Development & Alumni Relations Office 


30 June 2020

County Galway graduate Amelia Ní Laoi, BSc Psychology (2013), talks extensively to her alma mater about her time at Queen’s, the challenges of her role in Hong Kong and her hopes both for herself and for the University’s latest group of graduates.

“The Class of 2020 is graduating in a time of unprecedented challenges,” said Amelia, who is the Deputy Consul General of Ireland to Hong Kong and Macau, “but that does not always have to be a negative thing as you may be forced to look at other options you might not have considered before.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network that are working in a field that you are interested in and ask them how they got there. Most people would be very happy to meet with you or take a call to give advice,” she added.

From An Spidéal in the Connemara Gaeltacht of County Galway, Amelia decided to study at Queen’s on the advice of a neighbour who is an Educational Psychologist.

“I had asked his advice on the best psychology courses in Ireland and the UK and he had said that if he could study psychology anywhere it would be at Queen’s University Belfast.

“I applied for the course and was fortunate enough to be accepted.”

Life at Queen's

During her time at Queen’s, Amelia was a member of the QUB PsychSoc and, as a fluent Irish speaker with an avid interest in the conservation of her national language, of Cumann na nGael (the Irish Society).

“I will always remember my time in Belfast very fondly. It is a wonderful city with lots to do, great food and even greater people. It has such a vibrant culture and music scene, and I spent a lot time at gigs and soaking up as much of the culture as possible.

“I also enjoyed spending time in the Students’ Union; there was always something happening there – be it a quiz in The Speakeasy or a concert in the Mandela Hall.

And did her neighbour’s advice about Queen’s as a top destination to study Psychology come true?  

“I made lifelong friends there and the teaching was very engaging,” said Amelia. “I was interested in psychology as a subject and the professors and lecturers were clearly passionate about their respective specialities, and so studying was very enjoyable.”

After graduating from Queen’s Amelia went on to obtain a Master of Laws at the National University of Ireland Galway in Peace Operations, Humanitarian Law and Conflict. Since then, she has worked in the European Parliament for Irish MEP Deirdre Clune (2014/15), the Martens Centre for European Studies (2015) and spent seven months as Head of Office for the Youth of the European People’s Party (YEPP) in 2016, based in Belgium.

A short spell as an Administrative Officer in the Department of Justice and Equality preceded her move to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in January 2017 and her subsequent posting to Hong Kong the following year.

While she always had an interest in politics and foreign affairs Amelia’s original intention when she applied to Queen’s was, however, to become a psychologist.

“After my studies, I undertook an internship in the European Parliament in Brussels, which solidified the idea that I should work in foreign affairs, said Amelia. “I think that Psychology is a wonderful degree to have studied and is an asset for a wide spectrum of roles as it is essentially a study of people and behaviour, which you will most likely experience in the majority of jobs!”

Fascinating city

Hong Kong is Amelia’s first posting overseas with the Department of Foreign Affairs. As Deputy Consul she has a variety of responsibilities from arranging high-level political visits for Irish Ministers to participating in education fairs. She has organised St Patrick’s Day festivals and Bloomsday events as well as arranging Irish music, poetry, food promotion and tourism events.

“It is an honour to represent my country abroad and I was delighted to find out that I had been assigned to the role in Hong Kong,” she told Queen’s.  

“Hong Kong is a fascinating city as it is extremely high-paced and so busy in its Centre, but at the same time it has some of the most breath-taking hiking trails and countryside I have ever seen!”

Even though Hong Kong is one of the world’s most densely populated places, over 75 per cent of the region is undeveloped greenery and mountains. Hiking up one of the many mountains on the island affords breath-taking views over the South China Sea.

“Hong Kong is also the perfect hub from which to explore Asia with direct flights to most major cities. Up until a few months ago, I had taken great advantage of this as I managed to travel to several countries in the region.

Since arriving in Asia, Amelia has had to get up to speed on a vast array of subjects to enable her to attend meetings with the Hong Kong administration and other diplomatic colleagues, which can focus on anything from economics to culture and politics to education. That said, she admits that the most challenging part of her work – which is also the most rewarding – is providing consular assistance to Irish citizens abroad, which can range from someone reporting a lost passport to a more serious accident.

“I have found that the most important skills to have are the ability to keep calm under pressure and a desire to assist people. It is a demanding role but also very exciting.”

With the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests over the past two years and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020, Amelia’s posting to the region could not have come at a more challenging time.  

“The past year has been a tumultuous time in Hong Kong,” she said. “While sometimes it has been difficult, it has also been an extraordinary time to be here and to see things unfolding first-hand.

“When the protests started, one of our main priorities was to reach out to the Irish community here. While we already had a high level of engagement, we increased our communication via social media and local networks. This allowed us to hear directly from the community about their concerns and the impact on individuals, families and students here, as well Irish businesses in Hong Kong.

“This also proved useful when the Covid-19 outbreak began as it meant that we could easily reach out to our citizens.”

The Consulate continues to issue up-to-date guidance to the Irish community in the region while the Department of Foreign Affairs has a ‘TravelWise’ app that citizens can download to their phones to get the most up-to-date travel advice and register with the Consulate or Embassy. Amelia recommends that people download the app prior to travelling, although she is quick to point out that travel is not likely for the majority due to the ongoing pandemic.

With a demanding day job – and with evenings and weekends often taken up with work – she has learnt the importance of carving out personal time to relax and switch off. Playing the piano, painting, daily meditation and regular exercising are Amelia’s ‘go to’ activities to deal with stress and to relax.

“The importance of trying to keep up as much of a ‘normal life’ as possible has been important, though honestly working in this career there is not really such thing as a normal life – and I mean this in the best way!” she added.

“I also have a great group of friends here who helped me settle into life in the region and have been a wonderful support.”

Looking to the future

Given that her posting in Hong Kong is due to finish next year does she see herself staying in the Department in the longer term?   

“Hong Kong is such a magnificent and exciting city, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. While there have been challenges, I can genuinely say that I will really miss it when I finish my post here next year.

“I have made some wonderful friends and mentors within the Department who are never more than a phone call away when I need advice or guidance. I have been extremely fortunate to work with very talented and hardworking people who have good-humouredly done their best to promote and protect Ireland’s interests in the world.

“It is a particularly exciting time to be working in this job as Ireland has just secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term (2021-2022).

“So yes, I see myself staying in the diplomatic service, but who knows what the future will bring. It is wonderful to be a part of an organisation that makes such a difference on an international stage in particular considering Ireland’s size.”

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast.

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