An Alumni Interview with Charlene Batlle (BA HAST 21′)

Charlene Batlle graduated from Bard College Berlin last year, having concentrated in Ethics and Politics, but with a great interest in creative writing and international relations. Since finishing her Bachelor’s degree, she has entered a whole new chapter of her life filled with challenging yet rewarding experiences and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Hearing about Charlene’s post-grad ventures makes me excited for what comes next in my own life after graduation.

We became close friends in the Fall 2020 semester, when she was a fourth year student and I a third year. Being from Cuba and Brazil respectively, we bonded over Latin American culture, music and cuisine, and many other things in between. Since graduating in 2021 and moving out of Berlin, our long-distance friendship has been made up of many long, deep, and sometimes quite silly conversations. Charlene shares advice about the dreaded senior thesis writing process, we open up about our hopes and dreams for the future, we indulge in pure gossip sessions, or reminisce about the short though very memorable times we had when we studied together at BCB. 

Over the phone, during a call I like to call “The Life Updates Call” lasting almost two hours, this interview-style conversation followed a quite loose format. It is, in reality, also a combination of many Whatsapp voice message exchanges and Instagram story replies throughout the last months through which Charlene and I keep in touch. These have all culminated in the following alumni portrait of her: 

What have you been up to since you graduated from BCB?

Before graduation I found myself tormented by what step to take next once my diploma was in hand. At some point I decided to take a break from academia to focus on getting work experience, and worry about M.A. applications only later on. So, I decided to take a year off, nothing more, nothing less. I graduated at the end of May 2021, spent some time in Berlin, and then went back to Florida to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoyed my summer and applied to positions at the Spanish Consulate in Miami, and the Embassy of India in Washington D.C. I have always liked diplomacy and I figured, what better place to gain experience in the field than in an actual embassy? The application process was not easy and took a lot of time and energy, yet I was officially hired by the Embassy of India in October of 2021 as the Social Secretary to the Ambassador.. I also applied to two master programs at the end of last year in D.C. One of them was in International Affairs at American University and another one in Government at Georgetown University. Luckily, I got into both of them and I have made the decision to be a graduate student at Georgetown. 

When Charlene shared the news, I was so proud and excited for her, both times! Learning the details of her journey post graduation showed me the many possibilities out there, some more unexpected than others. It also showed me that in the end, things fall into place somehow and happen in the way they should. 

Can you talk a little bit more about what your job at the Indian Embassy entails? What are the highlights of the job? 

My main task at the Embassy as the Social Secretary is to manage the Ambassador’s agenda. If anyone wants to schedule a meeting with him, they have to get through me. I also do political research and briefings on specific topics the Ambassador requests from me. Aside from the office work and the managing of logistics, I accompany the Ambassador to meetings and take notes on the topics discussed. It’s a job that is constantly requiring you to move around, to organize your time and to think a lot — you are always busy. This job also makes me always keep myself updated on current events and politics, which I appreciate a lot as well. 

Apart from work, what are your current hobbies? What does a day in the life of Charlene look like, including free time? 

A day in my life… I wake up early and try to meditate or do a bit of Yoga. If it’s a weekend, I’ll go to the gym. If it’s a weekday, I take a shower and get ready to go to work. After work, it really depends on the day, but if I get out at 6:00pm I will try to go for a run or meet some friends for a little while. I try my best to balance work and social life, so sneaking in a coffee between my schedules or a dinner with friends is vital. I like to read a lot and try to do it everyday before going to bed. On weekends and holidays when I can take full advantage of my day, I try to explore the city, find cool spots, go to a museum or an interesting event, like a TED Talk. I also attend a creative writing workshop once a month, that’s always something I look forward to.

How is life in Washington D.C.? How is it different or similar to Berlin?

Washington D.C. and Berlin are quite different. You spend a minute in Berlin and you feel rejuvenated. The city is full of young people who express themselves with their clothes, accessories, even with their haircuts. You hear music in the streets and there’s always a lot of people walking around. D.C. is quite the opposite, lots of suits, lots of individuals in a hurry. Traffic is horrible, and even though people walk, it is not as common as in Berlin. Everyone has business cards to give out, (everyone but me). It’s a city that demands you have an occupation. That’s what everyone asks when they first meet you: what do you do and why? Moreover, D.C. is more expensive than Berlin. On the good side, in D.C there are no bad restaurants: if they aren’t amazing, they won’t last. So, all in all I definitely miss the Berlin/ European city vibes, but feel like where I am now is the right place for someone with my career aspirations. In terms of networking, here I’m always meeting interesting people doing really interesting stuff. D.C pushes you to keep up your game in that sense. 

Looking ahead to Grad School, what will you be studying at Georgetown? Can you talk a little bit about course offerings and why you chose this program? What are you most excited for?

At Georgetown I will be a candidate for the Master’s in Democracy and Governance. The D&G Program studies theories of democratization, governmental transition, governance, elections, civil society, authoritarian survival, corruption, and more. As we all know, the field of democratization and democracy assistance is broad. It involves, and was built by, people working in public policy, development, international relations, and security studies. The program works with major GOs and NGOs to offer skills training that matches the demands of the field. This involves everything from methodologies and practices to program design and evaluations. The courses I have to take in my first semester are: Research Design in Democracy and Democratization, Comparative Political Institutions and Regional Studies in Democracy.

Aside from these three courses, I can take any other course of my choosing that is relevant to the field in some way. I can also take as many language courses as I want, which is awesome. This program makes me very excited. I think it will equip me well for the future I envision for myself. I love that it’s in a University like Georgetown with so many good connections and resources. The fact that it is in the capital is a huge plus. Also, I know it sounds weird, but I really miss being a student. I honestly cannot wait to “re-start.” 

What should we expect from Charlene in 5, 10 years? Where in the world do you envision yourself, and doing what?

I really hope in 5 years I am doing something I enjoy, something that makes me really happy and fulfilled. I don’t know if that will be doing a PhD, being a diplomat, or having my own political strategy advising firm… who knows? I do envision myself giving my all for a better world, helping my native country, Cuba, in some way or another. The world is on fire right now and we need firefighters. I can only aspire to be one of the good ones and make a real change towards the right direction. I also wish that my brilliant friends are also doing amazing things. 

Lastly, how do you feel BCB has prepared you for these amazing opportunities? 

BCB gave me the confidence to walk into a room full of people and be able to talk about almost any topic. The Socratic method that BCB employs when it comes to education really prepares students to be real scholars. Also, to critically think and investigate for themselves and explore new ways to tackle existential problems, through its interdisciplinary liberal arts mode of education. These skills I learned thanks to the spectacular curriculum and professors, will accompany me forever. 

Behind these wonderful achievements, Charlene recounts the emotional and stressful moments that have made her year filled with ups and downs, feeling like a roller coaster ride at times. She has inspired me and been like an older sister that I have been able to look up to in many ways during this crazy transition from BCB to the world. Charlene, I wish you best of luck in all of your future endeavors and hope to see you soon, chica!

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