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Meet Our Alumni | Isak Axelson

What is it like to be a student at the Center for Statecraft and Strategic Communication? How does the education help students realize their career ambitions? We spoke to Isak Axelson, who has just returned to Sweden from an internship at the United Nations in New York City.

Since 2020, the Center for Statecraft and Strategic Communication has offered the course Applied History: World Orders and Contemporary Challenges to BSc students at the Stockholm School of Economics. The course, which takes the class to Cambridge and Washington, D.C., helps students apply historical insights to some of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century.

To find out what it is like to take the course and how it can be used after graduation, we talked to Isak Axelson, 22. Isak is currently a third year student in the BSc in Business & Economics program at the Stockholm School of Economics.

When did you take the course and what did you learn from it?

I took the Applied History elective in the spring of 2022. By far, it was the best academic experience I have ever had. Engaging with world-leading scholars and taking part in conversations spanning such a breadth of questions in history and statecraft was a true privilege. The course really widened my perspectives and interests. It was also very rewarding to get the opportunity to explore ideas and express myself in the long format of the final essay. Needless to say, the course sharpened my reading, writing, and discussion skills. But most of all, I cherish the great friends I made in the class and the enjoyable times we had together throughout the course.

What have you been doing since you took the course?

This past summer I completed a three month internship at the United Nations in New York. Specifically, I interned at an office called the UN Global Compact, which is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative and now also the office that manages the UN’s relationships with the private sector. The team I was on worked with issues in the intersection of sustainability and education, and specifically management education, globally.

How did the course help you in your internship?

I think the course helped me in several ways. Firstly, at the UN, having an interest in international affairs and global issues is basically a must, so taking Applied History was a great way of both demonstrating and deepening that interest. Also, as I said, taking the course definitely refined my critical thinking, reflective, and writing skills, and this was quite helpful in my internship too.

But perhaps more indirectly or maybe fundamentally, the course with all the different historical and political issues that it covers prepared me well for the social aspect of living in New York and working at the UN. Being there, the range of conversations you have in a day is truly astonishing. At lunch you might discuss politics with someone from Brazil, then you might have a coffee with someone who has worked with peacekeeping in South Sudan, and in the evening you may go to a reception and talk to someone who grew up in the Soviet Union. Having the mental models that Applied History gives you really helps you navigate such conversations and makes them much more interesting and enjoyable.

Also, sitting in on meetings in the Security Council really made it clear that different world leaders and governments view and use history in diametrically different ways. Watching the U.S. and Russian permanent representatives debate Ukraine and displaying completely opposite understandings of history and the war is something I will take with me for a long time. I think the tools and perspectives that I gained in Applied History made me get more out of my internship experience.

Thank you Isak and good luck with your future studies at SSE!

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