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Tomáš Bendl

2018 Alumnus
BA International Relations, MA International Relations and Diplomacy

Having graduated from AAU with both a BA in International Relations (2013) and an MA in International Relations and Diplomacy (2018), Tomáš now works as part of Médecins Sans Frontières, an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organization. This NGO focuses its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. With a keen interest in helping others, Tomáš recounts the people who got him to where he is, his funniest, and most heartbreaking, experiences and the lessons he has learned along the way.

Why did you choose AAU?
My passion for studying really only kicked in at the university, mainly because of the professors I was lucky enough to meet there. I suppose I should actually say thank you to the unknown AAU Admissions Officer who approved my application when no one else would. To be honest, I didn’t have the best grades in high school. I was everything but a good student and there just wasn’t much demand for someone like me among most institutions of higher learning. AAU gave me a chance that changed my life.

What AAU faculty member made an impact on you and why?
Duncan Mclean. He was my Conflict Studies professor who had previously worked with Médecins Sans Frontières as a Project Coordinator, Head of Mission, or Program Manager in Thailand, Myanmar, Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Chad, Palestine, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, and Uganda. The honesty with which he spoke about his experiences truly intrigued me and it was one of the main impulses that set me on track to humanitarian work. Interestingly, he is now back in MSF, so we even have a chance to touch base as coworkers every now and then. Benjamin Tallis, who has shaped most of my current views on international relations and politics, was also a major influence.  

Aside from a degree, what else did you leave AAU with?
One of my professors used to say that we’re here to learn how to think, not what to think. I think that’s a useful thing to keep in mind even after you leave college.

What is your current position?
Médecins Sans Frontières exists to provide emergency medical aid and to speak out about the plight of the people we treat. My job as the Head of Communications in the Czech Republic is to make sure that we fulfill that second part of our social mission. In practice, it means mainly overseeing our digital communication, media work, public events, and publications.  

What were some of the biggest learning curves you had to overcome in your career?
As a manager, you’re only as good as your team. It’s not really a learning curve I had to overcome, but it is the most important lesson I’ve learned so far. 

How did you get involved with Médecins Sans Frontières?
Duncan Mclean, whom I mentioned earlier, was the one who got me interested in MSF. But it wasn’t a straight line from his classroom to my current position. I worked in other NGOs and companies after school trying to gain the experience that would one day bring me to Doctors Without Borders. It took a few years.   

Tell us about a work experience that you’ll never forget.
A couple of months ago I came back from a mission in South Sudan, which is one of the most destitute countries in the world. During my last week there our team received an eight-year-old girl who suffered from cerebral malaria. They did their best to help her, but unfortunately, her condition was too severe. She died less than 24 hours after admission. I think I’ll always remember that girl’s face.  

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
I was once in the Vienna State Opera on Wagner’s Parsifal and didn’t fall asleep the entire time. It was more than four hours long.   

What are you currently working towards in either your life or career?
I’m trying to learn French and read books about astrophysics for people who know absolutely nothing about astrophysics. Both subjects fascinate me. Unfortunately, I still have a long way to go before becoming at least partially versed in either of them. 

Tell us something unique about yourself. A hobby, an accomplishment you’re proud of, or a lesson learned.
Don’t wear short pants to work in South Sudan! I’d rather not go into further detail about how I’ve learned this particular life lesson.

Want to know more about Tomáš and his work with Medecins San Frontieres? Check out this interview with Muzivcesku!