Right as I was finishing university, the global economic crisis of 2009 was in full blow. I applied for various jobs, from post-graduate university teaching positions to translating technical and/or scientific articles.
I was even waitressing early morning shifts in a local bar in Zagreb, Croatia. However, all were either substitute or short-term positions. So gradually, I started applying for jobs on an international level.
I got an internship at Energy Changes, a consulting company based in Vienna, Austria. Since I graduated from Faculty of Natural Sciences with majors in physics and chemistry, the field of energy efficiency and clean development, which was the main focus of the company, seemed like a fit. During that time, the company was divided into two branches: Global and Regional (Austria-Hungary). I was interning for the Global office and, some of my duties included monitoring international tendering processes, entering projects into the database, and preparing senior consultants for onsite work. I really thought we were helping to save the world.
Everything would be fine, and I would probably still be working, maybe not in that company, but in the field, if it weren’t for two crucial things:
1. By following the tendering, I soon came to realize that some financiers were offering support more in favor of traditional solutions, rather than to clean development and energy efficiency projects. Oh, and by the way: through tendering one can get a grasp of how the monetary support is divided and organized throughout the world, and it’s not a nice picture for someone as idealistic as I was at the time.
2. The final blow was the implosion of The Kyoto Agreement, which expired by the end of 2012. Despite the Doha Amendment, signed by 2013, the international CDM-stock market (clean development mechanism) imploded, and small consulting companies struggled to even survive. The company where I worked, for example, was reduced to Regional level in just six months.
I have to say I was left disappointed, but that grew to disgust after the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. It was shocking to see how global memory lasts for five years at the most. Personally, it felt like someone just reset the board for new players of this grown-up Monopoly game. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, because no one can take away the self-sustainable water cleaning systems set up in central Africa, or the photovoltaic advancements made in Dubai projects, but it all kind of discouraged me from pursuing a career in that field.
Soon after, I got a teaching job in one of the most respected high schools in Zagreb. At first, I thought this would be an in-between job until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I am happy to say that I am still working there and I love it. I teach high school physics and chemistry in Croatian, but also in a German-Croatian bilingual program, to 14-18 year olds. In contrast to consulting, I find working with teenagers more rewarding.
I feel like some effects of my work are immediate and instantly recognizable (like the “aha moment” you get after simplifying a problem), and some become evident a few years after students graduate. I have a sense of pride when I get my students to think critically and express their confusion or dislike of something, but are still able to maintain a good discussion, and respect for others participating. What is also endearing is to hear from students how you helped them to choose a certain path in life.
Being a teacher in this day and age, even in an underdeveloped Croatia, offers so much more than regurgitating the same material for different classes. Now, we can develop and participate in a lot of international student exchange and cooperation projects. My experience in consulting really comes in handy as it relates to proposal preparations, asking for financial support, and evaluation. By letting students participate in such tasks, it can help them get an insight of how the bureaucratic side of successful projects works. Some end up choosing that as a career path, others are at least made aware of the process.
By interacting with young adults just as they set off in the world, it’s interesting to see how much and how little things change from one generation to another. I am hopeful I have reached at least some of my students, and that they will affect others and further expand the network. By doing so I’ve begun to regard teaching as one of the most important and rewarding career paths offered.
I really do think that the experience at Seeds of Peace showed me how productive a group can be once trust is established, as well as some tools of mediating that I started unconsciously using while conducting my classes. Being a Seed also determined what I value in life. Being able to communicate the importance of mutual understanding and respect in conflict resolution, and ultimately achieving and maintaining peaceful coexistence, keeps me going. I may never see that dream come true, but having met so many wonderful people from so many different cultures and conflicts, I believe it is possible. It just demands perseverance and determination.
So instead of working in consulting and traveling the world while simultaneously saving it, I now have a job where I can do exactly that and so much more. Instead of advancing vertically through society, I am now advancing horizontally, by creating student/teacher networks, similar to Seeds of Peace, for quick and reliable exchange of information.