A Student's Account of an End-of-Year Simulation Trip
Cultural Dialogue and Mint Tea
by Charlotte Bennborn, M.A., 2008
Let's be honest, a dual, bilingual Masters Degree is something we would all like to be able to add to our CV. At AGSIRD, this is a possibility, and year after year a number of us take on the extra challenge of the Université Paris XI (Sceaux) program in Strategic Negotiations. It is an arduous degree, taking up many precious hours. But it is all worth it in the end, not least as each year culminates in a final negotiation in a (hopefully) exotic location.
The 2007 batch of students were not disappointed as the destination for the yearend simulation was Alexandria, Egypt. Do not be fooled into thinking the students spent their time sipping mint tea whilst enjoying a view of the sparkling Mediterranean. The seven days were packed to the brim with hard work, tough negotiations, and little sleep.
More than a hundred students from French, Egyptian, Moroccan, and Lebanese universities came together at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to thrash out an agreement on the final contentious articles of the "The Charter of Alexandria on Cultural Interactions and Crisis Management".
The fiftypage document is the fruit of eight months of work by the Master's students and aims to present modes through which conflict within the EuroMediterranean region can be prevented and resolved through cultural interaction. To this end, the participants spent a large part of their academic year immersing themselves in the role of a specific country either party to the EuroMediterranean Partnership or a state with a vested interest in the region's affairs.
Under the caption of "Cultural Interactions and Crisis Management in the EuroMediterranean Region", the multinational student body spent two days engaging in heated negotiations in a conference room at the renowned Alexandria Library. The simulation came to an emotional end when all parties agreed on the remaining articles of the charter and gave their seal of approval to the final document. The end of the negotiation was followed by a daylong conference on the very same topic, headlined by experts in the field.
Despite plenty of preparatory work, development of tactics, dealmaking and nighttime negotiations in hotel corridors, we did have one day in which to take in the most famous of all Egyptian landmarks - the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Between you and me ... the Sphinx really is surprisingly small! There was also an official tour of the impressive architectural wonder that was our "office" for three days of our stay - the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
For some of us, the visit even included a taste of what the life of a diplomat may have in store when we were invited for an evening at the town's French consulate. My personal impression is that diplomacy really involves an open bar, a nice buffet, and fervent exchanging of business cards.
On a serious note, Alexandria 2007 was a testament to what true intercultural dialogue is all about. Just among the students from the Sceaux program in Paris, we represented no less than seventeen nationalities. The negotiation may have been a student exercise, but it certainly highlighted the pertinence of favoring intercultural dialogue as a means for conflict prevention and resolution.
Considering that 2008 will be the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue as designated by the European Commission with special focus on youth, the Alexandria negotiation and conference could not have been staged at a more appropriate time.