Laura Sitea ’00: “AUBG Excels in Nurturing Confidence, and Adaptability in Ambitious Youths”

Since 1991 the American University in Bulgaria has earned itself a reputation as a truly international institution of higher education that equips young and talented people with the necessary skills and knowledge to become leaders at various levels of society. Laura Sitea, who was born in Brasov, Romania, is just one but all too appropriate example of an AUBG alumna that has succeeded in finding her place in the fast-paced world in the 21st century. Over the last several years Laura has been a member of the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York, working with the Peacekeeping Operations team on efforts to achieve peace and stability in turbulent regions such as Darfur and Syria. Even though Laura’s position in the United Nations sounds like one of those glamorous occupations that thousands of youths strive to, Laura cautions against illusions that such an opportunity comes around without any costs.

Laura grew up in Brasov, Romania. In those days Laura lived together with her mother, her elder sister, and her grandmother. Her father worked as an engineer in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran for approximately ten years. He and his wife had decided that their two children should acquire high-quality education that could help them become open-minded and responsible members both of their families and of society in general. Laura’s mother chose to live in Romania over joining her husband abroad for an expat lifestyle and earned part of the family’s living by teaching Romanian literature at the high-school level. She managed to instill in her daughters respect for their own country, traditions, and family. As Laura puts it, “my mother wanted us to keep our roots and identity. At the same time, the three of us visited dad in Egypt and Iran, and thus acquired a sense of adventure, a curiosity about the world beyond our borders, and a realization that one can wildly transcend the circumstances in which he or she was born.”

In high-school, Laura specialized in English, Mathematics, and Physics, but also loved her philosophy classes and took part in debating competitions. University time was quickly approaching, and she was planning to study Journalism in Bucharest. One day Laura’s father came across an announcement that the Open Society Institute was organizing TOEFL and SAT testing for scholarships. “He encouraged me to prepare for these tests and try my luck. On the examination day, we took the 3 a.m. train to Bucharest so that I could be in the testing center at 8 in the morning”, explains Laura. Not only did Laura do well on both tests, but she also managed to achieve scores that allowed her to receive a Full Soros Scholarship to study at AUBG.

When asked about her living and learning experience at AUBG between 1996 and 2000, a smile immediately creeps up on her face. “If it hadn’t been for AUBG, I would be a chain-smoker in Bucharest right now”, Laura exclaims. “I double-majored in Political Science and International Relations, and Business Administration. Taking a wide array of major-related as well as General Education courses enabled me to reflect on the complexity of the world, thus slowly surrendering my black-and-white approach to problems so characteristic of my high-school period.”Above all, Robert Phillips, who is still a Political Science professor at AUBG, taught Laura and her classmates the power and potential of individuals organizing to bring about much-needed social reforms. At the same time, Simeon Giannakos used humor and creativity to illuminate the dilemmas of ethnic identity and social belonging, whereby he encouraged his students to question all violence in the name of ethnicity – a strategy that Laura found tremendously useful as the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo were raging next door. On top of it all, the small classes and the deep in-class discussions of real-world issues and events shaped Laura into a person that “can now perhaps live and work successfully anywhere in the world”.

Having graduated from AUBG, Laura moved on to study in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA, where she earned a Master’s of Arts in Law and Diplomacy in 2003. Afterwards she worked in a couple of think-tanks in Boston and New York before joining the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 2006. Her work as a Political Affairs Officer involves engaging with governments and civil society groups, analyzing information, formulating policy advice to senior UN officials, and writing reports and speeches. Far from being naive about the influence of the United Nations, she feels grateful for the opportunity to be entrusted with deeply meaningful work. “I truly believe that principles and good ideas – communicated effectively – can change the world”, Laura says. Her professional portfolio features working on the mediation process in Darfur between 2008 and 2010, and on the mediation of the conflict in Syria, which is still in progress.

“I have no doubt that, had it not been for my scholarship-based AUBG education, I would have hardly been able to achieve what I have achieved”, Laura shares. Despite her hectic lifestyle and limited time with family and friends, Laura strongly feels that being in charge of efforts addressing large-scale conflicts and emergencies is the best way in which she can contribute to the betterment of our world.         

Story by Daniel Penev

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