Hopes, Dreams and a Horse-sized Duck

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interviews by Peter Berry

As their two years at the DA come to an end, Peter Berry interviews Alessio De Icco, Jan Willem Scholten, John Hildred, Pedro Henrique de Melo, Simone Ros, Sharon Muhwezi and Vera Kellen about their time here and their hopes for the future. With this opportunity to look back over the past two years and forward to the coming months, we present a more lighthearted perspective on the DA, Vienna and the daunting prospect of life after university.

In the words of the fictionalized Maria von Trapp, “let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start!” What led you to apply to the DA and then to choose to come?

JWS: I was recruited by Neudeck – he did his little presentation on the top floor of the Mitre in Oxford. I’d just had rowing training before so I was completely sweaty in my rowing onesie. I ran in, and there was Neudeck, immaculately dressed, offering me a glass of Austrian wine. At that point I knew I should come.

PHdM: I wanted to do my master’s in Europe. Nobody in Brazil has ever heard of the DA – my grandmother thought I was moving to Australia because she’d never heard of Austria!

SR: I really liked the name “Diplomatic Academy” because “political science” is the “science of the unemployed” in Italy, so my mum can go to church and say “My son is studying at the Diplomatic Academy,” which is a lot better sounding!

VK: Because my sister said I should. I chose ETIA because you have two years with different things, and sometimes my attention span is very short.

JH: I was on the run from the UK authorities, and the arrest warrant runs out in August.

Did you have a picture of the DA and the student body in mind before you arrived? To what extent did the reality of life here match your expectations?

JH: Before I arrived I expected wood-paneled corridors and portraits of old people. I wasn’t expecting a conference center that looks like it’s been designed in 1970s Eastern Europe – quoting a well-known DA source.

PHdM: When I met Amédée and Jan Willem, my expectations of the people were met. When I got here, I only had one jacket, and I thought everyone would be going around in a jacket and tie.

SM: There aren’t as many hipsters as I would have imagined.

If you could go back in time to the start of your time here, what would you tell your younger self to do differently?

JWS: I feel like I did it fairly optimally! We can say I feel like I learned more about interpersonal relations than I did about international relations, even though I learned a lot about the latter.

VK: I’d say to my past self, stop worrying about what people think.

Vienna is regularly voted as one of the cities with the highest standard of living. What’s your impression of the city after two years here?

JH: It’s like a village, small, conservative with a little ‘c’, slow, good for people who want to retire here.

PHdM: The first thing I noticed in comparison to Brazil was that kids don’t scream and that dogs don’t bark. It’s amazing – I don’t why, but even the dogs are more polite! Also, Viennese people are really slow and really enjoy life, but when in line for groceries they go berserk.

VK: I’d describe Vienna as moody. It’s like an isolated island and they think they’re top of the world with their huge buildings and forget they’re in this really friendly, mountain-like country.

We all know how reluctant you are to have to leave, but after two years, is there anything about the DA you won’t miss?

ADI/PHdM: I will not miss 8:30 German classes.

JWS: Fitnessbrot! I won’t miss the DA wine, which, well, could possibly be improved upon. Especially the red is a real “château migraine”. I won’t miss being woken up by the cleaning ladies with a massive hangover at 9 am on a Monday morning.

SM: I won’t miss the MA35 process, getting my resident card, Austrian bureaucracy in general.

JH: The number of emails that I get on a daily basis. Let’s leave it at that.

Pedro and John, you were assistants to professors during your second year. Tell us something we don’t know about them.

JH: Prof. Row has an alarmingly in-depth knowledge of the Swedish House Mafia, Lady Gaga, and Conchita Wurst.

PHdM: When he’s typing on his computer, Prof. Kornprobst puts his feet on the chair. Also he wears industrial-sized headphones so that the kids at the Theresianum won’t bother him.

We know that nobody likes to have to think about it, but life goes on after the DA. What do the next months and years have in store for you?

VK: My plan is not having a plan – I decided that in January.

JWS: Unsure yet, like most people! I was considering Brussels or Amsterdam: in Brussels it’s a superbly arcane procedure, but I was in the running for a traineeship for the Commission or the EEAS. In Amsterdam I’ll be working for the National Thinktank until December. I think there’s hardly anyone who’s got a job lined up now, let alone a full-time one where you can’t be sacked after a year. That’s a transition that’s very different for us than it was for our parents, which has generated a lot of stress for us, maybe more so than we sometimes like to acknowledge.

ADI: For the next year I’m going to be shuffling around Europe because of my job — I have a traineeship with Erste Bank.

SM: I’m moving back to Uganda. I could take back my old job in Kampala but I’m generally happy taking any job in East Africa.

And a final fun question, inspired by the outgoing DASI President. A madman kidnaps you and makes you choose between being attacked by fifty duck–sized horses, or one horse–sized duck. Which do you choose and why?

JWS: Well, ducks can be quite large, I guess. I think I’d rather be attacked by one horse-sized duck. Yesterday I bought a rubber ducky with a Franz Joseph uniform on; I could put that on the floor as a diversionary maneuver and then hopefully run away very quickly.

SM: I would choose the one duck just because I can identify and see my attacker. I know where he is. Fifty would be overwhelming; if fifty duck-sized animals were coming towards me that would be terrifying.

VK: I choose the fifty duck-sized horses. Have you seen a duck’s beak?! That could kill me! You don’t want to have a duck in front of you the size of a horse!

SR: Oh my God… I would prefer the duck just because I prefer to face one problem instead of many things – I’m not a multi-tasker, it’s the same thing in my usual life – I prefer to do one thing, if I have to do many things I just freak out. Despite two years of an interdisciplinary academic background!

PHdM: I’d choose the horse-sized duck – if it doesn’t kill me, I’ll have the head as a trophy. I think that would be a nice thing to have in your living room.

Maybe the future is uncertain, but we have seen that the DA has prepared its future alumni to tackle the most important and challenging questions of tomorrow, whatever they may be.

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