Politics & Diplomacy with Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas is an Irish diplomat who studied at Georgetown, Cambridge and Oxford universities. He worked for six years in politics in three different countries for four parties. He was also the president of the European Youth Parliament.
On the 5th of October 2017, Stephen hosted a live Q&A on Goodwall. The session was attended by over 110 students from around the world.
" I would say good luck but it's not about luck. It's about persistence and adjustment and trying again and again!"
Offer to help local politicians you admire. In my culture, they really value people who will help deliver their messages through doors in the form of leaflets. Be valuable to them and you will build a great relationship with them.
Patience really. and humanity- two lessons. It’s about helping the powerless and if you get annoyed or frustrated you can’t help anyone.
I loved debating as I got older. I got lucky and was involved then in the European Youth Parliament. I loved the way it gave me a chance to meet other like minded people from all over Europe. I also played rugby, but that’s boring.
I loved Cambridge, Oxford and Georgetown. If you have a choice between them all well, I can’t say: I will be classed as a traitor. Do them all if possible.
Politics is about relationships between the individual and those that rule. Democracy for example, a form of politics, is according to Rousseau: the identity of sovereign with subject. The ruler is the rules and noone is above the law.
I think maybe show your interest in politics by helping a politician directly. Get to know them. Try writing to a few if you admire them and offer help. Every politician needs help posting leaflets. Then write about that experience in your application.
My feeling is Brexit won’t happen. However, that’s just a feeling.
There’s national competitions for the EYP. There’s a website. If your school does not participate, yet. Then try to start a campaign to get it involved. This could be your first advocacy campaign which is an essential skill. Even if you fail, you can write about what learned doing it in a uni application. But you won’t fail. I was lucky in those days the EYP came to my school.
I am so sorry you have to ask a question like that. It is terrible that people would think it is unsafe to go to the US – Yes it is a very safe country and an amazing place to study and to begin to understand.
Economics or politics or history are great to study for diplomacy. A lot of diplomacy these days is about business. So business. But all diplomacy is about people, so studying psychology and being interested in current affairs and in your government’s work is also helpful. Law too is very helpful.
Yes, diplomats deal with refugees and displacement. But usually that is the realm of politicians and lawyers. Most countries have signed up to the Geneva Conventions which means that they are obliged to take in anyone who has a well founded fear of persecution on grounds of certain criteria. Interpreting that is often up to the courts.
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- Whether Cambridge or Oxford, it’s about feeling and luck, really. Try to get to know the individual colleges and wherever you feel most welcome try it. But you will need to be at the very top of your class. Then when you get there with everyone else who was at the top of their classes you might find you are merely mediocre, which is humbling and a good life lesson. But you will be in beautiful surroundings with amazing teachers who will push you to the limits of your capabilities and beyond.
I lived in Pristina for two years. I love Kosovo!!! There are some amazing female politicians in Kosovo. I am thinking of the woman mayor in the west of the country. It’s important that younger people try to get to know them and inspire them to continue working hard. I miss Kosovo.
Yes, to Georgetown I received a scholarship.
We just learned in negotiation at business school that no-one is a this or a that. We can all change and we do change. It’s a matter of willpower. If one realises one is not getting anywhere by being uncompromising then, change and miracles happen.
My favourite professor at Georgetown was from Palestine – Hisham Sharabi. Sadly he is dead now. But one way is to befriend a Palestinian academic you admire in the US and in Europe. Write to them. Get to know them. Maybe some won’t answer. But this kind of networking where you ask their advice and then after a time maybe you can ask their help. Of course you too have to study hard and be lucky. Luck does have a lot to do with these things. But serendipity is the idea that if you try lots of things then you will be in the right position for one of them to work out. Whereas if you don’t try things, even luck won’t help.
Yes. Certainly as a post graduate. So go to a university to which you can get in as an undergrad. Find the thing you love studying. Then as a post grad you will be able to get in anywhere. Because if you find the thing you love studying you’ll be great at it and passionate and that’s what academics want to see. Everyone wants to teach someone who cares about what they are studying. Persistence is the what makes the difference. Don’t give up!
That’s great you have the grades. You can make your chances higher by identifying a college in Oxbridge that might be more suited towards your type of intelligence. Research them, then, yes, volunteer and of course learn English well. One of the difficult things is having that extra spark, actually many people in Oxbridge were clever, lucky and worked very hard. But if you dont get in as an undergrad, you will as a postgrad if you do well.
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Accounting is a part of Business. But it’s smaller. So Business Studies includes accounting, finance, marketing, Strategy, and a lot of other things. But studying accounting surprisingly doesn’t mean that you need good mathematics and often accounting firms will pay for people to study. It’s a lot of exams. And some people say it’s VERY boring (I loved accounting, strangely) but people I know who are accountants and now have really interesting working lives after the boring bits are over with. Also every single business in the world needs an accountant.
Yes, find the field in which you are passionate. And you will find some university to let you in. Then use that as a stepping stone to get to the places you want. If you don’t have everything they need – money or grades or other things – but if you have passion for something, you might work harder to find strategic ways around these problems of a lack grades or money. Persistence will win.
I think if you do really well at Birzeit, that will open doors anywhere.
I was older that the other applicants. But I was perfectly straight with them. I said I want to help people by becoming a human rights barrister. I interviewed well – they really challenge you in the interviews and I thought I had failed it because they try to embarrass you and test you and see how you react under extreme pressure. I seem to have reacted acceptably alright so that they thought: okay, I want to teach this person – he can learn. Also I had very good references from teachers who knew how passionately and hard I worked.
There is never an always ever answer to what to do in life. The core thing you and all of us have to master is: how to deal with change. If you can take each step at a time and learn how to transform yourself again and again and again you will be well prepared for life. What I mean is study whatever can at university. Become a lawyer for a few years. Then make pots for a few years. Then start a business. Do a lot of things. But don’t think I am 17 now, I have to decide what I am going to be doing when I am 65. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Work hard, persist but don’t be too hard on yourself.
Start with feeling. What do you feel you want to do and why and what can you offer the community in the university you wish to go to. Your personal statement should have the effect of making a teacher go: Wow, I want to teach this person. They are an intellectually humble and curious person who will work hard. So whatever you write should somehow communicate those things. Don’t read websites about this (apart from this one!!!!). You will risk not being original.
Start researching prominent Palestinian academics at the great universities and write authentic letters/emails asking their advice.
A woman I met in a remote village in Ukraine. I asked: do you have any questions for me? She said: Is it true in Ireland people can just look up their ancestors names on a computer? Yes, I said. It’s about these kinds of interactions – politics, diplomacy all of it. But you have to work hard to remember that when you’re in a stuffy office!
We all get rejected from a lot of things. Then learn the lesson and apply to some different things. And keep (the English word is “Iterating” or adjusting until you succeed. When you get rejected by a university it’s not personal. It’s just a misadjustment between your expectations and theirs. So find a place that matches your expectations. But don’t give up. Persist and adjust and be creative.