'I have loved this week and learnt so much.'
'This is an excellent opportunity for learning – very beneficial both professionally and personally.'
'I liked the course, it has given me lot of insights and practical skills.'
'This week has made me self-aware!'
This was probably the most practical course in the whole curriculum of these MA students. What are the skills needed to work in and on conflict? The highlight of the week was undoubtedly the simulation, in which they could directly practice these skills.
In the beginning of January, the International Alert’s Training and Learning Team conducted two trainings on “Core Skills for Working in Conflict” for the students of the MA International Relations at King’s College London. Enjoying beautiful views of London from the 6th floor of the Strand Campus, we spent an intensive week with a diverse group of young people from a wide range of countries. Most of them see themselves in future as working for governmental or multilateral organisations. Some of the students already had experience in the field, but most had only read and studied about conflicts or came from a very different background. This was the first and probably the only practical course they would follow in their whole curriculum, which was in itself a major reason why they appreciated the training week.
The aim of the training was to introduce the students to some practical core skills to work in conflict through input, team work, group processes, role plays, exercises and reflection. To start with, not everything turned out to be as simple as it seemed. The group discussions on conflict, violence and peace made them realise the complexity of the issues and how their understandings of the different terms are interrelated. An intense teamwork exercise set the tone for the rest of the week and shed some light on aspects that constitute effective and functional teamwork. ‘We need to constantly reflect on our own role in order to see how it interacts with the team’, one student remarked. The students could then engage critically and analytically to gain a deeper understanding of one particular conflict through the application of different conflict analysis tools. Directly engaging with a person from a very different culture did not prove to be so easy either. A short role play showed how tricky cultural sensitivities can be, but also how important it is not to make implicit assumptions and to make practices explicit in order to be able to deal with them. Different sessions brought about enthusiastic involvement in reframing emotionally loaded statements in order to be able to have a constructive dialogue, and active listening processes; and sometimes intense discussions on gender. And who would have thought that writing a report in a short timeframe could be such an interesting exercise to some? Last but not least, we paid attention to the importance of self-management to work in conflict and to translate skills into practice. ’Forgetting about self-management causes conflict management to fail. It is so crucial,’ one student concluded.
The highlight of the week was the simulation, in which the students took on the role of an EU mission assessing the needs, opportunities and constraints related to the development of a peacebuilding programme in a country that had just reached a settlement after a long civil war. Particular cultural habits displayed by the local people, imposing refugees and annoying journalists were challenging the students, while they had meetings with representatives from the UN, international NGOs and local authorities. By the end of the day, they had to deliver their report to the Head of Mission. ’It felt all real, with high moments of anxiety, burn-out and delivery. It was very realistic!’, commented one of the participants.
The simulation did not only give the students a chance to apply all the skills they had learned in the previous days, it was also enriched by one-to-one and team feedback from observers who followed them throughout the day. This feedback was highly valued, because ‘rarely do we have the opportunity to receive such detailed and constructive feedback on our skills and performance’. The simulation was made possible by the enthusiastic involvement of actors and observers from both within and outside International Alert.
The students also enjoyed engaging with each other during the week and getting to know their peers much better. The course gave them a taste of some aspects they could encounter when working in or on conflict in the future, and might help them in understanding whether this is something they would like to pursue in their careers. The course allowed them to make a more informed choice in this regard and to better articulate some skills they can use in the future, whether in their personal or professional life.