"My final year at university felt like I was a guppy fish acutely aware that in a matter of moments I would be projected into the air and onto the blistering sidewalk of adult life. The peacebuilding program was my water and place of growth. As much as I wanted to leave school, I didn’t want to leave the program. Especially because as I was searching for a post graduate career the prospects of finding a decent well-paying and engaging job in the peacebuilding field looked dismal. Either I had to pick well-paid or something I would actually enjoy doing, finding both in a job was like spotting a unicorn in a business vest. At least that’s how it felt.
I was told countless times to “be realistic” when picking a major, and my family was disappointed to know I didn’t choose Bio-Chemistry like my sister, or Business Management like my brother. To them I had chosen a path of braless idealism and a destiny of being without a job but with endless burning incense sticks. I was beginning to doubt my choice as I was searching for a way to support myself when I received a call from a friend. He was in Poland and said there was an NGO job that he referred me for and I would be getting a call soon from the boss. That’s about all the details I knew at that point until sure enough a man called and explained what he was looking for in an employee. He wanted to hire a native English speaker, someone comfortable in front of people with a background in public speech and grant writing, someone who was well traveled, culturally minded, and when I told him of my Intercultural Peacebuliding major he was sold. It seemed like my unreserved, travel addicted, ‘hippie major’ self just found a perfect fit, he thought so too.
After doing my research about this NGO just to make sure I wasn’t going to be kidnaped upon arrival like my mother warned, I took the internship for 3 months to give it a try. I was thrown in fast and quickly the details of my job began making sense.
The European Union has a branch called Erasmus (and Erasmus-plus) which gives millions in grants each year to NGOs and young adults within the field of youth work. The overall financial envelope of this program is 14.77 billion Euros and is expected to increase its funding over the years. Erasmus-plus, the branch my NGO receives funding from, focuses on youth work, and building up European youth to be skilled workers and prepared for the workforce. However, a new branch of skills is required with the increasingly diverse state of Europe.
Over 1.2 million refugees have entered the European Union in the past 4 years. Though Europe has a rich history of migrants coming to their lands, the 21-century has experienced a surge, not of just refugees but also of immigrants seeking jobs and opportunities. To some this is referred to as a crisis, however to others it is seen as an opportunity for change and a more multicultural Europe. With these changes, populism and nationalism is growing, there is fear circulating by some that the European identity will be lost, or that they are compromising their security by accepting those from countries whose religions are deemed as radical or incompatible for Europe.
The European Union sees this unrest in the media and is willing to fund NGOs that have skilled diversity trainers who can promote messages of nonviolence, anti-discrimination, and mainly conflict resolution. This is where my NGO fits in and also where I found my unicorn in a business vest.
This little guppy straight from BYUH, accepted a full time job as an international diversity and conflict resolution trainer for an NGO called Youth of Europe. We run week long conferences with over 40 European young adults every month on conflict resolution, anti-discrimination and diversity training. We teach in various European countries and recently expanded our work to Northern Africa. My work grants me the freedom to use art, sports, poetry and the things that I love to bring young adults together and begin slowly chipping away at the stereotypes, and the misperceptions we hold about those we once called “the other.” I aim to foster inter-cultural dialogue, one that does not frivolously dismiss the fear of the other or pretend we are all exactly the same. I want a rich conversation that allows intellectual honesty paired with compassion to take place, and it’s not easy to create that but it is incredible when it’s made.
I love my job. I wake up with a multivitamin blend of excitement, curiosity, and motivation with a taste of terror as I step in front of all new international people and get to share the principles of peace that I learned at university. The major that my family and friends made fun of for years now is in high demand, the current political sphere which impacts all of us in need of peacebuilders and ones that hold real world skills in mediation.
Looking back at my senior year self at the edge of the safe pool that Chad, Amanda, David, and Michael so wonderfully created, I laugh imagining my face as I jumped out, or in some way was pushed out by the 8 semester rule. I was terrified, but unknowingly ready to take the principles of peace and apply it to the hundreds of young adults that I teach monthly. I use the same books I read at school, Lederach, Galtung, and Chad Ford’s photorealistic iceberg ©. The mediation labs that I used to have miniature heart attacks every time it was my turn to speak turned out to be most useful way for me to gain the skills that I now teach. The peacebuilding program prepared me for a successful career that supports me financially while allows me to be the artsy and thunderous woman that I am while assisting in a cause that I am passionate about. Picking this major was best choice I made in my adults years, and yes I’m even thankful for the incense sticks."
Written by Katie Bak, a recent IPB graduate.