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Aymen Aulaiwi

MPhil in Economic and Social History, University of Oxford; BA in History, Politics and Economics, UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies

Period of internship: Aug 14 - Sep 21, 2023

In a world full of insufferable corporate taglines, such as Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ and Boris Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done,’ few institutions manage to live up to the mantras they preach, especially if they are in Latin.  However, it is fair to say that the Centre for the Study of Democracy does not fall victim to this ignominious trend, and instead stands out as an organisation that does exactly what it says on the tin: ‘Building Bridges Between Scholars and Policy Makers.’

Now I cannot claim to be a scholar, but as a graduate student who has become engrossed in the world of academia, I always thought policy makers were unthoughtful and without due diligence, hoping most of them could be locked away in a damp basement in Brussels. Thus, leaving academics to apply real scientific processes to the problems of our modern world, even if it did mean those problems being resolved at a snail’s pace. However, who knew that my road to Damascus, would in fact be a flight to Sofia, where a third way (not Colonel Gaddafi’s) was presented to me beyond the Danube and in the beating heart of the Balkans. A liminal space where the world of academic rigour meets the real-world practicality of policy making. A magical dojo where I was trained to speed up the processes of scientific evaluation, and with my findings curate a beautiful patchwork of policy proposals which sought to address Europe’s most pressing difficulties with immediacy.

Under my lauded Sensei Dr Todor Galev, my training manifested through a breadth of interesting projects. For example, an extensive literature review and theoretical framework proposal on media capture, which allowed me to apply the theoretical clarity required of a field struggling to keep up with the machinations of Russian malign influence and ever-changing technology and algorithms. My research skills were further embellished with the task of having to collate fiscal data on nine Balkan countries, a task I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Moreover, I learned the subtle art of formulating policy papers which seek to influence those in power under the pretences of formality, which I have evidently failed to apply to this piece of writing.

Yet, no slightly ridiculous pros, can ever truly capture my experience at the CSD. While being brief, I have felt I have been here for a lifetime, a lifetime anyone would consider worth living. The people here have made a former North Korean embassy a home. A home full of some of the most talented and interesting people I have ever met, and who I can comfortably say are like a family. If it isn’t Vladislav’s crude comments, Tommaso’s intriguing Italianisms, Connor’s insanely good bar recommendations, or Dr Shentov’s groundbreaking knowledge of every film ever put to screen, the CSD still has something for you. So, step aside Oxford, there is a new jewel in the crown of Europe’s intelligentsia, and it sits heavy in the heart of Bulgaria.

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