Putting things into perspectives
The trailblazing cohort of the Global Studies bachelor programme has graduated. Gaia Gazzara and Vincent Tadday look back on transdisciplinarity, challenging yourself and integrating new perspectives.
In 2020, Maastricht University launched a brand new bachelor’s programme. Co-taught by all six faculties, Global Studies (GS) posits that the big problems facing us cannot be solved by the wisdom of any one discipline. Along with skills and knowledge, students learn to navigate complexity by incorporating different perspectives and approaches.
“I knew I wanted to study at UM,” remembers Vincent Tadday, who went to high school in Krefeld, where he also played water polo in Germany’s first division. “I’d been to the Open Day and knew some people who studied in Maastricht and loved it.” His main interest at the time was international relations and GS contained many of those elements. “I also really liked how it was taught by six faculties and would offer so many different perspectives.”
Every GS semester has a guiding topic, co-designed and taught by different faculties. “Migration & Citizenship was my favourite topic,” says Vincent. “It was taught by professors and researchers of law, psychology and UNU MERIT because just one perspective won’t allow you to grasp a complex phenomenon like global migration.” Gaia Gazzara describes the programme’s broadness as a strength. “Of course, there is a lot of ground to cover – it’s both stimulating and very challenging. It allows you to discover complex interdependencies and also what you’re passionate about.”
Transdisciplinary knowledge and skills
The curriculum is laden with research methods and academic and professional skills. “In the first two years, there is language training, quantitative methods like basic programming, data analysis and statistics, but also interview techniques, presentation skills and much more.” Both admit that they didn’t become experts in any discipline but point out that they have integrated perspectives and techniques from all of them.
Vincent found the theme Tolerance & Beliefs the most challenging. “It’s very confronting and you really have to reflect and question yourself. It gave me a much richer understanding in the end.” Gaia adds that the concept of positionality not only made her a better interviewer but a much more effective communicator. “Like with so many things we learned, it made me realise that things are much more complex than they seem, especially on a human level.”
Solving real problems
While the students have to get a daunting amount of transdisciplinary theory under their belt, there is also plenty opportunity to apply it. Semester 5 contains a field study that sees small teams of students go abroad for a month. Vincent went to Cyprus to interview people on both sides of the island to find out how self-perception and identity relate to citizenship. “it was an intense experience but I learned a lot – not just about research but also about myself.”
Gaia went to Bogotá to conduct research around social entrepreneurship and an organisation teaching disabled children. “It was an amazing opportunity but also a bit intimidating. I think in general, GS made me challenge myself so much that I came out much more confident.” The learning also paid off closer to home: “I’ve found the informatics and statistic we learned to understand how the carbon tax works really challenging. At the same, many of those IT skills have already come in handy in my position as president of Philia [UM’s first international sorority] and volunteering for Amnesty International; as has everything we learned about data management and privacy.”
Vincent Tadday, Saint Servatius and Gaia Gazzara
Global Studies graduation ceremony
The final semester has students do project work with external stakeholders and write their bachelor thesis. Gaia’s centred around feminist collectives in Mexico using Instagram and the challenges and issues surrounding digital activism in general. Vincent decided to write his thesis on foreign and security policy, in particular the UN’s regulations on using private security companies. “Everyone could follow their own interests and it’s amazing how diverse the range of thesis topics was.”
Vincent thinks that everyone benefitted from the cohort’s diversity. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot learning and working with students with different backgrounds, ideas, and approaches.” Gaia is delighted with the GS community and stresses the importance of informal learning. “Sometimes you get different insights depending on which faculty your tutor comes from – which you can then discuss with people from other tutorial groups.”
While comprising many different nationalities, there was a large European contingent among those who could be so bold as to be the pioneers/guinea pigs, but as GS becomes more established and prestigious – it is already top-rated in the Netherlands’ study guide – it might reach more prospective students from the global south. “You can already see the cohorts after us getting more diverse,” says Gaia. “That’s great because you learn together and from each other the whole time.”
GS students are very invested in the programme and had every chance to be involved in the co-creation process. Vincent was in the educational programme committee and co-founded the Global Studies Community, a study association where Gaia served as board member. “It does feel special to be the first cohort,” she says. “I get the sense we helped shape the programme.” While the curriculum is constantly evolving, both point out how well it’s constructed and that learnings from different semesters reinforce each other.
“Of course we learned – and learned to apply – a lot of hard skills, but I feel that especially the different perspectives and experiences have prepared me for everything that might come my way,” says Vincent who will go on to study Public Policy in Paris and Berlin. Gaia’s key takeaway was to be more critical and reflective about her own opinions, to listen to others before speaking and to integrate different perspectives. She will start an internship at a marketing agency in Milan.
While acknowledging the challenge that this extremely ambitious programme posed, head of the Global Studies development team Valentina Mazzucato is delighted with the result – and also a bit relieved: “This also feels like a graduation for us developers and teachers! It’s one thing to design a new bachelor’s programme, it’s another to make it reality. With this graduation, we have seen that our idea of an interdisciplinary and interfaculty curriculum works.”
Text: Florian Raith
Photography: Harry Heuts
Gaia Gazzara and Vincent Tadday graduated from the first cohort of Global Studies. Valentina Mazzucato is professor of Globalisation and Development at FASoS
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