Law Faculty), the University of York (Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Dr Jane Grenville spent a Sunday morning with us) and the Oxford University (Professor Martin Maiden, Chair of the Faculty of Linguistics, was awarded by the President of Romania for his outstanding contribution in creating a scientific connection between Oxford and Romania and his role in opening the Lectureship of Romanian language at the Oxford University and I had the privilege to bestow the decoration to him). Next May, I will be going to the University of Manchester (where I am a member of the Manchester Debating Union) and from there to Belfast, Ballymena and Londonderry, to meet Romanian communities living in Northern Ireland.

I was told by vice-chancellors and professors that Romanian students perform exceptionally well. Some of them try hard to cope with the financial difficulties after their supporting payments have been suspended by the Student Loans Company. It was supposed to be a temporarily suspension in order to check the residency eligibility for maintenance loans, but six months later students are still waiting for the conclusions of this exercise to be published.

I enjoy meeting students. They help you to keep your spirit young and your mind alert. Students are some of the best ambassadors a country could have abroad. In almost all discussions with them, a common denominator is the choice between going back to Romania and staying in the UK after graduation. I tell them that every responsible nation gathers its intellectual, scientific, economic and cultural elites and Romania cannot afford to loose some of its best brains. I would like to see these young Romanians returning home and contributing to our economic, social, cultural, scientific and political life. During the mentorship programmes, students expressed their interest in business, engineering, law, journalism, architecture, medicine, academic research, public administration and diplomacy. They could find places in Romania in all of these fields. I tell them that a successful career is the result of choice, not of chance. They must be prepared to compromise, because the life is full of compromise, but they should never compromise on their principles.

To those interested in diplomacy, I tell them that highly performing diplomats have more to do with sacrifice and refrain than with champagne and caviar. Some definitions of the job could be misleading. One is that “Ambassadors are people who tell you today what will happen tomorrow, and tomorrow will explain why what they predicted did not happen”. Otto von Bismarck once said: “I am a diplomat by birth, because I was born on 1st April”. Sir Henry Wotton, the envoy of King James VI to Venice, said in 1604: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.

The reality is that despite the technological advance and the so called “Tweeter and Facebook revolution”, diplomats remain a center piece in listening and understanding the position of various parties. The future will rely more and more on connectivity and fluid networks and understanding how best to use networking is increasingly important for countries and geographical blocs. One of the most vital parts of communication is listening to other people, and this is a key art of good diplomacy. Diplomacy represents power. Power represents people. Diplomacy represents people who are in power.

Diplomacy requires clarity of the objectives, knowledge, experience and a bit of talent. A good diplomat must be able to convince other people to embrace his ideas, because more powerful than blood and money is the power of ideas. From my experience, diplomacy is a profession to be learned from books, from previous generations of valuable diplomats and from practice, because good diplomats are formed in eight to ten years. They need communication and negotiation skills, flexibility, creativity and adaptability to a multicultural environment. Above all, what must always guide the action of a good diplomat is defending and promoting the interests of his country. One of the most experienced diplomatic services in the world, the British FCO, has its mission statement defined 166 years ago by Lord Palmerston: “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”. This applies not only to diplomacy but to other many areas where our young professionals are expected to contribute.

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