Simona Atanasova (’12) on Public Policy and Exploring One’s Own Definition of Success

From helping advance democratic processes in Southeast Asia and supporting people living with H.I.V. in Macedonia to studying at the prestigious John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the U.S., AUBG alumna Simona Atanasova (‘12) has always been a passionate advocate of human rights. Atanasova, Political Science and International Relations & European Studies majors at AUBG, is now back in her home country Macedonia where she works as an advisor in the Cabinet of the Minister of Health.

What was your first destination after AUBG?

Right after graduation, I went back to the U.S. for another work and travel summer. By the time of graduation, I have been going to the same island in the U.S. for four consecutive summers and have made great friends and memories there.

What have you been up to ever since?

My eagerness about the political developments and democratic processes in the developing countries led me to Southeast Asia where I visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Then I came back to Macedonia and started working in Stronger Together, Association for Support of People Living with H.I.V. Because of the stigma and discrimination due to their H.I.V. status or sexual orientation, people with H.I.V. in Macedonia are living on the margins of society. I spent a few years working closely with this community, advocating for better access to treatment and care, as well as designing and providing preventative services.

At the time, as a political science graduate, I had the theoretical knowledge in public policy; however, being engaged in the field of public health made it crucial for me to learn about the latest scientific knowledge and approaches in addressing public health threats.

I was honored to receive the Fulbright scholarship to pursue a Master of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. After my graduation in May 2018, I moved back to Macedonia where I have been working as an advisor in the Cabinet of the Minister of Health.

How did you become interested in your professional field and what is the most rewarding thing about your job?

My initial interest in the political developments in developing countries was broadened by the invaluable experience I acquired in Southeast Asia. Learning about the myriad of health issues burdening many developing countries on one hand and the lack of effective policy making to counter these issues on the other inspired me to pursue a career in public health and health policy.

My contribution to the improvement of my country’s health system and to the advancement of the health and quality of life of the people is the most gratifying thing about my job.

What advice would you give to recent graduates about building a fulfilling career?

Taking time to explore will help one better understand the personal needs and their own definition of success. More importantly, making the effort to meet the people one admires to better understand who they are, what they do and how they got there can prove invaluable in building a successful career.  

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Spending time in nature with my family and my dog Dora.

In what ways have your AUBG education, experience and friendships had an impact on your career and who you are today?

Spending four years among such a diverse group of students with outstanding potential and among faculty and staff who are supportive and who would always make the time to provide guidance and advice had had immense value to my time at AUBG but also ever since then.

What activities/clubs/extracurricular activities did you participate in at university? How did they affect your AUBG experience?

I was part of AUBG Model United Nations Club, first as a member and delegate in a few conferences, then a President of the club and the last year as a Chair of the Security Council.

During junior year, after I and three other AUBGers were ranked among the finalists in an international competition on sustainable development (Challenge:Future) we established a Challenge:Future Chapter at AUBG which I was managing for almost 2 years.

I was also involved in the Youth Empowerment Initiative which was famous for organizing the annual soccer match between the AUBG and South-West University students and faculty.

Lastly, during sophomore year, I used the AIESEC platform at AUBG to do an internship in Moscow where we took part in cultural exchange activities and organizing workshops in children hospitals and orphanages.

These activities were excellent networking opportunities, allowing me to connect with my peers to work on issues outside the classroom. I am grateful for the opportunity to hone my skills among such a motivated, driven group of students and I strongly believe that we achieved great things for our community at the time.

Lastly, through these activities, I developed my project design and implementation skills, learned the importance of proactivity and time management and advanced my leadership skills which were critical in the work I have been doing since graduation.

Can you share a favorite or funny story about your time at AUBG?

One story alone couldn’t possibly do justice to the experience that AUBG gave me. Four years’ worth of pure joy, growth and mutual support, critical thinking and polymathic excellence.

What would you tell prospective students who are considering studying at AUBG?

Studying at AUBG is one of the best decisions I and my parents have made. It has given me the insight and relevant experience in my chosen field of studies, the skills to understand and respect different values and cultures, to appreciate opinions that differ from my own and to properly understand the concept of dialogue. At AUBG one is provided with the opportunity to communicate with faculty on a daily basis and is encouraged to think critically and analytically. The knowledge, skills, and values I acquired at AUBG have paved the way for my future professional endeavors and if this is something one is looking for, I encourage them to look no further than AUBG.

Interview by Dimana Doneva

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