Catching up with Ilona Schumicky, 2019 Széll Kálmán Public Policy Fellowship Participant
The Széll Kálmán Public Policy Fellowship is a full scholarship for students from Hungary to participate in The Fund for American Studies summer or fall programs in Washington DC.
The program includes an internship placement in Washington DC, academic credit from George Mason University, housing in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC a variety of guest lectures and briefings, as well as opportunities for professional development and networking. HF’s scholarship covers full tuition and a living stipend for the duration of the program.
When we met Ilona, she graduated from Corvinus University with a bachelor’s degree in International Business and has been accepted to KU Leuven in Belgium where she was about to be working for her MBA with a specialization in Leadership and Change Management. Ilona was working for the Media Research Center’s CNS news division while attending the Economic and Public Policy track with TFAS with ethics and leadership electives.
Where are you on your career path now?
Currently, I am the Public Affairs Leader of IKEA in Hungary. Since I am the first one filling this role in Hungary, I also have the chance to form the role in a way it suits both my and the company’s goal. Establishing a locally new position in a big company such as IKEA has its ups and challenges as well. I consider myself lucky because I have very supportive colleagues and I can work on topics that are close to my heart, like employing refugees. Since I love to be up to date on current political happenings, and it is part of my job to monitor the political and legislative situation in Hungary, I can really do something at work I would do anyway in my free time. I have only been at IKEA for a year now, but it has been eventful and fruitful.
Before IKEA, I also got the chance to work for EY as a consultant in the government and public sector, so I could have a little insight into consultancy as well.
Which achievements are you most proud of since we met?
Employment of refugees is a very important topic for IKEA, the refugee crisis has been with us in Europe for the past years, and with the war in Ukraine, more and more refugees are arriving in Hungary. That is why IKEA would like to share its experiences in refugee employment and show other companies the importance of it and also the benefits. It is my job to introduce our skills for refugees project to other companies, that is why in February I organized a roundtable discussion around employment together with UNHCR and the Swedish Embassy for companies and it had a great turnout. This event was just a first step, and it was good to see how many companies are interested in the topic. We also received a diversity award for our effort in employing refugees from the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum this winter. We are planning to do more activities to help refugee employment, but it is still under discussion with stakeholders.
On a personal note, I am playing volleyball, now on an amateur level and our team is currently placed 2nd in the Budapest 1. Championship, hopefully, we will keep our place on the scoreboard.
How did your experience with HF in the US help you reach your goals?
My Széll Kálmán Fellowship Program strengthened me and I would like to pursue a career in policy.
Thanks to HF I gained unforgettable experiences, connections, and learning opportunities in D.C. It was great, that since I was in the US with HF before I started my master’s studies, it influenced my choice of specialization, so I changed my master’s major to European Public Management.
I also got the unique chance to work as a reporter on Capitol Hill and get really behind the scenes and talk to all kinds of senators and house representatives. This experience will be a memory of a lifetime.
What struggles/challenges did you have to overcome to reach/move closer to your goals?
Since I graduated from KU Leuven in 2020, I wanted to stay in Brussels and work there. As it was the middle of Covid, and everything was shut down it was difficult to get a job, but I received an offer to participate in the European Commission’s Bluebook program. I decided to pass on the Bluebook internship, due to the fact that it would have been only remote work and I already accepted a job in Hungary, so I moved back to Hungary with my back than fiancé. It was a difficult decision and first, it was hard to find my place in the job world in Hungary, so I worked for two different consultancy firms in the first 1,5 years, until I found myself at IKEA. Working in consultancy is very time-consuming, with many overtime hours, but one can learn a lot in a very short period of time, so I am glad I could have that experience, but I feel much better with a job, where I have to collaborate with more people on a daily basis.
What impact did your US experience have on your overall journey?
I learned a lot both during my classes at George Mason University and during my internship at CNS News. I got the chance to try myself out in journalism without any prior experience. So I definitely learned here how to step out of my comfort zone, how to navigate in an unfamiliar environment and overcome unexpected challenges.
I would also like to highlight that my Széll Kálmán fellowship gave me two great new friends, with whom I am still in touch. The whole experience strengthened me and I would like to pursue a career in policy.
What are your plans for the future?
Now I am happy that I finally settling in at IKEA, since I’ve been a bit job-jumping in the past years, I like to stay in one place for a longer term. That is why, my current goal is to get as much out of my current position as possible.
Also, I just got married a year ago and we are planning to start our family. Since starting a family can bring a big change in a couple and especially in a woman’s life, I am not planning anything specific until then.
What words of advice do you have for future recruits?
Use all the opportunities HF provides you because it is a one-time experience. Also, do not worry about sleeping, you will have time for that later.
What books are currently on your reading list?
Currently, I am reading French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman which is a very interesting book about raising children.
I have also two other books lined up, one of them is Nice Girls Cry Silently by Katarina Durica, which introduces the mafia ruling in Dunaszerdahely through three women’s stories and the other one is Beyond Order by Jordan B. Peterson.