Jana Brotankova, 1999 AAU alumna, has spent most of her time since graduation working for the European Commission in Asia and Australia. In a recent interview with Stephanie Lachman, Jana illustrated the ways that living and working in a foreign country has changed her life, and how AAU prepared her for that time abroad.

Nowadays, private universities are becoming more commonplace, even among Czechs, but at one time this wasn’t the case. As a Czech citizen in the 90s, what made you decide to choose a private university? What made you decide to choose AAU?

In 1994, when I enrolled in the AAC (the AAU still had college status then), there was only one private university that delivered a full English curricula. The main reason I enrolled wasn’t the private university aspect, but the English language aspect and the whole structure of the curricula. The courses and subjects felt less academic and more focused on knowledge and capacity building, thus delivering the skill development I was looking for.

You graduated in 1999, what was AAU like back then (regarding student body, teachers, and lessons)? Were there any memories that stand out to you? Were there any professors or classes that made an impact?

Personally, what stays with me was that at that time, the courses were built around student needs: most of us at that time were full-time working professionals. Therefore, the majority of courses were evening courses. It was demanding, but also fun and inspirational. I wasn’t really engaged with the student body because I had a full time job then, and there wasn’t much time left for anything besides work and study assignments.

With respect to the teachers, I did experience a transformation thanks to my accounting professor (unfortunately I do not recall his name). The way the course was taught converted me, and because of this class, accounting and finance has become my profession (more or less). This “conversion” happened despite my conviction not to pursue a career even remotely connected to accounting following my high school state exams.

You graduated from the school of Business Administration, do you feel that your studies with AAU adequately prepared you for the employment sphere?

As mentioned above, I was already working full time in the banking sector as Financial Controller at the time; my education was complimentary to my job.

Did you go on to study anywhere else after AAU? If yes, when/where and why?

No, I didn’t pursue further studies after AAU. I felt (and still feel) that the practical knowledge gained through work experience can provide complementary learning opportunities equivalent to those gained in school. However, I have had plenty of training focused on different topics throughout the course of my career.

How did you come to the decision to work for European Commission? What kind of experience has it been thus far?

Working in the Commission happened by coincidence. When the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, I was living and studying in China and started looking for a job in Beijing. It just so happened that there was an opening in the EU Delegation to China and Mongolia, and after going through a rigorous recruitment process I was hired. Initially, I worked in Administration as an accountant, but one year later I moved to the Finance, Contracts and Audit Section as a Project Financial Officer.

Switching from the private to the public sector has been a very interesting and rewarding experience. Up until the switch, I had no knowledge about the world of development cooperation and knew nothing of international organizations. I’m happy to have had (and still have) the honour of being a part of the cooperation development aid that the EU delivers around the globe, and being a contributor to the process of making our world a better place to live.

Can you describe your working experience abroad? What are some of the pros and cons?

I have lived abroad for about half of my life; I feel more at home abroad than when back in my birth country, I really enjoy the cosmopolitan way of life. Generally speaking, I would say that the pros outweigh the cons: one becomes more flexible and resilient; you learn to adjust to different cultures and languages, and adjustment to new working environments becomes faster and smoother. Maybe the only downside is that one remains geographically far away from their family.

You have been on sabbatical since 2013. What have you been up to in your spare time?

I left my job in Beijing in August 2013 for family reasons and moved to Australia. My time spent “down under” was fully devoted to family which kept me always busy.

This year in February I re-joined the European Commission service, this time in Hanoi, Vietnam. So far, this has been another life-changing and learning experience. My time here has taught me that nothing should be generalized; no matter in how many countries one has lived each new place offers a unique; learning through life experience never stops.

Publication date: July 31, 2015