Research for Justice: Alumna Margarita Biryukova
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Margarita Biryukova graduated from John Cabot University in 2016 with a major in International Affairs. While at JCU, Margarita spent a semester studying abroad at California Polytechnic State University. Fluent in Ukrainian, Russian, English, and Italian, after graduation, Margarita worked as an intern in JCU’s International Admission Office. In January of this year, she was selected to do an internship at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
Tell us about your internship at the International Criminal Court. What’s it like to live in The Hague?
I’m really enjoying my internship at the ICC. Working in international organizations has always been my dream. The ICC is the world’s most influential institution in the field of international criminal law and it is an honor for me to be an intern here. My responsibilities involve conducting research for a specific case or situation under analysis by the ICC. I have always liked doing research, so I am happy to be receiving many research inquiries from different units of the ICC. This not only makes the internship particularly exciting for me, but also makes me feel proud to contribute to the work of the ICC.
I love living in The Hague! Compared to other cities where I have lived, adapting as an expat here is easy since everyone speaks English. People are very nice and always eager to help. Also, I love having an opportunity to go to the beach every weekend. Being located near the sea also means getting some strong winds and storms from time to time. It is pretty funny how sometimes you just cannot ride your bike because of the wind that blows you off!
The Hague is also known for being the headquarters of many international organizations. The city offers the opportunity to attend hearings at the international tribunals and courts, which is, undoubtedly, a great privilege. For instance, the International Court of Justice recently held hearings in a case of Ukraine v. Russian Federation, and I was more than happy to attend them. Living here is perfect for people who are passionate about international relations and law. In addition, there are an enormous number of expats here in The Hague, which makes this city very diverse, but at the same time cozy for everyone.
Tell us about your experience studying abroad at California Polytechnic State University.
I recall how painful it was to leave Rome for one semester, but then I realized that California is another paradise on earth! Studying abroad in California was like living in another world, certainly one of the brightest periods of my life! I got a chance to experience life at a large college campus in the U.S. Everything was very different from JCU and living in Rome, but I fell in love with that way of life too. I was very lucky to have chosen good classes with excellent professors. Despite a large number of international students at Cal Poly, I was the only non-American student in all my classes, which was an unusual experience for me. Thanks to the amazing weather in California, I enjoyed activities such as hiking, surfing, kayaking, traveling, having picnics, and studying by outdoor swimming pools. To be honest, it was sometimes a bit hard to concentrate on studying; however, I managed to get 4.00 GPA that semester!
Did your time at JCU prepare you for what you are doing now? How?
JCU definitely prepared me well for my internship at the ICC. Firstly, thanks to multicultural atmosphere at JCU, I feel very comfortable in this international environment. The ICC community is even more international and that makes this place truly unique. Secondly, JCU also provided me with a strong academic foundation. Studying international affairs awakened my passion for international law. Thirdly, having brilliant professors at JCU inspired me to work harder to achieve more and more. Lastly, the JCU community not only gave me an exceptional academic preparation for my future, but also contributed to my personal and professional development.
What are your career plans?
At the moment, I am exploring different Master’s degree programs. I do not have any specific place in mind, as I am always open to new experiences in any country. After earning my Master’s degree in International Law I would like to work for an international organization that focuses on rule of law, human rights, or conflict resolution.
Any advice for a new student starting JCU?
My main advice would be to be as proactive as you can. Participate in various clubs at JCU, do some working hours on campus, volunteer, travel, enjoy living in Rome, and, more importantly, devote enough time to your studies. When you graduate and do not have working experience yet, your transcript is the business card that will make you stand out from other candidates. Do not miss out on an opportunity to study abroad. Not only to experience living in another country, but also because you never know if it will be the experience that changes your life. In my case, my exchange semester in France (that I did when I studied at another university) became life changing for me, and ultimately made me to transfer to JCU.
My last piece of advice: try not to procrastinate when writing your papers. But should it happen, just keep in mind that you are not alone! Every single student goes through it, and in the end everyone survives it (not without a few emotional breakdowns!). Support each other and that way you will manage to also have fun when going through those situations with your friends and fellow students.
What do you miss the most about JCU and Rome?
The Hague is a beautiful place to live in, but I miss the sun! Not that we don’t have sun here at all, we do have it, but only occasionally! I miss some of my favorite places in Rome, like Fontana di Trevi, Colosseo, Piazza Venezia, and many others. I’m already planning a trip to Rome to get some natural vitamin D!
I miss the family-like community of JCU. This is something that I did not find in other universities, so I really appreciated it.
Living in Rome, studying and then working at JCU was an incredible period of my life. I’m thankful to everyone at JCU who made my Roman experience an exceptional one. JCU and Rome will always be in my heart!