M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

Year of Yes

A Reflection on Past Experiences

Liz Hammer

In August 2013, I arrived at Dulles International Airport, passport in hand, ready to embark on a new and terrifying adventure.  My voice shook as I explained the purpose of my trip to the Transportation Security Agent—I was moving to Italy for graduate school.  This moment marked the end of months of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety; the move was finally happening, and I was not exactly sure that I was prepared.

The first few weeks in Italy were a blur of meeting my cohort, getting settled into our living spaces in Palazzo and beginning the program.  While I was excited, I was also feeling homesick, a little lost, and overwhelmed with the changes. My instinct was to retreat into myself and spend time in my safe space, my room in the palazzo, watching Netflix and chatting with friends from back home. However, I soon realized that if I was not careful I could easily squander this extraordinary opportunity of a lifetime.

I came up with a simple plan to combat the unease that I was feeling: to start saying yes. I would say yes to anyone offering a chance to go out and explore the city, say yes to dinner, and say yes to simply go up to the kitchen to hang out.  At first, this idea seemed a bit ridiculous, cheesy even. But the more I leaned into the plan, the more I started to reap the benefits. Saying yes meant making memories in Cinque Terre, finding two of the secret bakeries in Florence, climbing the Duomo and bell tower and forming long-lasting bonds. Getting out of my comfort zone and learning about my new city changed my overall mentality. I noticed that I was more motivated, my homesickness subsided, and I felt ready to take on challenges both in my personal and academic life.

I truly believe the mentality I adopted in Italy changed the way I cope with adversity and stress.  I went from being a quiet introvert to someone who was comfortable speaking her mind and leading the pack. Usual scenarios that used to paralyze me, like participating in a class discussion or presenting in front of European University Institute Fellows, suddenly seemed more manageable.

I left Florence beaming with confidence. Yet, almost immediately after touching down in Washington, DC, I felt myself reverting. Beginning to transition back to my old life, without my cohort around me, I experienced the familiar feelings of homesickness…this time for Florence. I feared that I would not be able to hold on to the new-found confidence I had worked so hard to acquire. I knew something had to change.

As I began my new role as an analyst for the Navy, I slowly started to recognize opportunities where I could employ the “yes” mindset in the workplace.  These “yes’s” looked very different—from agreeing to tour a cathedral to leaving town on a weekend trip. However, I soon learned that they could be just as rewarding.  My first big opportunity to exercise the “power of yes” was when my boss and I were tasked to brief our Admiral on a complex issue. When first asked, I immediately said “no.”  I did not feel ready or that I was the right person for the job, but with a little (ok, a lot) of encouragement from my boss I squeaked out a “yes” and began my preparation. After completing my first briefing, I walked away with an overall sense of accomplishment.  I had done it, and I had done it well! It was at that moment that I saw that saying “yes” to big opportunities could lead to the same type of confidence boosts and great experiences as I had experienced during my time in Florence.

Since then, I have said “yes” to many opportunities, both big and small, that have had huge impacts on my career.  I still get nervous and question if I am the right person for the job, but I have learned to channel those feelings to positive actions. 

I truly believe that the EUPS program presents its participants with a unique opportunity to learn how to effectively cope with drastic life changes, challenging opportunities, and adversities that other programs simply do not offer. The lessons learned during the program can and will pay dividends for years to come.  I encourage the current students to come up with their own blueprint to maximize their experience; it could be similar to mine or it could be completely different. For alumni: I challenge all of you to reflect back on your time in Florence. Did you also have lessons that you learned that could apply to your post-graduate life?  Are you challenging yourself and saying “yes” to big and small opportunities as they come along? Give it a try, where it leads may surprise you!

Liz Hammer

Class of 2014

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Published: Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Last Updated: Saturday, January 2, 2021

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