University is not just a place for you to study. If you use your knowledge to get a good income or to secure a workplace otherwise unreachable, you miss out on the main scope of your studies: to experience knowledge.
To feed this hunger, one of the best places to ‘stop at’ is the Honours program offered by the University. The wide array of programs provides interested minds with an insight into diverse problems, and choosing one course still provides you with a diverse palette of knowledge and skills.
The course ‘A Better World is Possible’, which offers an understanding of ‘The Future of Human Security and Global Justice’, is a great addition to the Humanities bachelors in The Hague. In this interview, you can get to know a student cooperative, ‘IPICS’, who will guide you through the hardships and possibilities offered by the Honours program.
- Group dynamics
- Group management
- Why it’s not about the paper
Matteo: Our Honours project started with forming a group of 6 people.
Antonio: How did you choose the people in the group?
Matteo: They are assigned to you, but that group of 6 quickly becomes 4, so it was interesting to see how you had to fit your schedule around this situation. When you have an assignment for 6 people initially, you must think about how to fit it into the different situations.
Alexander: Yeah, but the most important part is that a group of 4 with a good dynamic can achieve more than a group of 6 with worse charisma.
Matteo: In Honours, you must write an individual paper after all, as well as the group paper, which is a 10,000-word-long policy recommendation.
Alexander: Yeah, AND the 2 pages of summary at the beginning.
Antonio: So, the abstract must be 2 pages long?
Alexander: Yes, plus the whole paper, which was 50 pages long. I think it is great how we managed to do it without any stress. When we talked with the other groups about this, many had to push for a deadline, but we could organize our work well.
Antonio: Exactly, and it all goes back to good work dynamics because now you said that you have a smaller group, but you still have a solid work ethic.
Alexander: Definitely! Everybody has their part, but if someone does not do it, it is fine, since everything is planned, so you can count on the others to do it.
Matteo: During the Honours program of FGGA, you are assigned a “role” so that you get an idea of what the people need to do, which often may not work out. Ideally, you have a structure to follow that the project supposedly takes. For example, a group may either have picked one leader or follows a rotational basis.
Alexander: In the start, we chose the leader on a rotary basis and then we picked the other roles: we have a website manager, the graphic design manager, and the secretary. Since then, we looked back on the original plan, and it has all changed. In the end, everybody had different roles. As time went by, Matteo became the secretary and Alice took care of the designs.
Antonio: So, you had the skeleton of the group, but over time it changed?
Alexander: Yeah, but in an organic way! There were no tensions. After every meeting, there was a slight change, and over time people covered different roles, to which they were not initially assigned. I think the most important experience to take away from this is group work: it’s a key factor, no matter how it goes. If the group dynamics are good, you can figure anything out. Honours add a lot to your skills through this.
Matteo: Yes, the syllabus also said that if you can manage it, it will be a lot of fun, but if you do not…
Alexander: …it’s gonna be painful.
Antonio: If you are all on the same page, then there is no problem!
Alexander: Exactly, we came from 3 different bachelors, which made for great content.
Antonio: I remember going through your Instagram page, everyone was from different backgrounds.
Alexander: Exactly, but it makes for great content. When it was about policy, my public administration background had the advantage, but with Matteos’ IS studies, another set of skills complemented the team effort.
Matteo: This diversity was also seen in our topic choices. On top of the individual task, the 3000 words long individual paper, you select an umbrella topic. We chose ‘multilateral diplomacy’, and from that, we narrowed down on security issues, be that energy, sanctions, border security, or the management of EU members. All of us, out of these four topics, have developed a broader concept, which then was integrated into the group paper.
Alexander: Especially since we had different broad topics, as you mentioned, energy security and sanctions. In the end, we all had to connect them, and when we look back it was flowing better than we thought.
Antonio: Do you think it is easy to get lost in confusion with all this information that you have to organize?
Alexander: I think that the key to this is communication. If you do not keep in contact, then of course you get lost. It is a 50-page recommendation. No one is going to be able to remember everything and work their way through it. That is not how it works, so we held a lot of meetings to solve this. Short but productive ones were key to managing all the information.
Matteo: And by “mashing up” all the information together, it was interesting to see how at first, we had no clue, but then as you start narrowing the topic it all went relatively quickly.
Alexander: Yeah, it was amazing. Especially considering that the feedback for the individual paper was a week before the deadline for the group paper. We all were too short and vague in our recommendations, which we had to resolve and incorporate into the bigger paper.
Not just paper-writing
Matteo: It is not all about the paper. The program also tries to teach all these skills and provides you with countless opportunities. One such opportunity, although we found that ourselves, was the Jason Institute’s networking event. We met different people from various institutions, such as the ICCT and NATO C2COE, which was fun. We had conversations, listened to the presentations, and then we had half an hour to talk with the presenters. This event also helped us in finding a subject for our podcast!
Alexander: It was amazing!
Matteo: Then again, task division was important. Alex and Suna managed to record the podcast.
Alexander: It was cool! We went to a military barrack to do it. It is these kinds of things that you will remember for life. Also, for every honours class, we received high-profile speakers. My personal favorite was the presentation about the Munich Security Conference.
Matteo: Although we found an outsider for our recording, we had the chance to talk and contact the presenters, since they all were open-minded and down-to-earth characters.
Alexander: They were in-depth presentations, which is a major plus for the Honours program.
Antonio: I imagine it is also a great opportunity for you guys to network with important people from so many organizations and institutions.
Alexander: Yes, it is not a must to call them back, but the scope of the event still provided us with many contacts.
Matteo: It becomes more tangible; you may initially think that they are very distant from you…
Alexander: …but luckily, we have access to the bubble, as we study in a similar bubble, which I think is great.
Matteo: You can ask some personal questions, related to the work they do.
Alexander: And they are all high-profile people so you cannot afford much to go wrong. But I think their passion is the best aspect. When you talk to these people their passion shows, which makes them stand out.
Antonio: Do you think that this passion is easily transmissible in the context of these events?
Alexander: Yes definitely, and it makes it extremely interesting. So much so that it makes time flow so quickly. I remember talking to the head of the Munich Security Conference, who was very interesting. We talked to him for about an hour, but it felt like 15 minutes. It went by so quickly! If he would have talked for some 2 more hours, I would not have noticed it. I’d say the passion coming from them makes it very easy to listen.
Antonio: Do you think that passion makes a big difference?
Alexander: Yeah, I think when you present something, it makes the biggest of differences.
Antonio: But with online events, it is ever more difficult to transmit this passion, is it not?
Alexander: Yeah, I think digital is fine for actual meetings but when presenting and talking about a topic you want to make clear to other people, it is still very difficult, which is why I think “physical” is still the best approach.
Matteo: When you are physically there, you feel their emotions, which does not work through a screen: you might have the greatest story to tell but with digital tools, it’s going to be very challenging.
The Honours programs offer more than what their syllabi say. Either through this program, or other opportunities in life, always try to gain as much knowledge as possible. Make the best out of what University has to offer!
The best of luck with life/ from The IPICS Team
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