Zhikica Pagovski (’11) graduated with degrees in Political Science and International relations and European studies. After he took his master’s degree in the American University Washington DC, he started climbing the professional ladder – from an intern at United Nations in Washington DC through the German Martial Fund, a think tank where he worked on initiatives to strengthen the trust in the transatlantic cooperation, through the Center for Civilians in Conflict.
Today Zhikica, or Zach, is Strategic Partnership Director at Foreign Policy. His diverse background in public and private structures, international organizations and think-tanks helped him develop an encompassing perspective about his field of expertise.
“That gives me a very good perspective of the difference between those types of lineup works in a sense. And over time assuming more responsible positions. I had the typical – started as an intern, progressed in the ranks, and now being a director. Having more responsibilities and tasks to manage.”
Growth and experience
In an interview for the AUBG newsletter 10 years ago, Zach shared that he believed that a single man may bring a positive change to the people around him. Today he shares that he might have been too idealistic in his student years, however, he tries to keep this mindset as a driving force even in the moments when life experience makes it harder. He adds up to this ideal:
“A single man by just impacting one life or someone, let alone impacting more lives, I think it’s bringing huge change.”
And this is what his personal story proves. The numerous initiatives, he’s been involved in, as long as the publications he works on, and the various platforms he participates in are all part of his efforts to contribute positively to the global affairs.
Photo / personal archives
Photo / personal archives
The mix of two majors helped Zach get ahead with knowledge and understanding of the EU policies and history but also with analytical skills and rationalization.
“The Foreign Policy Analysis class at AUBG with prof. Phillips was instrumental in learning how to rationalize policies, how to understand them and how to write and contribute with my thoughts and opinion, and how to even add to their implementation as well. The multiple classes I took with Dr. Crombois on EU integrations gave me a unique skillset in Washington of someone who intimately understands the old continent.”
Zach also recognized the significance of the liberal arts approach. “Being exposed to the Liberal arts education helps people become well-rounded individuals. And much more sophisticated in the sense of the professional life that they are pursuing, I think it is very important to have knowledge of the fine arts, classical music, astronomy, or the history and philosophy of the world. To be able to be an individual that will be able to consider different perspectives to challenge different conventions, and present your own views. And that will really think creatively about different solutions to problems in a sense.”
And while the academic life assured the ‘strong grounding and preparation to enter the real world’, the co-curricular activities helped him develop the soft skills that are so necessary in this sphere. The close relationship between students, faculty, and staff at AUBG was key for his journey of expanding his skills in relationship building , and mostly the sense of community service and the fulfillment that comes of it.
“AUBG has such a robust extracurricular life. I learnt how to work with other people. The AUBG structure [helped for this, as well] – not just the academic part but the student life office and the other offices that support AUBG.”
The Commencement ceremony was when he realized the impact of AUBG in his life.
“I remember how hard it was at the Commencement ceremony where you are finalizing this big chapter of your life – but you are kind of leaving a community of friends, professors, and mentors to go into the real world in a sense. Leaving behind a great life. I say to people that if I had university admission offers from anywhere in the world, I would choose AUBG all over again just because of this wonderful life that I had back then.”
Zach believes that the sense of community is the core of what AUBG was able to build. The ecosystem of great friends, starting from the roommates, expanding to the friendships built at the different clubs, to looking at the organization of big conferences like MUN and MEU, the community of professors and academic personnel. All the people within the AUBG system and even expanding to the region through the projects students work on to build bridges with the local community like the Youth Empowerment Initiative for local he ran with friends.
“One of the things is – I have built life-long relationships at AUBG. Both with professors and with my fellow students. I have some of the best friendships that last back from AUBG, and I am still in touch with many of the alumni. We have tried to jointly help each other after that in our different fields. But also, to connect, to brainstorm ideas, to support our professional and private lives.”
Appreciating the impact professors had in his life, he still keeps in touch with them and makes sure to give back by participating in classes, advising current students, helping during the conferences, and any other opportunities. “I am in touch for example with professor Crombois and trying to contribute to the EU studies department and being active. Sometimes connecting with students, sometimes participating in speaking opportunities and conferences so that was some of the main moments.”
The diverse community he spent his university years in allowed him to develop a sense of cultural awareness that eased his transition to the ‘real world’ and his life in the even more diverse Washington DC.
“I came from a small town in Macedonia at the border with Bulgaria. AUBG was the ideal long-term substant of exposure. Truly diverse international experience. You learn a lot about different, cultures, being exposed to different languages, celebrating different traditions, being more open to the customs of your neighbors. Seeing the people to people is what really matters more than historical disputes or problems. So AUBG prepared me to embrace an even more diverse world.”
Piece of advice
Zach highlighted four pieces of advice to the ones who are still about to go on this journey.
- Stay focused on the academic and career path that you are choosing.
Choose a field of studies you would enjoy doing for life and going to work will not feel like a responsibility but rather a passion. It In selecting a field of study, you should go with what your passion is [instead of pursuing the profitable career only].
- Life is full of disappointments and challenges.
Here I am talking about the job you got rejected for or you were not accepted for the master’s program school, you wanted to pursue. It is just important to build this level of tolerance. It is important to know that 1-2-3-5-15 rejections are not too many, you just need one good opportunity.
- And then, the adaptation to the bigger world after graduating.
I think that this amazing life that AUBG offers is hard to be fully replicated in the next chapters of your life. So, it is important to adapt to the bigger world.
- Set yourself to high goals and big dreams.
And continue to nurture that over time. Having a vision and high goals is what drives you through life but also learning to make yourself focus on the smaller things and learn how they fit in the bigger puzzle of your professional life.
To the high-schoolers
And as he often talks to high school students, he likes to remember how he ended up where he is and to motivate the students to be courageous:
“The admission process at AUBG is not like one for a typical school in the Balkans. Being courageous is the most important part. Going through the AUBG admission process is not easy. You are adapting to a new language, that is not your day-to-day language in your schools. You are adapting to new processes like the liberal arts type of education. But courage is something that will drive you. If you believe in your dreams, in what you want to achieve, professionally, if AUBG is the place for that – be determinant, be persistent with the process.
And just about making the decision about coming to AUBG and pursuing studies at AUBG. It is not an easy decision. Just because maybe most of your friends will go to a local state university. But here it is what really makes the people that are AUBG material – they are determinant, they take risks, they are ambitious, they really have this initial vision of how they see their academic and professional life evolving.