Green shoots: I was eight when I moved to Fermoy from Belgium, and although I had taken English lessons in Mechelen, school was a shock because I had no idea what people were saying.
My grandmother Alma sparked the Irish connection when she came for a holiday after Ireland joined the EU in 1973, and ended up buying a holiday home in Tallow. My mother would have spent a lot of her childhood here, and on their honeymoon my dad got the bug. On a whim they moved to Fermoy with myself and my brother in 1996.
A year later my dad was asked to run a Belgium factory so we moved to Clonmel where I made great friends; they have all emigrated abroad for work, only one lives in Dublin.
I liked history, and coming from Belgium to live in Ireland thought the idea of the EU was fantastic, so I went off to study European Studies in Trinity.
Backing Irish enterprise
During my degree I took a year off and went to Brussels for an internship at the EU parliament. I was drawn to the multiculturalism and wheeling and dealing of Brussels, to the buzz of it all.
When I graduated in 2009 I considered my options - I had an arts degree in a recession, so I figured rather than join the mountain of educated CVs, I would get work experience.
I turned down a place with the College of Europe and applied to the Enterprise Ireland graduate programme and I moved to Amsterdam where I helped with trade missions and assisting Irish companies entering the Benelux market.
Because the programme is for two years I found EI invested in me, the six-month internships can be too short to pick up meaningful skills. It was in Amsterdam, almost 10 years ago, in O'Reilly's pub, I met Peter Campbell - an Irish guy then working for PwC.
Breaking into the EU scene
I wanted to get into EU affairs but I struggled; it took months of interviews. It's tricky to have a couple of years experience - you don't want to do an internship, the common way to start off, but you have insufficient experience for other positions. I was beginning to panic so I moved to Brussels, if you want to do the EU thing you have to do this, and I found a job with an Irish-owned public affairs consultancy Schuman Associates.
The work was interesting, and I could work from anywhere so when Peter moved to Greece with a new job, I was able to work from Athens and travel to Brussels when needed.
Following the money
One of my areas was anti-money laundering; I learned a lot writing briefs and following the policy to forecast how things were changing. Part of my job was organising big forums and moderating anti-money laundering events. Public speaking is intimidating - especially when your audience are experts - but it was good for me to push myself and to put myself out there. You can't be shy in Brussels.
I probably overstayed at Shuman. I stayed for six years because I liked the people and the work but I found it less challenging once I knew the job really well; I got stuck in my ways.
So a year and a half ago when the job with the EU agency for cybersecurity (ENISA) came up, it seemed created for me.
It was easy for me to work from home in the pandemic; I was used to it. I was all set with an office and a second monitor. It was strict in Greece. You had to text a government system before you could go out. Nobody was ever denied but it felt strange. I am on the committee of the Greek/Irish association. Many women are here because they met a Greek man on holidays 40 years ago. It's lovely to be part of it. We had a nice buddy system in Covid where people could phone others if they needed help.
On the case of hackers
I start my day with cereal and coffee at my desk - reading the news, checking for ENISA mentions. We help the EU create policy and give advice on how to make systems more secure. The last massive cyber attacks were in 2017 with NotPetya and WannaCry, which took down massive companies, even the NHS. Europe is not yet prepared for the next one. I worry as the world becomes more computerised and with people accessing more data from home. There is a lot of malicious intent out there.
Lost in translation
I prepare Juhan's (Lepassaar) speeches and manage his media. In order to collect vast information I am meeting with experts all day - they can be very technical so I need to translate this into clear prose so policy makers in the EU Commission or MEPs can digest it. I take info in and regurgitate the essence to explain the solutions. I am supposed to have the day off tomorrow but the FT wants to interview Juhan on the cyber threat in banking so I will prepare his briefing and sit in on the interview.
I find it hard to stop working at night and on holidays but I am great at taking 20-minute breaks to do yoga. I read to relax and I run a book club - we read in English even though most of the members are Greek. I can speak it well though it did take six years of lessons.
Mary Robinson came to visit my l school in 1996 and I spoke to her for a few minutes and for years wanted to be president of Ireland.
Now, I'll settle for just being Irish. I feel like I am already and now my mum has started the naturalisation process; next year, I will be.